Saturday, May 28, 2022

CLEA Outstanding Student Award: SMU's Amy Nguyen

CLEA Outstanding Clinical Student or Team Award:  Amy Nguyen of the SMU Tax Clinic: 

The work of Amy Nguyen, a 2L in SMU Law's Tax Clinic, stood out, even when compared to the 3L and LLM students around her.

Amy’s work was excellent overall, but her work on one particular case stands out. She represented a taxpayer who had experienced abuse at the hands of her spouse. As a general rule, under the Internal Revenue Code, spouses are considered jointly and severally liable for tax liability. However, an exception exists where a taxpayer can establish the requirements for relief as a so-called “innocent spouse.”

In a previous semester, a student had sought innocent spouse relief for this taxpayer through an administrative process with the IRS. That request was rejected. Amy filed a case with the Tax Court seeking review of the administrative denial. She was successful in convincing the IRS attorney that the taxpayer was in fact entitled to the relief. The IRS Office of the Chief Counsel conceded the case.

BUT, the story does not end there. The Internal Revenue Code authorizes a non-petitioning spouse to intervene in cases involving a request for innocent spouse relief. Sure enough, the spouse intervened, arguing that because the divorce decree allocated 50/50 liability, the Tax Court should deny his ex-wife’s request. It was almost as if he was attempting to exert control over her one last time.

Amy prepared a superb brief responding to the husband’s argument, and ultimately, the Tax Court sided with her client, affirming the agreement with the IRS, and overruling the husband’s objection.

Additionally, here’s what Amy had to say upon learning that she had received the award: “Tax Clinic was the highlight of my year as I found the experience of actually practicing law to be so enriching and enlightening. Professor Mitchell played a huge role in teaching me how to be an advocate for my clients and gave me opportunities to go to the Tax Court on several occasions, which allowed me the chance to even meet with Federal Tax Judges and speak to them in chambers. My efforts and successes are thanks to the great environment I had everyday coming into Clinic.”

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