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Tax Law

U.S. Tax Court Structure

Overview of the United States Tax Court

The United States Tax Court is established under Article 1 of the United States Constitution and exists to resolve disputes between taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service.  The U.S. Tax Courts website has several helpful resources about the Tax Court System that include the following:

This website can also be used to find the forms, opinions , and orders of the Tax Court .

Structure of the United States Tax Court

Other than being focused on tax law, there are a couple qualities about the Tax Court that are different from other courts:

  • Trials in Tax Court are bench trials only, meaning that only a Tax Court judge will hear the case.  Tax court judges are appointed by the President and serve 15 year terms.  They have the opportunity to be reappointed for subsequent terms
    • After the judge makes his or her decision in regards to a case, they write their opinion. 
    • This opinion is reviewed by the Chief Judge who either approves the opinion or refers it to the full court for review. 
    • For more information about the tax court judges, follow this link.
  • Tax Court trials have national jurisdiction.  This means that no matter what state you are in, you can be bound by the precedent of the Tax Court's decision from another state.
  • The Tax Court is located in Washington, D.C., but it travels to different states to hear cases.
    • NOTE: The Tax Court does not travel to Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, or Rhode Island.

U.S. Tax Court Rules and Dockets

Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure

The United States Tax Court has their own Rules of Practice and Procedure . To view the historical explanations of the Rules, you can access the Guide to Rules Amendments and Notes.

In addition to the Tax Court rules freely available on the United States Tax Courts website, you can also access helpful  Annotated Versions of the Rules of Practice and Procedure on Bloomberg LawLexis Advance, and Westlaw Edge.  The Law Library has limited holdings of these rules available in print. [ KF6324.A39 T39].  The most recent print version the Law Library holds is from 2003.

Dockets

Petitions and complaints in the U.S. Tax Court are the equivalent of records and briefs for other courts.  You can find petitions, complaints, and dockets online using Bloomberg.

U.S. Tax Court Decisions

U.S. Tax Court Decisions

The first place of recourse is in the U.S. Tax Court, which is a specialized Article I court that handles only tax cases.  Decisions made in this court are appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.  There are 3 kinds of decisions that the U.S. Tax Court can issue:

  • Memorandum Decisions
  • Regular Decisions
  • Small Case Division Decisions

More about these decisions and where to find them is below.

 

Claims Courts

The second place of recourse for taxpayers is to bring their suits in the U.S. Claims Courts.  This specific court is where taxpayers can dispute assessments of tax liability and file for refunds.  If their request for a refund is rejected, then they can file a suit for their refund in this court.  Decisions made in this court are appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Memorandum Decisions

Memorandum decisions are the most common type of case heard in the U.S. Tax Courts.  These decisions are those where a taxpayer's situation is disputed, but it is most commonly not a decision that involves an interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code.  These cases are not officially reported, but because there are so many of them, they carry slightly more weight than Small Cases Division Decisions.

Tax Court Memorandum DecisionsKF6280.A2 C73. (available electronically via LexisAdvance, and Westlaw Edge).  The Law Library has print holdings of these decisions from 1946 on, and the electronic holdings have availability from 1942 on.  The U.S. Tax Court also provides decisions from 1995- on to the public for free here.

Board of Tax Appeals Memorandum DecisionsKF6324 .A514.  Prior to 1942, the memorandum decisions were published by the Board of Tax Appeals who was the administrative body who heard income tax cases..  The Law Library has holdings available for these decisions from 1928-1941.

Regular Decisions

Regular decisions are the only decisions of the U.S. Tax Court that are officially reported.  These cases involve disputes in the interpretation of the Code or address subject matter that has not been litigated at this point.

Reports of the Tax Court of the United StatesKF6280.A2 T37.  (available electronically via Westlaw Edge and LexisAdvance).  The Law Library holds the tax court reports from 1942-present under this call number.  The U.S. Tax Court also provides decisions from 2010- on to the public for free here.

  • NOTE: Don't be confused by the two separate catalog entries that display partial selections.  These reports are all located together on the second floor of the Law Library.  

Reports of the United States Board of Tax AppealsKF6280.A2T36. (available electronically via LexisAdvance). These are the decisions for cases that were appealed prior to 1942.  The Law Library has holdings from 1924-1942 in print.

United States Courts of Appeal Tax Cases. (available electronically via LexisAdvance).  These are the decisions from 1942- present that were appealed after being decided int he Tax Court of the United States.

Small Case Division Decisions

Opinions in the Small Cases Division, more commonly referred to as Tax Court Summary Opinions, are opinions that are not officially reported.  Unlike Memorandum Decisions, these cases cannot be treated as precedent for other cases.  Relatively short, these decisions consist of findings of fact and opinions.

Tax Court Summary Opinions.  (available electronically via Lexis Advance and Westlaw Edge).  Both of these electronic sources provide coverage of these tools from 2001 to present.  The U.S. Tax Courts website also holds these resources freely available from 2001 to present here.

Claims Court Opinions

The U.S. Claims Court evolved from the U.S. Court of Claims and was established in 1982.  These cases are not officially reported but may be useful for learning about the different tax claims that can be brought.

Federal Claims Court Reporter. KF125.C5 U55.  (available electronically via LeixsAdvance and Westlaw Edge).  This publishes the most recent decisions of the U.S. Claims Court.  In its print holdings, the Law Library has volumes from 1983-present.

  • NOTE: Don't be fooled by the two different entries in the catalog that call this resource the Federal Claims Court Reporter and the U.S. Claims Court Reporter.  These are the same resource that just went through a name change in 1983.

Tax Decisions of Other Courts

While they do not stem from the U.S. Tax Courts or U.S. Claims court, there are some federal and state cases available that are relevant for tax case law research.

American Federal Tax ReportsKF6280.A2 A5.  These reports hold the majority of tax decisions of the federal courts.  The Law Library has holdings for this series from 1924-1990.

U.S. Tax CasesKF6280.A2 C63. This set of reports contains tax decisions of federal courts, as well as tax related state court decisions.  This is a good place to look if you are interested in finding cases related to Federal estate and gift tax service, as well as Federal excise tax reports.