Office Of Tax Appeals FAQs

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GENERAL QUESTIONS:

1. What is the Office of Tax Appeals (OTA)?

OTA is an independent body established to make impartial decisions on tax disputes between taxpayers and the state’s tax agencies, OTA was established on July 1, 2017 by the Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act of 2017 and conducts appeals hearings for various taxes and fees administered by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) and the Franchise Tax Board (FTB). OTA is an independent body, separate and distinct from the state’s tax agencies.  When you file an appeal with OTA, it gives you the opportunity to present your case to a three-member panel of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and get a written decision.

2. What types of taxes can I appeal to OTA?

Most California state taxes administered by FTB and CDTFA may be appealed to OTA, including personal income, corporation franchise and income, sales and use, and fuel excise.  OTA does not hear cases regarding property taxes, excise taxes on alcohol, insurance taxes, and employment development taxes.

3. Are there time limits for filing an appeal?

Yes.  The time limits for filing your appeal depend on the type of tax action or notice you are appealing.  Typically, if you have the right to appeal, the tax agency notice will indicate the deadline for filing that appeal to OTA.  If the tax notification you received does not include a deadline for filing an appeal, you should contact the tax agency, or our OTA Ombudsperson to find out if you can appeal, and if so, what your deadline will be.  OTA will consider your appeal filed on the date it is postmarked or otherwise delivered to a delivery service, or the date your appeal is received by OTA if you submitted it electronically.  If the deadline for submitting your appeal falls on a Saturday, Sunday or a holiday, then the deadline is extended to the next business day.

A. Time Limits for Appeals from an Action of FTB:

If you have received a Notice of Action from FTB, or a notice affirming a proposed carryover adjustment, you must submit your appeal to OTA not later than the date shown on the Notice of Action, or 30 days from the date FTB mailed the notice, whichever is later.  Similarly, you have 30 days to appeal if you received a Notice of Action that denies the abatement of unpaid interest, or a notice from FTB that grants or denies innocent spouse relief.

If you filed a claim for a refund of tax, penalties, fees, or interest, and FTB does not accept or deny your claim within six months after you submitted the claim, then you may file your appeal at any time after six months has passed.  If FTB denies your claim in writing, then you must submit your appeal not later than 90 days from the date FTB mailed a notice that the claim was denied.

        B. Time Limits for Appeals from an Action of CDTFA: 

Generally, if you filed a petition for redetermination, an administrative protest, or a claim for refund with CDTFA, participated in the CDTFA appeals process, and received a decision with which you disagree, you must submit your appeal to OTA within 30 days of that decision.  If you filed a Request for Reconsideration with CDTFA, you must submit your appeal to OTA within 30 days of the supplemental decision.

4. How can I file an appeal with OTA and where do I send it?

No specific form is needed to file your appeal, but it must be in writing, either handwritten or typed.  Even though we often call your first submission to OTA your “opening brief,” you may use ordinary and informal language to explain the facts involved and the specific reasons you disagree with the action taken by the tax agency. Regardless of how you submit your appeal, you should keep a copy of the appeal and any supporting paperwork showing the date you submitted it, such as proof of mailing or fax confirmation.

A. If you wish to mail your appeal, you should send it to:

State of California, Office of Tax Appeals
P.O. Box 989880
West Sacramento, CA  95798-9880

B. If you prefer to send your appeal via fax, you should send it to (916) 492-2089.

5. Do I need to hire an attorney or other professional to handle an appeal?

No.  OTA’s processes are intended to make it easy for anyone to present a case without the need for any specialized legal knowledge.  You may represent yourself in your appeal or you can choose to have someone else represent you.  Your representative does not need to be an attorney or accountant.  Anyone may represent you, as long as he or she is over the age of 18.

6. What needs to be included in my appeal?

Your appeal must be in writing and should contain the following information:

A. Name(s) of the person(s) or entity submitting the appeal.

B. Address and telephone number of each appellant.

C. Address and telephone number of each appellant’s representative, if applicable.

D. The facts involved and the specific reasons that you disagree with the tax agency. Although it is not necessary to include legal authorities, like statutes, regulations, and court or administrative agency decisions in your appeal, you should include them if you think they support your position.

E. Dollar amount involved, or an estimate of the amount involved, if known.

F. Explanation of any part of the tax agency’s determination with which you agree, and the associated amount, if known.

G. Signature of each person who is submitting the appeal, and any authorized representative.

H. If you’re appealing an action of the Franchise Tax Board, your appeal must also contain:

1. The social security number or taxpayer identification number of each person or entity submitting the appeal.

2. The tax year(s) involved.

3. A copy of FTB’s notice that you are appealing.  If you did not receive a notice from FTB, but it has been six or more months since you filed your claim for refund or interest abatement request, you must provide a copy of the claim for refund or request for interest abatement that you filed with FTB.

