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Tax Research - Federal

This research guide highlights important sources and provides tips for researching federal tax law.

Tax Forums

Three different federal trial courts decide tax cases: U.S. Tax Courts, U.S. Federal District Courts, and U.S. Courts of Federal Claims. In order to be heard by a Federal District Court or a U.S. Court of Federal Claims, a taxpayer must first pay the disputed tax and then sue for a refund. In contrast, a taxpayer can be heard in U.S. Tax Court without paying the amount in dispute prior to litigating. For this reason, most tax cases are litigated in Tax Court. U.S. District Courts are the only tax trial courts in which a taxpayer may request a jury.

The Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal hear appeals from all three trial courts. Cases from the Tax Courts are appealed to the Circuit Court in which the taxpayer resides. Cases from the Federal District Courts are appealed to the Circuit in which they sit. Cases from the Court of Federal Claims are appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. As with all federal cases, the U.S. Supreme Court is the court of last resort for tax cases.

In addition to the three trial courts list above, the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts also issue substantive tax rulings in Bankruptcy cases containing tax disputes. These cases are appealed to the Bankruptcy Appellate Panels or Courts of Appeals.

U.S. Tax Court

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The U.S. Tax Court is a specialized court that exclusively hears tax disputes. When the IRS has determined a deficiency, a taxpayer may dispute it in Tax Court before paying any disputed amount. Tax Court cases are assigned to one of nineteen judges, all of whom have expertise in tax law. The Tax Court physically resides in Washington D.C. but the judges travel to various designated cities around the country to hear tax disputes.

The Tax Court issues three types of opinions. Regular Opinions (or Reported Opinions) present important legal issues. Memorandum Opinions involve well-established legal issues that hinge on interpretations of fact. The "Small Cases" division of the Tax Court hears cases involving disputes of $50,000 or less and issues Summary Opinions, which are not appeal-able (and are not precedent).

The Tax Court makes searchable decisions publicly available on its website going back to 1995. All of the major tax databases also contain searchable Tax Court decisions (Checkpoint, Cheetah, Bloomberg Law, Westlaw and Lexis Advance).

Tax Opinions

Tax opinions are available on these sites and databases.

Citing Tax Cases

The Bluebook has special citation formats for tax materials. For Tax Court decisions, see T1 (20th ed. pp. 241-42). Regular Tax Court decisions are cited as "T.C." Memorandum decisions are cited as "T.C. Memo" or "T.C.M."

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