U.S. Tax Court  

Frequently Asked Questions

Starting a Case

How do I start a case in the Tax Court?

You must file a petition to begin a case in the Tax Court. A party who files a petition in response to an IRS notice of deficiency or notice of determination is called the petitioner. The IRS Commissioner is referred to as the respondent in Tax Court cases.

Who can file a petition with the Tax Court?

Anyone can file a petition who has received:

  1. A notice of deficiency, or
  2. a notice of determination.
You can also file a petition (in certain circumstances) if you filed a claim with the IRS for relief from joint and several liability (innocent spouse relief), 6 months have passed, and the IRS has not issued you a determination letter.

Is there anyone who can help me file a petition and/or help me in my case against the IRS?

Yes. You may hire a lawyer or other person admitted to practice before the Tax Court to represent you before the Tax Court.

You might qualify for help from a tax clinic in your geographic area. The clinics have income restrictions, and a representative of the clinic will let you know whether you qualify to be represented. There are additional clinics that are not listed on the IRS website.

If you are represented by a private lawyer, a clinic representative, or other person admitted to practice before the Tax Court, that individual will represent you in your case against the IRS. The agreement of representation is between you and the representative and is independent of the Tax Court or the IRS. Your representative must be admitted to practice before the Tax Court. All representatives who practice before the Tax Court are subject to the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

What if I want to represent myself or if I don't qualify for representation by a tax clinic? Can I represent myself?

You may file a petition with the Tax Court even if you do not have a representative. You may also present your case to a Judge without being represented. This guide is provided to help you in that process. If you decide to file a petition and to proceed to trial without a representative, you must pay close attention to all the Tax Court orders and notices you receive and all the instructions provided. A petitioner who is not represented is still required to abide by the Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure. If you have difficulty reading, writing, or understanding written instructions, you should seek help.

I thought I came to an agreement with the IRS, but the IRS sent me a notice of deficiency or a notice of determination stating that I have a right to file a petition with the Tax Court. Should I file a petition even though I thought my case was settled?

It is difficult to know the circumstances in which you believe your case was settled. Because the IRS issued a notice, the IRS may be proceeding as if there is not a settlement. To protect yourself against an unagreed assessment of tax or collection action, you should file a petition within the period set forth in the notice. You may also wish to contact the IRS about the status of your case.

If I decide to file a petition, what is the next step?

You first must decide whether to select regular or small tax case (S case) procedures.

The tax laws provide for simplified (S case) procedures for resolving disputes between taxpayers and the IRS. To have your case tried as an S case, you must qualify and choose to have S case procedures applied to your case and the Tax Court must agree with your choice. Generally, the Tax Court will agree with your request.

  1. Do I qualify for S case procedures?
    In a deficiency case, the amount of the deficiency and any additions to tax or penalties--but not including interest--for each year must be $50,000 or less. In a collection case (also known as a lien or levy case), the total unpaid tax cannot exceed $50,000. In a request for spousal relief, the amount of relief sought cannot exceed $50,000.
  2. What should I consider in deciding whether to choose S case procedures?
    You should consider the following:
    A. S case trials are held in about 15 more cities than regular cases.
    B. Pretrial and trial procedures are less formal in S cases.
    C. The Federal Rules of Evidence (which provide many of the rules that regulate the conduct of the trial) are relaxed in S cases. This means that the Judge can consider any evidence that is relevant.
    D. There is no right of appeal to a U.S. Court of Appeals from a decision in an S case. If you lose your case, or lose some issues in your case, you cannot appeal the decision of the Tax Court to one of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. If you win your case, or win some issues in your case, the IRS cannot appeal. In contrast, you and/or the IRS can appeal a decision in a regular (non-S) case to a U.S. Court of Appeals.
  3. How do I choose S case procedures?
    File the petition, Form 2, and follow the instructions for filing a petition.
  4. What do I do if I don't want to choose S case procedures?
    File the petition, Form 2, and place an X in the box on the petition form that indicates that you "do NOT want [your] case conducted as a 'small tax case'".
  5. If I don't choose S case status in my petition, may I choose it later?
    Yes. If you qualify, you can generally choose S case procedures anytime before trial. After your trial begins, however, it is too late to choose S case status.
  6. What if I chose, and the Tax Court granted me, S case status but I changed my mind and want my case heard as a regular case? How do I change the status of my case?
    You can change from S case to regular case status. You need to make the choice, however, before the trial of your case begins. You should make the request to the Tax Court in writing and should include your name and the docket number in your request. You should send a copy of your request to the IRS. Because the Tax Court has about 15 more places of trial in S cases than in regular cases, it is possible that the place of trial might need to be changed if you switched from S case to regular case status.
  7. How can I tell whether my case is an S case?
    Look at the number in the upper right corner of any documents you have received from the Tax Court. That number is known as the "docket number". If that number has an S at the end, it means that your case is an S case. Example: 98765-04S is an S case docket number because it ends in S.