I. If you’re appealing an action of CDTFA, your appeal must also contain:

1. The CDTFA account number for each person or entity submitting the appeal.

2. The CDTFA Appeals Bureau case identification number(s).

3. The date of the CDTFA Appeals Bureau decision that you are appealing.

4. A copy of the Appeals Bureau decision that you are appealing.

There is no specific form you must use to file your appeal with OTA.  While you may hear or see the term “brief,” you may use ordinary and informal language to explain the facts involved and the specific reasons you are appealing.  Your appeal letter will be treated as your opening brief, so it is important to include all of the facts that support your appeal.

7. Where can I get help filing my appeal?

Contact OTA Ombudsperson, Dana Holmes, for further resources or information about the appeal process.  You can reach the Ombudsperson by email at info@OTA.ca.gov or by phone at 916-206-4355.

The staff at OTA cannot give legal advice, but can refer you to legal resources if you need help that are not related to procedures.

8. How will I know that my appeal has been filed?

 OTA will send you a written acknowledgment that your appeal has been received.

9. What is an Oral Hearing?

An oral hearing is your opportunity to present your case, by explaining the reasons for your appeal, calling witnesses, and presenting documents in support of your appeal directly to a panel of administrative law judges.  The tax agency that made the decision you are appealing will also attend the hearing and present its case.  You can choose to have your oral hearing in Sacramento, Los Angeles, or Fresno.

10. Am I required to have an Oral Hearing? Can I have my appeal decided without one?

You have a right to an oral hearing, but are not required to have one.  If you choose not to have an oral hearing, you are waiving the right to present your case in person, and your appeal will be decided based on the documents submitted by you and the tax agency.  Whether you choose to have an oral hearing or have your appeal decided on the written record, the administrative law judge panel will issue a written decision that will be mailed to you.

11. How can I find out about the status of my appeal?

Your appeal is assigned to an analyst according to the tax agency whose action you are appealing, and the first letter of your last name or business entity’s name.  You can contact your assigned analyst directly for information about the status of your appeal.  The analyst assignments are available on the “Contact Us” page of our website.

You can also contact OTA by telephone at (916) 492-2635, by fax at (916) 492-2089, by email to info@OTA.ca.gov, or by writing to the following address:

Case Management
State of California, Office of Tax Appeals
PO Box 989880
West Sacramento, CA 95798-9880.

12. How do I request a change in the location where my oral hearing will be held?

Any request for a change in location must be made in writing. You can mail your request to:

Case Management
State of California, Office of Tax Appeals
PO Box 989880,
West Sacramento, CA 95798-9880.

Alternatively, you may email your request to or fax it to Case Management, State of California, Office of Tax Appeals at (916) 492-2089.

If your appeal has been assigned to an appeals analyst at OTA, you can email your request to the analyst whose email address you can locate on the “Contact Us” page of OTA’s website.

13. Where can I find decisions that have been previously decided by OTA?  

Decisions of OTA can be found on OTA’s website here.  In addition, you can still rely on precedential opinions of the Board of Equalization unless its precedential status is removed by OTA in a subsequent precedential opinion.  Precedential Board of Equalization opinions can be found here.

14. Where can I find the rules that apply to OTA hearings?

A link to OTA regulations can be found on OTA’s website.  The regulations include OTA’s rules for tax appeals. OTA’s final regulations are still in process and expected to be completed by December 31, 2018.

15. What are statutes and regulations and where can I locate them?

The term “statute” simply refers to a law enacted by a legislative body of a government, whether federal or state.  Regulations (sometimes called rules or administrative laws) are authorized by statutes and have the effect of law.  A link to OTA’s regulations can be found on the OTA’s website here.

16. Who will decide my appeal?

Your appeal will be decided by a panel of three administrative law judges with experience in tax matters.  OTA judges are independent of the tax agencies whose actions you are appealing.  The panel will decide your appeal regardless of whether you request an oral hearing or waive your right to a hearing.  If you do not select an oral hearing, the panel will decide your appeal based on the written documents that you and the tax agency submit during the course of your appeal, including briefs (statements of facts and law), letters, and accompanying documents.

17. Can I have a judge disqualified from hearing my appeal?

Yes, you may request that a judge be disqualified if there is good cause and you act timely.  OTA judges will also be disqualified from involvement if it is determined there is a conflict of interest that makes them unable to handle the appeal fairly and impartially.  You may ask a judge to disqualify himself or herself from your appeal, but you must show that the judge is biased against you, has been involved in your case before being appointed as a judge, or has a personal or financial interest in your case.  A request should be made as soon as you know which judges are assigned to your appeal.  You may also challenge a judge at the time of hearing if necessary, but only if you could not have known the reason for your challenge in advance of the hearing.

