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.