Now that you have decided whether you will or will not elect the small tax case (S case) procedures, the next step is to file your petition.

When should I file my petition?

The tax laws set forth the different time limits for filing petitions in different kinds of cases. The IRS notice usually provides the number of days that you will have to file a petition, counting from the date the IRS notice was mailed to you. That date is usually stamped on the notice of deficiency or the notice of determination. In addition, the IRS notice may state the last date for filing the petition. The tax laws are very strict on filing dates and do not allow extra time for filing a petition. For example, in a deficiency case, the petition must be filed by the 90th day from the date of the mailing of the notice of deficiency.

How do I file my petition?

The petition must be filed with the Tax Court in Washington, D.C. You may hand deliver it to the Tax Court between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m (EST), or mail it to:

United States Tax Court
400 Second Street, NW
Washington, DC 20217-0002

If you are unable to use the form from this web site, write a letter to the Tax Court stating that you want to file a petition and that you would like any necessary forms and documents sent to you. The letter should include the amount in dispute, your name, your address, your telephone number, the year(s) at issue in your case, and a list of the errors you believe the IRS made. Include a copy of the IRS notice that you wish to dispute and follow the mailing procedures described above.

May I file my petition electronically?

The Tax Court does not permit electronic filing at this time. You cannot e-mail or fax your petition.

How do I ensure that the petition is filed on time?

The petition either must be received within the time specified in the IRS notice or mailed within the time specified in the IRS notice. There are a few alternatives. Timely filing may be accomplished by certified or registered mail or one of the specific services offered by designated private mail delivery service companies, listed below, provided the certified or registered mailing date is within the time for timely filing. Using certified or registered mail or a designated private delivery service is the preferred method of timely filing. A registered  or certified mail receipt provides strong evidence that the petition was sent to the Tax Court on the certified or registered date of mailing.  If you use a  designated private delivery service there is  also strong evidence  that the petition was sent to the Tax Court on the date of delivery to the designated private delivery service . Timely filing may also be accomplished if the petition is received by the Tax Court in an envelope with a legible U.S. Postal Service postmark and the U.S. Postal Service postmark is within the time for timely filing. The petition may be sent within the time for timely mailing using one of the following specific services offered by designated private delivery service companies:

DHL Express (DHL): DHL Same Day Service; DHL Next Day 10:30 a.m.; DHL Next Day 12 p.m.; DHL Next Day 3 p.m.; and DHL 2nd Day Service.

Federal Express (FedEx): FedEx Priority Overnight; FedEx Standard Overnight; FedEx 2Day; FedEx International Priority; and FedEx International First.

United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS Next Day Air; UPS Next Day Air Saver; UPS 2nd Day Air; UPS 2nd Day Air a.m.; UPS Worldwide Express Plus; and UPS Worldwide Express.

Caution: A private meter mail stamp generally will not prove that the petition was timely mailed.

My petition is due today. Is it too late to file a petition with the Tax Court?

No. You can place your petition in the mail today or hand deliver the petition to the Tax Court in Washington, D.C., today. (If the last day for filing is a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday in the District of Columbia, then you have until the next business day.) Using certified or registered mail or a designated private delivery service is preferable because it provides strong evidence that the petition was sent to the Tax Court on the registered mailing date. You will need a registered mail or certified mail receipt or evidence of mailing by a designated private delivery service.