18. What happens if a judge is disqualified to hear my appeal?

If a judge is disqualified from hearing your appeal, another judge will be assigned to replace the disqualified judge.

19. How can I file a complaint against a judge?

If you believe that a judge has conducted himself or herself in an unprofessional manner, you may file a complaint with the Office of Tax Appeals by emailing info@OTA.ca.gov, or by writing to State of California, Office of Tax Appeals, P. O. Box 989880, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9880, Attn: Chief Counsel.  All complaints will be promptly investigated.

20. Are OTA hearings open to the public?

Yes.  OTA hearings are generally open to the public.  However, taxpayers may request that a hearing be closed to the public in the following situations:

A. Where the appeal involves trade secrets, confidential research or development, or other information that might cause embarrassment or harassment,

B. Where it is needed to ensure a taxpayer can be represented by a person of their choice, or

C. Where it is necessary to ensure a fair hearing.

21. Will my case information be public?

When you submit an appeal, you waive (or give up) your right to confidentiality with regard to all information provided to OTA in connection with the appeal.  Members of the public may request copies of documents filed with OTA; however, OTA will not disclose your address, telephone number, social security number, federal identification number, or other account number.

TRANSFER OF APPEALS FROM THE STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION TO OTA:

22. If my appeal was pending before the State Board of Equalization, how will my appeal proceed?

If you had a pending appeal before the State Board of Equalization, your appeal was automatically transferred to OTA.  If you had requested a hearing, but no hearing has been held yet, OTA will hear your appeal.  If you did not request an oral hearing, your appeal will be decided by a panel of OTA administrative law judges based on the written documents that you and the tax agency submit during the course of your appeal, including briefs (statements of facts and law), letters, and accompanying documents.

OTA will send you a letter acknowledging your appeal together with a schedule for filing any briefs that have not yet been filed.

 

BEFORE THE HEARING:

23. What do I do when I get an OTA oral hearing notice? 

Once your appeal is accepted and the taxing agency files its opening brief (statements of law and facts), you will receive a notice asking you whether you want an oral hearing on your appeal.  If you do not respond to that notice, or if you tell OTA that you do not want an oral hearing, your appeal will be decided based on the written documentation that you and the taxing agency submitted to OTA.  If you told OTA that you do want to have an oral hearing, you will receive a notice of the date and time set for the hearing after briefing is complete.  The notice will include a form for you to complete to confirm that you still want an oral hearing and that you can attend on the scheduled date at the time set by OTA.  If you do not return that form, your case will be taken off the hearing calendar, and the appeal will be decided by a three-judge panel based on the documents you and the tax agency submitted to OTA.

24. Can OTA help me settle my appeal?

No.  You are encouraged to settle your case directly with the tax agency, but OTA cannot assist you in these discussions.  In situations where you and the tax agency have agreed to talk about settlement, you should contact OTA.  OTA will postpone taking action on your appeal until that settlement process is completed.  You may voluntarily withdraw your appeal request if you reach a settlement agreement.

25. Can I get my money back if I pay while my appeal is pending?

If you have appealed a decision of a taxing agency that assessed you with additional taxes or penalties, you might decide to pay to stop the interest from increasing.  If you are appealing from a decision of the FTB and you pay the taxes and penalties, OTA will automatically treat your appeal as a request for a refund.  If the decision you appealed came from the CDTFA Appeals Bureau, you will need to file your claim for refund with CDTFA.  OTA will suspend your appeal (put it on hold) until the claim for refund is processed by CDTFA.

26. What is a prehearing conference?

Prehearing conferences may be requested by taxpayers, a tax agency, or OTA itself.  Prehearing conferences typically are held by telephone, although sometimes a personal appearance may be requested.  Prehearing conferences generally are needed in more complex cases to allow the parties to discuss the issues and documents that will be considered at the hearing.  Other matters may be discussed to help streamline the hearing process.  A prehearing conference is also an opportunity to see if the parties can agree on some of the accepted facts prior to the hearing.  The prehearing conference will help to reduce the amount of time needed to conduct the hearing.  No decisions will be made at a prehearing conference about the merits of your case.

Prehearing conferences may be conducted by an OTA attorney or administrative law judge.  If the conference is conducted by an administrative law judge, the judge will document any agreements or other matters that occurred at the prehearing conference.  If the parties need to complete tasks before a hearing, the judge may also issue instructions at the conference.  Any minutes following a prehearing conference will be sent to both parties.

