Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Tax controversy practitioners are undoubtedly aware of the gradual movement over the years to conform certain Tax Court procedure rules (Tax Court Rules) to those of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In many ways, this makes sense to ensure uniformity of tax cases regardless of whether a taxpayer litigates his tax dispute in a refund forum in the US District Court or the US Court of Federal Claims, or prior to payment of tax in the Tax Court. Below we note a few important areas of divergence between the different rules, and point out situations where the Tax Court Rules do not address a particular matter. These matters were discussed at the recent Tax Court Judicial Conference held in Chicago last week.

Amicus Briefs

As we have discussed before, amicus briefs are not uncommon in other courts. However, the Tax Court does not have specific rules on the topic and, instead, permits each judge to decide a case-by-case basis whether to permit the filing of an amicus brief. Although the Tax Court has discussed standards for filing amicus briefs in unpublished orders, given the nationwide importance of many issues that arise in Tax Court litigation, it may be time for the court to issue specific rules addressing the issue.
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We recently wrote here about “John Doe” summonses and a case where an anonymous “John Doe” was allowed to intervene in a summons enforcement action. To refresh, under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records are covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons only upon receipt of a court order. The court will issue the order if the IRS has satisfied the three criteria provided in IRC Section 7609(f):

  • The summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class of persons,
  • There is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class of persons may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of any internal revenue law, and
  • The information sought to be obtained from the examination of the records (and the identity of the person or persons with respect to whose liability the summons is issued) is not readily available from other sources.


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This past year has seen a number of important developments in the areas of Tax Court procedure, federal court procedure, and privilege and non-disclosure. As the below cases and posts demonstrate, taxpayers’ reliance on experts, their efforts to protect privileged information, and their efforts to limit sweeping government discovery requests continue to be tested and closely scrutinized.
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We have previously written about Judge Mark V. Holmes’ dislike of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) practice of issuing subpoenas to non-parties without informing the taxpayer. To recap, Tax Court Rule 147 allows a party to issue a subpoena to a non-party but does not specifically require that prior notice be given to the other side of the issuance of the subpoena. Rather, the subpoena is enforceable as of the beginning of the court’s trial session. In contrast, Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 45 requires notice to other parties before service of non-party subpoenas for the production of documents, information or tangible things.  In two prior orders, Judge Holmes ordered that the IRS must serve on taxpayers all non-party subpoenas together with all responses and documents that the non-parties produced have been in the form of unpublished orders. In his orders, Judge Holmes adopted the notification requirement of Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 45, and explained his rationale for his orders.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, Tax Court orders are not to be treated as precedent under Tax Court Rule 50(f), and therefore are not binding on any other Judge of the Tax Court. This point is illustrated by Judge Carolyn P. Chiechi’s December 2, 2016, orders in six related cases (see, e.g., Tangel v. Commissioner), where she stated that “[a] party that issues a subpoena under Rule 147(a) and/or (b) is not required to give prior notice to the other party.” Judge Chiechi further noted that under the facts and circumstances presented the IRS did not issue the subpoenas to harass, annoy, embarrass, oppress or cause an undue burden on the taxpayers.
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Taxpayers value confidentiality, particularly if there is a dispute with the IRS that involves highly-sensitive trade secrets or other confidential information. Not surprisingly, complex tax litigation often raises the question of what confidential information has to be “made public”—through discovery responses or the introduction of exhibits or testimony in a deposition or at trial—so that a taxpayer can dispute IRS adjustments in court if administrative efforts to resolve the case are not successful. Fortunately, the Tax Court tends to protect highly-sensitive trade secrets or other confidential information from public disclosure even when the judge must review the information to decide the case.

In the Tax Court, the general rule is that all evidence received by the Tax Court, including transcripts of hearings, are public records and available for public inspection. See Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7461(a). Code Section 7458 also provides that “[h]earings before the Tax Court . . . shall be open to the public.” Code Section 7461(b), however, provides several important exceptions. First, the court is afforded the flexibility to take any action “which is necessary to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets or other confidential information, including [placing items] under seal to be opened only as directed by the court.” Second, after a decision of the court becomes final, the court may, upon a party’s motion, allow a party to withdraw the original records and other materials introduced into evidence. In our experience, the trend appears to be erring on the side of protecting information from disclosure.


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On July 13, 2016, Judge Buch of the US Tax Court denied an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) motion to compel the production of electronically stored information (ESI) by Dynamo Holdings Limited Partnership and Beekman Vista, Inc., which was not delivered as part of a discovery response based on the mutually agreed-upon use of “predictive coding.”