If you are unable to use the petition form from this web site, write a letter to the Tax Court stating that you want to file a petition and would like any necessary forms and documents sent to you. The letter should include the amount in dispute, your name, your address, your telephone number, the year(s) at issue in your case, and a list of the errors you believe the IRS made. Include a copy of the IRS notice that you wish to dispute and follow the mailing procedures described above.

Can I get an extension of time to file a petition?

No. By law, the Tax Court cannot extend the time for filing a petition.

Does it cost anything to file a petition?

Yes. The filing fee is $60. You may pay by check or money order. The Court also accepts credit card payments presented in person at the Courthouse.

Any check sent to the U.S. Tax Court will be converted into an electronic funds transfer (EFT). We will scan your check and use the account information on it to electronically debit your account for the amount of the check. The debit from your account will usually occur within 24 hours and will be shown on your regular account statement.

We will not return your original check. It will be destroyed, but we will keep an electronic copy. If the EFT cannot be processed for technical reasons, your submission of the check for payment authorizes us to process the electronic copy in place of the original check. If the EFT cannot be completed because of insufficient funds, we may try to make the transfer up to two times.

Privacy Information - The United States Tax Courtís authority to collect fees associated with case processing is documented under Title 26 United States Code Sections 7451 & 7471 through 7475. Information captured from checks received will be strictly used in accordance with the petitionerís request to process their respective cases. Furnishing the check information is voluntary, but a decision not to do so may require you to make payment by some other method.

Checks and money orders should be made payable to "Clerk, United States Tax Court".

Are there any circumstances where I do not have to pay the $60 filing fee?

Yes. The Tax Court may waive the filing fee if a petitioner establishes to the satisfaction of the Tax Court an inability to pay. The Application for Waiver of Filing Fee and Affidavit require detailed information and must be signed under penalty of perjury. If the Tax Court denies your request to waive the filing fee and you do not pay the filing fee, your case may be dismissed.

Must I pay the amount of tax that the IRS says I owe while my case is pending in the Tax Court?

You do not usually need to pay the amount in dispute while your case is pending before the Tax Court. If the Tax Court ultimately concludes, however, that you owe some amount of tax, or if you settle or agree to an amount of tax liability, the law provides generally that interest runs on unpaid tax from the date it was originally due until paid in full. Interest also runs on some penalties.

The rules regarding prepayment of tax and penalties differ in U.S. District Courts and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. This web site does not provide information about the rules or procedures of those courts.

What should I say in my petition?

List the errors that you believe the IRS made in the notice of deficiency or the notice of determination that was sent to you. You should also briefly state the facts that you rely upon to support your position. Clearly stating why you believe the IRS is wrong and what facts you rely upon will help the Tax Court understand your position.

Should I include anything else with my petition?

Yes. Attach to the petition a complete copy of the notice of deficiency or the notice of determination, including the explanation of adjustments or IRS Appeals Officer's report that you may have received with the notice of deficiency or the notice of determination. Do not attach any other documents to the petition.

Should I send anything else to the Tax Court when I file my petition?

Yes. You should also file a Designation of Place of Trial, which tells the Tax Court where you would like to have your trial held. View the list of cities or map displaying the cities in which the Tax Court holds trial sessions.

How can I be sure that I have done everything correctly?

Go down the checklist below:

Checklist for Filing a Petition

Have I:

  • Printed my full name on the petition and signed the petition; included my mailing address and telephone number?
  • If it is a joint petition, printed the name of my spouse and included my spouse's signature and my signature?
  • Included a check or money order for $60 made out to "Clerk, United States Tax Court"?
  • Filled in all information required on the petition form?
  • Completed the form (Designation of Place of Trial) to indicate where I want to have my trial?
  • Placed in an envelope (1) the original signed petition with two copies, (2) Designation of Place of Trial with two copies, and (3) check or money order for $60 for mailing to: United States Tax Court, 400 Second Street, NW, Washington, DC 20217-0002?
  • Either hand delivered the petition or mailed the petition using the U.S. Postal Service or a designated private mail carrier and kept some evidence of the date I mailed the petition to Tax Court (U.S. Postal Service postmarked certified or registered mail receipt or receipt from the designated private delivery service)?
  • Retained a copy of the petition for my records?