EXCHANGING DOCUMENTS AND EVIDENCE:

27. I don’t have all of the documents that I need to prove my case.  How do I get them?

Even though you have given certain documents to the tax agency throughout the dispute process, OTA will not have those documents unless they were attached as exhibits to your appeal letter, your brief(s), or the tax agency’s brief(s).  If you need to get copies of items you provided to or received from the tax agency, you should contact the agency to get copies.  Informal requests and responses are encouraged.  OTA expects you and the tax agencies to cooperate in disclosing and exchanging information.

Unless you request and show a need for more documents prior to the time that briefing has been completed, you will be limited to receipt/exchange of witness lists (and contents of an expert witness’s testimony), exhibits, and copies of any written declarations.

If you have tried to obtain evidence that is necessary to your case through informal means, but you have not been able to obtain the evidence, you can request that OTA assist you in obtaining the evidence.  You should request this assistance along with an explanation of why the requested documents are relevant and cannot be obtained informally.  OTA will not consider documents or other materials that are not relevant or create an undue burden to provide.

28. What do I do if I make a request for documents but I don’t receive the requested documents?

There are formal ways that can be used to get information if your informal requests are ignored.  For further guidance on the options available for acquiring information necessary to present your appeal before OTA please contact OTA’s Ombudsperson at 916-206-4355 or by emailing info@OTA.ca.gov.

29. How do I provide documents I wish to use in a hearing to the judges assigned to my appeal?

The easiest way to provide OTA’s judges with the documents you think are necessary to prove your case is to attach them to your initial appeal letter or to a reply brief (statement of facts and legal arguments).  See FAQ regarding how to send information to OTA.

30.  If I need witnesses at my hearing, how can I make sure they will come?

If you have a legal representative who is authorized to issue a subpoena, you may contact them to do so.  OTA judges may issue a subpoena for witness appearance only if they are necessary witnesses with relevant information.  You may be required to pay witness appearance fees and mileage.

31.  How can I find out what evidence the other party will be rely on at the hearing?

All evidence considered by OTA in your appeal is shared with both you and the tax agency.  After you file your appeal, the tax agency will send you copies of documents it sends to OTA.  OTA also sends you copies of anything it receives from the tax agency.  If an oral hearing is scheduled, a prehearing conference will be used, in part, to confirm what documents and evidence will be used at the hearing, and then considered by the judges.

32.  Can I provide more information or briefing after I receive the tax agency brief and documents?

Your initial appeal letter will be considered your opening brief (factual and legal arguments).  The tax agency will file a brief in response.  You will receive a letter from OTA when the tax agency brief has been filed, which will give you 30 days to respond to what the tax agency said.  The opportunity to provide additional briefing to OTA should not be used to restate what was already argued in the opening briefs.

33.  Can OTA request additional briefs or other information from the parties?

Yes.  After you and the tax agency have completed briefing (facts and arguments), OTA may request what is called additional briefing on matters OTA believes haven’t been fully explained by documents or briefs.

34.  Do I have to give the other party everything that is requested?

You need to give the tax agency lists of witnesses you expect to call at the hearing, copies of documents you expect to give to OTA, and declarations of witnesses that will not attend the hearing.  It is the responsibility of the tax agency to obtain documents it needs to support its side of the case.  The tax agency may have already requested documents from you before you began the appeals process.  Any other requests that are made formally; for example, by subpoena, obligate you to provide the requested information.

PROVING YOUR CASE AT THE HEARING:

35.  How do I send my documents to OTA?

Documents may be mailed to OTA at the following address:

Case Management

State of California, Office of Tax Appeals

PO Box 989880

West Sacramento, CA 95798-9880

Alternatively, you can fax copies of your evidence to (916) 492-2089.  If your appeal has already been assigned to an analyst at OTA, then you can email copies of your evidence to the analyst at his/her email address, which is available on the “Contact Us” page of our website.

Please be sure to identify the name of the case and the case number on all correspondence with OTA.

You should also send copies of any documents to the tax agency.

36.  How do I prepare documents that I wish to use at a hearing?

You should prepare your documents (exhibits or evidence) by labeling them with numbers (Ex.1, Ex.2, etc.)  The tax agency will use letters (Ex. A, Ex. B, etc.)  Include a cover sheet, listing each exhibit and its corresponding number.  If you have not already sent OTA an exhibit you plan to use at your oral hearing, you will need to bring five copies of your organized exhibits so that they can be shared with the judges and the tax agency representative.

