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If they would have sent notices, then that would have satisfied due process requirements. You would have had a chance to challenge the claim at that time. If you failed to respond, then it would have been as if you defaulted on the issue. However, if the notice was sent to the wrong address, then you can argue that you never received notice.
They don't care if I received any notices or not. They say it was my responsibility to make sure they had my address, so if I didn't get the notices, it was my fault. The strange part is that they say they withheld my 1998 refund because of the 1996 problems. That means they admit they got my 1997 and 1998 returns, but they shredded the returns long ago because so much time had passed.
You could still bring a lawsuit against them seeking an injunction as failing to provide proper notice. While they say that it was your responsibility to provide an updated address, you could argue to the contrary. If you want to fight it, I would suggest hiring a local attorney who could file an action against the California Tax Department
Thanks for your thoughts. The whole thing just seems unreasonable to me. I'm surprised they didn't wait another couple of years and get even more interest.