What can I do if I forgot to say everything I wanted to in my petition?

You may want to file an amended petition. If so, you may be required by the Tax Court Rules to file a motion asking for permission to do so. If you are permitted to file an amended petition, you should indicate the additional facts and arguments in the amended petition.

After I file my petition, how many copies of any documents should I send the Tax Court if I decide I want to file anything else?

In a regular (non-S) case, you should mail a signed original and four copies of any document to the Tax Court. In an S case, you should mail a signed original and two copies to the Tax Court. You also should send to the IRS a copy of any document you mail to the Tax Court. Do not forget to include your name and docket number at the top of any document you want to file with the Tax Court.

What happens after I file my petition?

You will receive a notice from the Tax Court acknowledging the filing of the petition. That document will tell you the docket number of your case. For example, if you file the petition in 2007, the last two digits will be -07. The docket number might look like 1234-07. If you chose, and the Tax Court granted, S case status, the docket number will contain the letter S at the end, for example, 1234-07S. You should include the docket number assigned to you on all letters and documents you send to the Tax Court and to the IRS. After your petition has been filed, you should send a copy of everything you send to the Tax Court to the lawyer representing the IRS.

How can I check on the status of my case?

Docket records are available through the Tax Court's web site. The Docket Inquiry System provides easy access to docket records by allowing you to search using a docket number, individual party name, or corporate name keyword. Docket entries are updated Monday through Friday at approximately 6 p.m. (EST).

Complete instructions for using the Docket Inquiry System are available on the Tax Court's web site.

Who can I contact if I have questions?

Contact the Office of the Clerk on all questions. You can contact the Tax Court by mail at U.S. Tax Court, 400 Second Street, NW, Washington, DC 20217-0002 or by telephone at (202) 521-0700.

Someone told me that if I want to ask the Tax Court to take some action affecting the other party, I should file a motion. What is a motion?

A motion is a request filed by one of the parties asking the Tax Court to take some action or asking the Tax Court to direct the other party to do something.

What are some of the common motions that can be filed?

Motion for continuance
Motion for leave to file an amended petition
Motion to change place of trial
Motion for summary judgment
Motion for submission of case fully stipulated (Rule 122)
Motion for reconsideration of opinion
Motion to vacate decision

I sent a letter to the Tax Court, but it was returned to me as an improper document. What should I do?

The Tax Court is a court of law, and it is governed by statutory and procedural requirements. Documents should comply with those requirements. Although the Tax Court attempts to help petitioners who are representing themselves, the Tax Court cannot always determine from a particular document what a petitioner intended, so a document may be returned with instructions for proper filing. If this happens, you should make the necessary corrections and send the document back to the Tax Court.

Reminder: (1) Put your name at the top of the front page along with the docket number; (2) in a small tax case send an original and two copies; (3) in a regular case send an original and four copies.

What happens if I can't find my copy of a document filed with the Tax Court?

The Tax Court is a court of public record and files are generally available for viewing in the Public Files Section at the Tax Court. You may also request that particular documents be copied by writing to the Copywork Section, United States Tax Court, 400 Second Street, NW, Washington, DC 20217-0002. There is a fee for copywork.

What if I move or change my address after I file a petition?

You must send the Tax Court a letter titled "Notice of Change of Address". You should send a copy to the lawyer representing the IRS. In the letter, you should include the docket number of your case and both your old and new addresses. If you have moved to a new geographic area, you may want to change the place of trial to a city closer to your new address. If you want a different place of trial, you should send a "motion to change place of trial" to the Tax Court and send a copy to the IRS lawyer. Please identify the city in which you now want your trial to be held.

