Can a Taxpayer Be Charged a Civil Penalty for Filing a Frivolous Income Tax Return ?

In Hyslep v. United States, 765 F.2d 1083 (11th Cir. 1985), the court affirmed the federal district court's assessment of a $ 500 civil penalty against a taxpayer for filing a frivolous income tax return. Id. at 1084. The taxpayer had filed a return in which he deducted, as an adjustment to income, the full amount of wages he had received on the ground that he was a "source-exchanger" and, therefore, his wages were "non-taxable." Id. The Eleventh Circuit noted that such arguments have been "long held to be frivolous." Id. One of the cases cited by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hyslep is Lonsdale v. Commissioner, 661 F.2d 71 (5th Cir. 1981). In Lonsdale, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals identified three separate arguments made by the taxpayers in their pro se brief: (1) "the United States Constitution forbids taxation of compensation received for personal services because the exchange of services for money is a zero-sum transaction, the value of the wages being exactly that of the labor exchanged for them and hence containing no element of profit"; (2) the income tax is a direct one that must be apportioned among the several states; (3) the Seventh Amendment entitled them to a jury trial. Id. at 72. The Fifth Circuit rejected all of these arguments, stating: Appellants' contentions are stale ones, long settled against them. As such they are frivolous. Bending over backwards, in indulgence of appellants' pro se status, we today forbear the sanction of Rule 38, Fed.R.App.P. We publish this opinion as notice to future litigants that the continued advancing of these long-defunct arguments invites such sanctions, however. Id. See also Lonsdale v. United States, 919 F.2d 1440, 1448 (10th Cir. 1990) (listing arguments that are completely lacking in legal merit and patently frivolous, including the arguments that wages are not income, that the income tax is voluntary, that the term "income" as used in the tax statutes is unconstitutionally vague and indefinite, and that no statutory authority exists for imposing an income tax on individuals).