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Armstrong v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 13, 2014

Billy Edward Armstrong; Phoebe J. Armstrong, Appellants
v.
Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Appellee; David Matthew Hanson; Melinda D. Hanson, Appellants
v.
Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Appellee

Submitted October 25, 2013.

Appeals from the United States Tax Court.

For Billy Edward Armstrong, Phoebe J. Armstrong, Appellants (13-1235): Jeremy M. Klausner, AGOSTINO & ASSOCIATES, Hackensack, NJ.

For Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Appellee (13-1235): Tamara W. Ashford, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Jonathan S. Cohen, Randolph Lyons Hutter, Gilbert Steven Rothenberg, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Tax Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC; William Wilkins, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Washington, DC.

For David Matthew Hanson, Melinda D. Hanson, Appellants (13-2064): Samuel M. Kouri, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, Law School - Law Clinic, Minneapolis, MN; Kathryn Sedo, Aalok Sharma, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, Law School, Minneapolis, MN.

For Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Appellee (13-2064): Jonathan S. Cohen, Randolph Lyons Hutter, Gilbert Steven Rothenberg, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Tax Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC; William Wilkins, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Washington, DC.

Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 891

LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

Billy and Phoebe Armstrong and David and Melinda Hanson appeal Tax Court decisions disallowing their claims of dependency exemption deductions and child tax credits for a child of each husband's prior marriage. For each couple, only one tax year is at issue, a year in which the ex-wife, the custodial parent, failed to sign a document stating that she " will not claim

Page 892

such child as a dependent" that year, even though she had agreed to provide that document if her ex-husband paid all required child support. We consolidated the appeals. Reviewing the Tax Court's interpretation of the governing statute de novo, we conclude that its decisions are consistent with the plain language of 26 U.S.C. § 152(e)(2) and therefore affirm. See Nelson v. Commissioner, 568 F.3d 662, 664 (8th Cir. 2009) (standard of review).

I. The Statute in Question

Federal income taxpayers who are married and file a joint return, like the Armstrongs and the Hansons, may claim personal exemptions for themselves and for each of their " dependents." 26 U.S.C. (" I.R.C." ) § 151(b), (c). Dependent is defined to include a " qualifying child." I.R.C. § § 151(c), 152(a)(1). In general, a taxpayer or a married couple filing jointly may only claim a dependency exemption if, among other requirements, the child had the " same principal place of abode as the taxpayer for more than one-half of [the] taxable year." I.R.C. § 152(c)(1)(B). This raises an obvious question: who gets to claim the child dependency exemption if the parents are divorced and living separately? The 1954 Internal Revenue Code initially addressed this question by ...


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