For all non-technical questions, including procedural, case-related, or general questions about the Court, you must contact the Office of the Clerk of the Court at (202) 521-0700 or by postal mail at U.S. Tax Court, 400 Second Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20217, Attention: Office of the Clerk of the Court. For your information, no documents can be filed with the Court at this or any other e-mail address.

Before Trial

After I get my docket number, when will I have my trial?

Not immediately. A few things will occur before the trial.

  1. The IRS will assign your case to one of its employees. The IRS employee, who might be an Appeals Officer, a lawyer, or a paralegal, will contact you by letter or telephone to schedule a conference or meeting. The general purpose of the meeting is to try to come to an agreement (settlement) on some or all of the issues in your case. You should participate in any scheduled meetings and bring with you to the meeting all documents that may help you to support your position on the items in question.
  2. If you settle your case with the IRS, a settlement document (stipulated decision) will be prepared by the IRS. If you agree with the settlement document, sign it and send it back to the IRS. The IRS lawyer will also sign the stipulated decision and then send it to the Tax Court. The Tax Court will enter the decision into the official record and send you a copy of the entered decision. If this occurs before the trial date of your case, you will not be required to appear in court.

What happens if I don’t settle my case before trial?

You should meet or talk with the IRS representative to see whether you can agree to facts and documents that will be offered to convince the Judge that you are correct. You should enter into a stipulation of facts (a formal written document in which you and the IRS representative agree to facts and documents).

The stipulation of facts is usually a typewritten document that results from conversations between you and the IRS lawyer. For example, some of the things you should be able to agree to (stipulate) are:

  1. A copy of the tax return(s);
  2. a copy of the notice of deficiency or the notice of determination;
  3. copies of agreements or contracts (if any) that concern the items in dispute; and
  4. copies of canceled checks, receipts, or invoices (if any) that concern the items in dispute.

It helps everyone to stipulate facts and documents that the parties agree are not in dispute.

You can also stipulate issues that you have settled with the IRS.

How will I know when and where my trial will take place?

The Tax Court will issue a notice setting your case for trial during a specified period. The Tax Court will attempt to schedule the trial at the city requested in your designation of place of trial, but if no courtroom is available, the Tax Court may schedule it at a city reasonably nearby. The Tax Court will issue a Standing Pretrial Order in a regular case or a Standing Pretrial Notice in an S case, which will inform you when and where to appear for your trial.

Will the Court send me any instructions telling me what I should do to prepare for trial?

Yes. The Tax Court will issue a Standing Pretrial Order in a regular case or a Standing Pretrial Notice in an S case. Read this order or notice from the Tax Court carefully and keep a copy. The Standing Pretrial Order or Notice also has very specific instructions about getting ready for trial. One of the provisions of the Standing Pretrial Order (sent to petitioners in regular cases) is that you must submit a pretrial memorandum. The Standing Pretrial Notice (sent to petitioners in S cases) states that you should submit a pretrial memorandum. The Court encourages all parties to submit a pretrial memorandum. You should look at the Standing Pretrial Order or Notice and the form attached, which shows what a pretrial memorandum looks like. The pretrial memorandum can be very helpful in organizing and preparing your case. The pretrial memorandum may also help the Judge to understand your position.

Depending upon the city in which your trial will take place, the Tax Court may send you a letter from a tax clinic inviting you to talk with one of the clinic's lawyers or law students. If you qualify on the basis of certain income standards, the clinic may agree to represent you in your trial. Generally there is no fee for this representation. Many petitioners who are represented by a clinic representative are able to settle their cases with the IRS. The tax clinics are not part of the IRS or the Tax Court; they are totally independent and prepared to help you to fairly resolve your tax dispute with the IRS.

What is a pretrial memorandum? Do I need to prepare one?

A pretrial memorandum form is attached as part of the Standing Pretrial Order or Notice. You must submit a pretrial memorandum in a regular case. You should submit a pretrial memorandum in an S case. The Court encourages all parties to submit a pretrial memorandum. Preparing the pretrial memorandum may help you in organizing your case and help the Judge to understand your position. Carefully read the instructions in the Standing Pretrial Order or Notice. Follow the form and instructions. Send your pretrial memorandum to the Judge, and send a copy to the IRS lawyer.

