When a taxpayer and the Internal Revenue Service cannot reach an agreement using the internal audit and appeal process, the dispute may be taken to federal court.
Tax cases are first heard in one of three trial courts and may then advance to the appellate level and to the Supreme Court of the United States. See below.
Tax cases may be found on each Court's official website, in the Law Library’s print collection, and in a number of fee-based databases including the following databases available from any campus computer: Cheetah (formerly CCH Intelliconnect), Nexis Uni (formerly LexisNexis Academic), and Thomson Reuters Checkpoint
Income tax litigation begins in one of three trial courts: U.S. Tax Court; U.S. District Courts; and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
1. The United States Tax Court hears only federal tax cases. If this Court is chosen, the taxpayer does not have to pay the disputed tax prior to litigation. Although based in Washington, D.C., Tax Court judges travel throughout the country and hear cases in all major cities. Prior to 1943, this court was called the U.S. Board of Tax Appeals.
The U.S. Tax Court issues Regular, Memorandum, and Summary Opinions.
Regular Opinions (TC) are issued in cases involving a new or unusual point of law. These opinions may be found on the U.S. Tax Court website
Memorandum Opinions (TCM) involve established legal issues and interpretation of facts. These opinions may be found on the U.S. Tax Court website
Summary Opinions are issued by the Tax Court's Small Cases division, and involve disputes of $50,000 or less – these opinions cannot be appealed or used as precedent pursuant to 26 USC § 7463(b).
2. The United States District Courts are the only tax trial court where a jury trial can be requested by a taxpayer. Taxpayers must pay the amount in dispute and sue for a refund as a condition to litigating in this Court. These opinions may be found online through Justia and Findlaw and in the following print case reporters:
3. The United States Court of Federal Claims was called the United States Claims Court prior to 1992. Taxpayers must pay the disputed amount prior to litigation. These opinions may be found online at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims site and in the following print case reporters:
Tax cases litigated in the lower level trial courts may be appealed to the U.S. Courts of Appeals or to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
1. The U.S. Courts of Appeals review decisions from the Tax Court and the District Courts in the taxpayer geographical residence. These opinions are also found in the following print case reporters:
2. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reviews decisions from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. These opinions are also found in the following print case reporters:
The Supreme Court of the United States hears cases involving constitutional challenges and those involving statutory interpretation.
Supreme Court opinions are also found in the following print case reporters:
- United States Reports, GPO
- Supreme Court Reporter, West
- United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition (1926-1956) and United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition 2d (1957 to present); Lexis
- U.S. Tax Cases, CCH