In late 2020, the US Tax Court transitioned to a new case management system, DAWSON (Docket Access Within a Secure Online Network), which was named after the late Judge Howard A. Dawson, Jr.. We previously discussed DAWSON here and here.
Over the past year, the Tax Court has made improvements to DAWSON in order to provide better access to taxpayers and their representatives. One of the helpful features of the old case management system was the ability to search Orders, however, that feature was not present in DAWSON—until now.
On December 14, 2021, the Tax Court announced that the Order search feature is once again available to the public. In addition to searching for Orders by case name or docket number, the public can also search by keyword or phrase, by judge or by date range. The Tax Court’s DAWSON Release Notes page provides the following additional information:
- Implemented Order search for public users
- Includes keyword and phrase search
- Includes ability to find exact matches with “” (quotation marks) ex: “innocent spouse”
- Includes ability to combine two or more keywords or phrases with the + (plus sign) ex: “collection due process” + remand
- Includes ability to find documents with one or more keywords or phrases with the | (pipe character) ex: Lien | levy [Note: this search will return documents that contain the words “lien” or “levy”]
- Includes ability to filter by date, judge, case title, petitioner name, or docket number
- Petitions and other documents with form fields now upload correctly for all browsers.
Similar guidance concerning searching for documents is also available on the Tax Court’s website. The Tax Court also updated its Public Guide, Self-Represented (Pro Se) Petitioner Guide and Practitioner Guide for DAWSON. The Public Guide indicates that the ability to search court opinions in DAWSON is coming soon. Additionally, cases that migrated from the prior case management system appear as sealed in DAWSON if there were any sealed documents in the case. It remains to be seen whether unsealed Orders in such cases will be searchable in the future.
The Tax Court’s announcement does not indicate how far back the public can go to search for Orders. Using the Order search function and restricting the date range, the earliest Order we were able to find dates back to May 22, 1980. Based on entering different date ranges, it appears that certain Orders are available back to this date but not all Orders dating back to May 22, 1980, are available. This is not surprising given that Tax Court records are sent offsite to storage after a set period of time. Regardless, the ability to search for Orders back to 1980, at least for those Orders that are available on the website, is an improvement over the prior Order search feature, which only allowed searching back to June 17, 2011.
Practice Point: The renewed ability to search Tax Court Orders is a welcome development for taxpayers and their representatives. As discussed in our prior post “Types of Tax Court Opinions and their Precedential Effect,” Orders sometimes involve a discussion of issues that provides important guidance to taxpayers. Although Orders are not precedential, they are helpful in understanding how the Tax Court approaches certain issues that may not be found in published opinions. For example, the Tax Court often addresses evidentiary issues in Orders that can provide insight into how the same (or a similar issue) might be addressed, particularly by a specific Judge, in another case.