Please note that the pretrial memorandum is the only document you should send directly to the Judge. You should send any other documents to the Clerk of the Court.

After I have received the notice setting my case for trial in a specific city, should I use the address of the place of trial to contact the Tax Court?

No. The Tax Court receives all of its mail at the address in Washington, D.C. You should always address mail to: United States Tax Court, 400 Second Street NW, Washington, DC 20217-0002. Keep in mind that, if you send anything to the Tax Court in Washington, D.C., by regular mail within one week before your trial session, it may not be received in time for your trial. You may want to either use a private overnight delivery service or bring the document with you to trial.

Petitioner (Taxpayer) Trial Preparation Check List

Some of the instructions contained in the Tax Court's Standing Pretrial Order or Notice are repeated below.

Before you come to Court:

  • Think about what facts you want to tell the Judge.
  • Organize any documents you have to support your case.
  • Organize your facts and arguments so you can present your case clearly.
  • Meet with and talk to people at the IRS who call or write to you.
  • Provide to the IRS copies of documents that you intend to use at trial.
  • Agree in writing to facts and documents that are not in dispute.
  • If the IRS will not agree with (stipulate) your documents, bring three copies of each document to court.
  • Consider whether you need any witnesses to support your case.
  • If you need a witness, make sure the witness is available and present in the courtroom at the trial session.
  • Come to court early so you will be ready when your case is called at the calendar call.

For all non-technical questions, including procedural, case-related, or general questions about the Court, you must contact the Office of the Clerk of the Court at (202) 521-0700 or by postal mail at U.S. Tax Court, 400 Second Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20217, Attention: Office of the Clerk of the Court. For your information, no documents can be filed with the Court at this or any other e-mail address.

During Trial

What happens at the beginning of the trial session?

On the first morning of the trial session, a Tax Court employee, the trial clerk, will call each case that has not been settled. This process is known as a calendar call. Be sure to arrive in court in time to attend the calendar call. When your name is called by the trial clerk, come forward and identify yourself to the Judge by stating your name. The lawyer representing the IRS will also state his/her name. The Judge may ask a few questions to determine the status of your case.

After the calendar call, the Judge will schedule cases for trial at specific times and days during the trial session. The time and date for your trial will be announced by the Judge or the trial clerk.

What if I can't come to Court on the date set for trial or I am not ready for trial?

There may be a few options:

  1. As early as possible, you may ask the Judge to be excused by filing a motion to continue. Depending on the circumstances, the Judge may or may not grant that request.
  2. You should ask the IRS lawyer if he or she will agree with the request for continuance and you should let the Tax Court know if there is any objection. The Judge may or may not grant your request for continuance. If your request is not granted, you must be prepared to try your case.
  3. Sometimes a case can be considered by the Tax Court without the need for testimony or a trial. If you and the IRS agree about all of the facts and documents you want admitted into the record, talk with the IRS lawyer about whether your case can be submitted without a trial (fully stipulated). To do this, you and the IRS lawyer must include in a stipulation all of the agreed facts and documents necessary for the Tax Court to reach its decision. The Judge will review the stipulation and make a decision based solely on the documents and facts agreed to by you and the IRS lawyer. If a fully stipulated case can be submitted to the Tax Court in advance of the date set for the calendar call, you will not need to come to court.

What happens if I don’t show up for Court?

If you do not come to court for the calendar call or at the date and time set for trial and you have not been otherwise excused by the Tax Court, your case may be dismissed for failure to prosecute. If your case is dismissed, it means you lose your case.

Be sure that you contact the Tax Court and the IRS if you can't come to court at the scheduled time and date.

If my spouse and I have filed a joint petition with the Tax Court, do we both need to come to court on the date set forth in the notice of trial?

Yes. Both parties' signatures may be needed for important papers such as a stipulation of facts, a stipulation of settled issues, or a stipulated decision. If either party fails to attend the trial, that party forfeits the opportunity to testify or present any other evidence. The Judge may decide to enter a decision for a spouse who is absent on the same basis as is done for the spouse who attended the trial. Under some circumstances, upon advance request, the Judge may excuse one of the spouses from appearing at trial.

