26 U.S. Code § 7431 - Civil damages for unauthorized inspection or disclosure of returns and return information

(a) In general
(1) Inspection or disclosure by employee of United States
If any officer or employee of the United States knowingly, or by reason of negligence, inspects or discloses any return or return information with respect to a taxpayer in violation of any provision of section 6103, such taxpayer may bring a civil action for damages against the United States in a district court of the United States.
(2) Inspection or disclosure by a person who is not an employee of United States
If any person who is not an officer or employee of the United States knowingly, or by reason of negligence, inspects or discloses any return or return information with respect to a taxpayer in violation of any provision of section 6103 or in violation of section 6104 (c), such taxpayer may bring a civil action for damages against such person in a district court of the United States.
(b) Exceptions
No liability shall arise under this section with respect to any inspection or disclosure—
(1) which results from a good faith, but erroneous, interpretation of section 6103, or
(2) which is requested by the taxpayer.
(c) Damages
In any action brought under subsection (a), upon a finding of liability on the part of the defendant, the defendant shall be liable to the plaintiff in an amount equal to the sum of—
(1) the greater of—
(A) $1,000 for each act of unauthorized inspection or disclosure of a return or return information with respect to which such defendant is found liable, or
(B) the sum of—
(i) the actual damages sustained by the plaintiff as a result of such unauthorized inspection or disclosure, plus
(ii) in the case of a willful inspection or disclosure or an inspection or disclosure which is the result of gross negligence, punitive damages, plus
(2) the costs of the action, plus
(3) in the case of a plaintiff which is described in section 7430 (c)(4)(A)(ii), reasonable attorneys fees, except that if the defendant is the United States, reasonable attorneys fees may be awarded only if the plaintiff is the prevailing party (as determined under section 7430 (c)(4)).
(d) Period for bringing action
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action to enforce any liability created under this section may be brought, without regard to the amount in controversy, at any time within 2 years after the date of discovery by the plaintiff of the unauthorized inspection or disclosure.
(e) Notification of unlawful inspection and disclosure
If any person is criminally charged by indictment or information with inspection or disclosure of a taxpayer’s return or return information in violation of—
(1) paragraph (1) or (2) of section 7213 (a),
(2) section 7213A (a), or
(3) subparagraph (B) of section 1030 (a)(2) of title 18, United States Code,
the Secretary shall notify such taxpayer as soon as practicable of such inspection or disclosure.
(f) Definitions
For purposes of this section, the terms “inspect”, “inspection”, “return”, and “return information” have the respective meanings given such terms by section 6103 (b).
(g) Extension to information obtained under section 3406
For purposes of this section—
(1) any information obtained under section 3406 (including information with respect to any payee certification failure under subsection (d) thereof) shall be treated as return information, and
(2) any inspection or use of such information other than for purposes of meeting any requirement under section 3406 or (subject to the safeguards set forth in section 6103) for purposes permitted under section 6103 shall be treated as a violation of section 6103.
For purposes of subsection (b), the reference to section 6103 shall be treated as including a reference to section 3406.
(h) Special rule for information obtained under section 6103(k)(9)
For purposes of this section, any reference to section 6103 shall be treated as including a reference to section 6311 (e).

Source

(Added Pub. L. 97–248, title III, § 357(a),Sept. 3, 1982, 96 Stat. 645; amended Pub. L. 98–67, title I, § 104(b),Aug. 5, 1983, 97 Stat. 379; Pub. L. 105–34, title XII, § 1205(c)(2),Aug. 5, 1997, 111 Stat. 998; Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(a)–(d)(4), (6), Aug. 5, 1997, 111 Stat. 1105, 1106; Pub. L. 105–206, title III, § 3101(f), title VI, § 6012(b)(3),July 22, 1998, 112 Stat. 729, 819; Pub. L. 109–280, title XII, § 1224(b)(7),Aug. 17, 2006, 120 Stat. 1093.)
Prior Provisions

