NCLA Site Search


Baldwin v. U.S.

CASE: Howard and Karen Baldwin v. United States

STATUS: Closed

NCLA ROLE: Counsel


ORIGINAL COURT: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DECIDING COURT: U.S. Supreme Court

OPENED: September 23, 2019

AGENCIES: Internal Revenue Service


Judicial Deference

Deference doctrines require judges to defer to an administrative agency’s fact finding, or its interpretation of statutes and regulations. Thus, judges surrender their independent judgment and, where the government is a party, must exhibit systematic bias in the government’s favor, which denies due process of law to the other litigant.

Did we achieve our litigation objective? No. The IRS was allowed to keep $168,000 in taxes overpaid by the clients, even though the common law mailbox rule would have allowed them to prove they filed their refund request on time.

Court Outcome: The Supreme Court denied certiorari. Justice Thomas authored a dissent from the denial of cert lamenting administrative absolutism and inviting his colleagues to step back from the abyss.

Larger Impact: Brand X deference (the worst deference doctrine you’ve probably never heard of) remains in force, leading to bizarre outcomes like this one, where agencies like the IRS can simply ignore a Ninth Circuit precedent it didn’t like and appellate courts are forced to go along.

Summary: Hollywood producers Howard and Karen Baldwin mailed their tax refund claim months before the October 15th filing deadline in 2011. But the IRS claimed they never received it and refused to pay the couple. The Baldwins decided to take their case to court to recover approximately $168,000 in overpaid taxes.

The Baldwins proved at trial that they had mailed the claim in June 2011. Current law, Ninth Circuit precedent and the common-law mailbox rule, clearly allowed the them to prove the postmark date, which is deemed the date of delivery, by using extrinsic evidence such as witness testimony. The district court sided with the Baldwins, entering judgment against IRS.

But on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court concluded that a new interpretation of the rules issued by the IRS in August 2011, trumped all that under the Brand X deference doctrine. IRS’s new interpretation of the law did not allow use of extrinsic evidence to prove the postmark date of a tax document sent by regular U.S. mail.

Thanks to Brand X, the court had reversed the favorable outcome the Baldwins had obtained after trial, depriving them of a roughly $168,000 tax refund, statutory interest and attorneys’ fees.

The Baldwins subsequently took their case to the Supreme Court, asking the Justices to overrule the Brand X doctrine, or determine whether Brand X permits an agency to uproot the common law and plug the hole with its own rule.

Brand X essentially allows agencies to undercut predictability, stability, fair notice to parties like the Baldwins, reasonable reliance, and settled expectations. It also violates due process. The government’s backwards idea that it should be able to ignore federal court decisions it dislikes under Brand X has made the doctrine a game-changer in favor of government litigants since its 2005 Supreme Court creation.

Howard and Karen Baldwin, Plaintiffs

« Previous Next »

Supreme Court Order: The Petition for a Writ of Certiorari is Denied with Justice Clarence Thomas authoring a Dissent from Denial

February 24, 2020 | Read More

Petitioner’s Reply Brief - Baldwin v. US

December 20, 2019 | Read More

Brief of the Cato Institute and NFIB Small Business Legal Center as Amici Curiae Supporting Petitioners

October 25, 2019 | Read More

Brief of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc. as Amicus Curiae Supporting Petitioners

October 25, 2019 | Read More

Brief of Amicus Curiae - New England Legal Foundation in Support of Petitioners

October 25, 2019 | Read More


Justice Thomas Repudiates Brand X Decision He Authored, but High Court Denies Cert

February 24, 2020 | Read More

NCLA Reply Brief Calls on U.S. Supreme Court to Overrule Brand X Judicial Deference Doctrine

December 23, 2019 | Read More

Eight Amici Join NCLA’s Cert. Petition With the Supreme Court to Nix Brand X Deference

October 31, 2019

NCLA Files Petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Seeking to Abolish Brand X Deference

September 23, 2019


Justices Eyeing More Challenges To Agency Deference


February 7, 2023

Supreme Court upholds decision to abide by IRS on mailbox rule for tax refund claims

Accounting Today

February 7, 2023

Supreme Court Won’t Review Challenge to Mailbox Rule

Bloomberg Tax

February 7, 2023

Justices Ceded Too Much Power To Agencies


February 7, 2023

Thomas Pushes High Court to Revisit Agency Deference

Courthouse News Service

February 7, 2023




Enter your email address above to be notified whenever we post a new document to this case.