37.  Can I use declarations or affidavits instead of having a witness appear at the hearing?

Yes, however there are some formalities you must follow.  Declarations must be signed under the penalty of perjury, and be submitted to the opposing party at least 10 days before the date of the hearing.  The tax agency will have seven days from the date you mail the declaration to object to the use of the declaration at the hearing.

38.  Will OTA have copies of all documents I sent to the tax agency?

OTA and the tax agencies are separate and distinct agencies.  Privacy laws prevent us from accessing a tax agency’s records.  Therefore, evidence you previously submitted to the agency will not be considered in your appeal unless you or the agency submit it to us.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE HEARING:

39.  Who can help me with questions about presenting my case?

OTA has an Ombudsperson who is available during each hearing (and by telephone and email prior to the hearing) to answer any procedural questions you may have about your case.  You can contact OTA’s Ombudsperson, Dana Holmes, at 916-206-4355 or by email at info@ota.ca.gov.  The administrative law judge assigned to lead the hearing will also answer questions you may have during the hearing itself.

40.  Where can I get more information about what to expect at the hearing?

Further information may be obtained about what to expect at the hearing by contacting OTA Ombudsperson, Dana Holmes at 916-206-4355 or by email at info@ota.ca.gov.  You may also contact the OTA at 916-492-2635, by emailing info@ota.ca.gov, or by faxing your question to OTA’s fax number 916-492-2089.  OTA staff cannot give you legal advice but may provide general information about your appeals process and help you find additional resources.

41.  Can I bring food or water with me?

Generally, only water is allowed in the hearing room.  If you have a medical need to consume food during the hearing, please contact OTA staff.

42.  What should I bring to the hearing?

A. You should bring to the hearing any documents you wish to use as evidence that you have not already submitted to OTA.  You should bring five copies of any document you wish to introduce as evidence during the hearing so that the judges, the tax agency representatives, and witnesses will have a copy.  If you have already submitted the documents with your appeal or briefs, you do not have to bring extra copies.

B. If you have witnesses besides yourself who are going to testify at the hearing, it is very important that you contact them, inform them when the hearing will take place, and ensure that they will attend the hearing.

C. If you have any special needs that OTA will need to accommodate, please contact the Ombudsperson at OTA for further information.  If you need an interpreter to aid you, and you do not have one available, you can also contact the OTA Ombudsperson to find out how to request one.

43.  What should I do if I don’t understand something during the hearing?

Hearings before the three-judge panels at OTA are designed to be informal. Taxpayers may represent themselves at the hearing or be represented by any person of their choice. Expertise in tax law or specialized knowledge is not required to present an appeal.  Anytime you have a question or do not understand something, simply ask the judges.  The judge leading the hearing will take as much time as necessary to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have.  All questions are welcome.

WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER THE HEARING OR DECISION:

44.  What does it mean that my case is submitted?

At the conclusion of the oral hearing, the case will be “submitted” for the judges to privately deliberate, review the evidence, and make a decision.  No further evidence may be given to OTA after the case is “submitted.”  If there is a need for further information after the hearing is over, the judges may keep the record open for a certain amount of time to allow you or the tax agency to provide that evidence.  Once the deadline passes, the case will be submitted.

45.  How long will it take to get a decision?

Generally, the administrative law judge panel will issue a decision within 100 days of the hearing.  The panel’s decision may be completed sooner, and will be mailed to you once it is approved by at least two of the three members.

46.  Will the decision in my case be public?

Yes.  OTA is required to publish all of its decisions within 100 days from the date they become final.  OTA decisions are published on OTA’s website here.

47.  What happens if I disagree with a decision?

If you have new facts or evidence that you were unable to present at your hearing or prior to your written decision, you may file a request for a rehearing.  That request is called a petition, and it must be made no more than 30 days after OTA’s written decision is issued.  The administrative law judge panel that decided your case will review your request to determine whether there is a sufficient basis to re-hear your case or allow presentation of additional documents and evidence.  If your request for a re-hearing is granted, you will be able to present the new facts or evidence at an oral hearing.  If you waive an oral hearing, your submitted documents and any other relevant documents submitted by the taxing agency will be used to issue a new decision.

If you disagree with the determination after your decision becomes final, you may file a claim for refund in Superior Court.

48.  If my appeal is denied and I can’t afford to pay the taxes I owe, what can I do?

If you can’t afford to pay your tax liability in full, you should contact the tax agency office to ask about the possibility of entering into an installment payment agreement.  In addition, both FTB and CDTFA have Offer in Compromise programs.  Under those programs, you may be able to pay less than the full amount you owe if you can show that you will not have the money, assets, or means to pay your taxes in full in the foreseeable future.  OTA itself, however, does not play any role in either of these programs.