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Tax Court Opinion Reminds Taxpayers to be Careful about Social Media Posts

By Joel N. Crouch on April 14, 2023
Most lawyers, especially those who handle some type of litigation, have warned clients about social media posts. Because people like to post pictures of events, extravagant trips and other adventures or discuss what they are doing on social media, it is standard operating procedure for lawyers to search social media of an opposing party for helpful information. If you search “social media blunders” you will turn up numerous lists of sometimes funny but mostly cringy social media posts that have backfired. Not surprisingly IRS background research regarding taxpayers typically includes a search of social media.

A recent opinion by the U.S. Tax Court in Thomas v. Commissioner shows how social media posts can potentially jeopardize tax relief. In Thomas, the taxpayer, Sydney Ann Chaney Thomas, filed a Tax Court petition seeking innocent spouse relief from tax liabilities for the years 2012-2014, where she and her now deceased husband had filed joint returns. During the April 2022 Tax Court trial the IRS introduced, over Ms. Thomas’ objections, blog posts from Ms. Thomas’ personal blog from 2016-2022 regarding her assets, lifestyle, business and relationship with her husband. Ms. Thomas is a Californian who founded a sustainable sailing apparel brand and runs a personal lifestyle blog. The court’s opinion does not say what the blog posts were but it is safe to assume they were not helpful to Ms. Thomas’ request for innocent spouse relief. After the trial, Ms. Thomas filed a motion to strike blog posts because they were not part of the IRS administrative file and were not newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence. The court denied Ms. Thomas’ motion to strike the blog posts and is expected to issue an opinion on her innocent spouse request in the near future.

Lesson to be learned? An opponent, including the IRS, is always looking so be careful what you post on social media, whether it be on a personal blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or other social media outlets.

If you have any tax-related questions please feel free to contact me at jcrouch@meadowscollier.com.