A prior section 7431 was renumbered section 7437 of this title.
Amendments

2006—Subsec. (a)(2). Pub. L. 109–280, which directed insertion of “or in violation of section 6104 (c)” after “6103” in subsec. (a)(2) ofsection 7431, without specifying the act to be amended, was executed by making the insertion in subsec. (a)(2) of this section, which is section 7431 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, to reflect the probable intent of Congress.
1998—Subsec. (c)(2). Pub. L. 105–206, § 3101(f), substituted “, plus” for the period at end.
Subsec. (c)(3). Pub. L. 105–206, § 3101(f), added par. (3).
Subsecs. (g), (h). Pub. L. 105–206, § 6012(b)(3), redesignatedsubsec. (g), relating to special rule for information obtained under section 6103 (k)(8), as (h), and substituted “(9)” for “(8)” in heading.
1997—Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(d)(4), inserted “inspection or” before “disclosure” in section catchline.
Subsec. (a)(1), (2). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(a)(1), (2), substituted “Inspection or disclosure” for “Disclosure” in headings and “inspects or discloses” for “discloses” in text.
Subsec. (b). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(c), amended subsec. (b) generally. Prior to amendment, subsec. (b) read as follows:
“(b) No Liability for Good Faith but Erroneous Interpretation.—No liability shall arise under this section with respect to any disclosure which results from a good faith, but erroneous, interpretation of section 6103.”
Subsec. (c)(1). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(d)(1), (2), inserted “inspection or” before “disclosure” in subpars. (A) and (B)(i) and substituted “willful inspection or disclosure or an inspection or disclosure” for “willful disclosure or a disclosure” in subpar. (B)(ii).
Subsec. (d). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(d)(1), inserted “inspection or” before “disclosure”.
Subsec. (e). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(b), added subsec. (e). Former subsec. (e) redesignated (f).
Subsec. (f). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(b), (d)(3), redesignatedsubsec. (e) as (f) and amended it generally. Prior to amendment, subsec. (f) read as follows:
“(f) Return; Return Information.—For purposes of this section, the terms ‘return’ and ‘return information’ have the respective meanings given such terms in section 6103 (b).”
Subsec. (g). Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(b), (d)(6), redesignatedsubsec. (f) as (g) and substituted “any inspection or use” for “any use” in par. (2).
Pub. L. 105–34, § 1205(c)(2), added subsec. (g) relating to special rule for information obtained under section 6103 (k)(8).
1983—Subsec. (f). Pub. L. 98–67added subsec. (f).
Effective Date of 2006 Amendment

Amendment by Pub. L. 109–280effective Aug. 17, 2006, but not applicable to requests made before such date, see section 1224(c) ofPub. L. 109–280, set out as a note under section 6103 of this title.
Effective Date of 1998 Amendment

Amendment by section 3101(f) ofPub. L. 105–206applicable to costs incurred more than 180 days after July 22, 1998, see section 3101(g) ofPub. L. 105–206, set out as a note under section 7430 of this title.
Amendment by section 6012(b)(3) ofPub. L. 105–206effective, except as otherwise provided, as if included in the provisions of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, Pub. L. 105–34, to which such amendment relates, see section 6024 ofPub. L. 105–206, set out as a note under section 1 of this title.
Effective Date of 1997 Amendments

Pub. L. 105–35, § 3(e),Aug. 5, 1997, 111 Stat. 1106, provided that: “The amendments made by this section [amending this section] shall apply to inspections and disclosures occurring on and after the date of the enactment of this Act [Aug. 5, 1997].”
Amendment by Pub. L. 105–34effective on the day 9 months after Aug. 5, 1997, see section 1205(d) ofPub. L. 105–34, set out as a note under section 6103 of this title.
Effective Date of 1983 Amendment

Amendment by Pub. L. 98–67effective Aug. 5, 1983, see section 110(c) ofPub. L. 98–67, set out as a note under section 31 of this title.
Effective Date

Pub. L. 97–248, title III, § 357(c),Sept. 3, 1982, 96 Stat. 646, provided that: “The amendments made by this section [enacting this section and repealing section 7217 of this title] shall apply with respect to disclosures made after the date of enactment of this Act [Sept. 3, 1982].”

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26 USCDescription of ChangeSession YearPublic LawStatutes at Large

 

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