I previously commented on the case of Keeley v. Commissioner, a Tax Court summary decision that denied relief from the 10% penalty imposed on a premature withdrawal from a qualified plan. The relief had been sought because the taxpayer suffered from clinical depression and contended that he was entitled to relief because he was disabled. The Court denied relief because the taxpayer's condition did not require that he be institutionalized or have constant supervision.
I criticized the opinion, noting that it relied on a regulation that was more restrictive than the Code required and that was inconsistent with current treatment modalities.
Tuesday, in the case of Mary L. Coleman-Stephens v. Commissioner, the Tax Court reached an entirely different conclusion based on essentially identical facts. Because Keely was a summary disposition and could not be relied upon as precedent, the Court in Coleman-Stephens did not seek to harmonize its conclusion with that of the prior opinion.
Since Coleman-Stephens, like Keely, is a summary disposition, taxpayers cannot rely upon it for authority. Given the relative small amounts involved in these cases (Coleman-Stephens involved only $510 in taxes), they are unlikely to get appealed to the circuit court level. The Tax Court ought to step in and issue a formal opinion, even if it's only a memorandum decision, addressing the issue. Better yet, the Service might issue a ruling stating that it now concludes that the regulation is overly broad and, to the extent that it requires institutionalization or some other type of custodial care before the penalty can be avoided, it will be disregarded.