A Pennsylvania court has ruled that a man cannot challenge a $280,722 tax bill, even though tax officials admit the information on the bill is fictional.
Nathan Lerner, who relies on Social Security to pay his bills, received a “jeopardy assessment” for unpaid business taxes from the city of Philadelphia in 2009 even though he says he does not own a business.
The worst part of Lerner’s dilemma is that the jeopardy assessments are not based on financial information or income, The Patriot-News reported. Writer Matt Miller described the jeopardy assessment against Lerner as “based upon a fabrication” and “fictional.”
When Lerner’s attorney in court asked Philadelphia’s revenue collections manager Denise Reynolds if the assessments  were “just something you make up to scare the taxpayers to come in,” she replied, “basically yes.” Miller alleged that Philadelphia has a policy of sending out delinquent tax notices that contained fictional jeopardy assessments.
“We try to make it really high,” Reynolds said. “We want them to come in and make sure the figures are accurate.”
In other words, the letter he received in the mail contained information the city knew to be false.
Two Courts Rule Against Lerner
At least two different courts have ruled that Lerner has to pay the taxes. County Judge Leon W. Tucker noted that the city’s tax estimation was “unsupported by any evidence” but still dismissed Lerner’s tax appeal, the newspaper reported. Tucker ruled that Lerner had waived his right to appeal because he had failed to obey Tucker’s order to pay for a transcript of a Tax Review Board hearing.
In upholding Tucker’s decision, Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt also ruled that Lerner had to pay the tax due to the fact he had waved his right to an appeal.
Lerner’s tax nightmare may have occurred because he initially was not represented by a tax attorney and chose to represent himself. Miller believes that Lerner made a number of mistakes that turned the appeal into an uphill climb.
Nevertheless, Leavitt wrote that “challenges to the city’s ‘fictional’ assessment may have merit; the city’s strong-arm collection tactics may well lack authority in law.”
The city alleges that Lerner is involved in a business partnership with another man and he is not paying taxes  on the income from that partnership. It also alleges that Lerner has not presented any financial records to prove he does not owe the money.
Lerner’s attorney, Matthew J. Wolfe, called the tax charges against his client “ludicrous.” Wolfe did not say whether he would appeal Leavitt’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, although he indicated it was likely.
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