Who represents the IRS?

A lawyer who works for the Office of Chief Counsel of the IRS will represent the IRS in each case.

What if I have difficulty speaking and understanding English?

It is generally the responsibility of each petitioner to bring someone to court who can help in communicating in English with the Judge and the IRS lawyer. In some cities, the Tax Court may have an interpreter available to help the Judge on the first day of the trial session. You should let the Judge and the IRS know as early as possible that you will require help with English. Sometimes the IRS will also have someone who can help.

Someone told me that the petitioner (taxpayer) has the burden of proof. I don't understand this. What is the burden of proof?

The burden of proof is a legal term that refers to a party's duty to prove a disputed assertion. The burden of proof is generally on the petitioner. This means that you need to bring to court evidence, such as documents and testimony of witnesses (you and maybe others), to prove that the determination of the IRS is not correct and that your position is correct.

There are some limited circumstances where the burden of proof is on the IRS. For the burden of proof to shift to the IRS on a factual issue, the petitioner must introduce credible evidence in court with respect to that issue. The petitioner must also comply with substantiation and record-keeping requirements set forth in the tax laws. Also the petitioner must show that he or she cooperated with reasonable requests from the IRS for witnesses, information, documents, meetings, and interviews. In most cases, the burden of proof does not shift to the IRS and the petitioner must show that the IRS's determinations are wrong.

What happens at the trial?

The trial clerk will call your case, and both you and the IRS lawyer will state your names.

The Judge may ask a few questions and dispose of other preliminary matters such as the filing of the stipulation of facts and pretrial memoranda. The Judge may allow each party to make an opening statement. An opening statement is simply a statement of what that party believes the facts and law are and how the Judge should rule. The petitioner usually goes first.

Caution: Opening statements generally are not made under oath, and facts alleged in opening statements cannot be considered by the Judge unless they are established by other evidence such as sworn testimony. Sometimes the petitioner makes an opening statement under oath to avoid the need for repeating the same facts later during the trial.

After the opening statements have been made, you may present your first witness. The purpose of a witness is to present information to the Judge that is relevant and from which the Judge can find facts. Often, the first, and sometimes the only, witness is you. You will take an oath or affirm to tell the truth and then tell your side of the case. If you are not representing yourself, your representative will ask you questions. This is called direct examination.

When you have concluded your testimony, the IRS lawyer will have an opportunity to ask you questions. This is called cross-examination. If the answers to the IRS lawyer's questions need clarification, additional questions may be asked by you or on your behalf. If you have brought other witnesses, the same procedure will be followed.

After you have concluded your side of the case, the IRS lawyer can call witnesses and ask questions (direct examination).

After direct examination of each witness by the IRS, you can ask the witness questions (cross-examination). Throughout the trial, the Judge may ask questions and request clarification of evidence from both sides.

After all the witnesses have testified and all the documents have been entered into evidence, the trial will be over and the record will be closed. This means that no more evidence may be submitted to the Court.

Reminder: The Judge can consider only evidence admitted into the record of your case. Therefore, you should bring with you to court all of your documents not already included in a stipulation of facts even if you provided them to the IRS earlier.

Some Dos and Don’ts of Trial

  • Do organize all your papers and documents and bring them with you.
  • Do present your facts and state your position to the Judge.
  • Do respect the Judge and the Tax Court.
  • Don't bring food or chew gum in court.
  • Do turn off cell phones and other electronic devices in the courtroom.
  • Don't argue with a witness, but do ask questions.
  • Don't argue with the IRS lawyer, but do state your position to the Judge.

Does a case ever get settled after trial?

Yes. Sometimes during or after trial, one of the parties or the Judge will suggest that the parties talk to each other with the goal of settling the case. On occasion the petitioner's and/or the IRS lawyer's evaluation of the merits of the case may change after trial. Such circumstances may provide an opportunity for settlement discussions.

Is there a stenographer or a recording of the trial?

Yes. The Tax Court is a court of record. This means that everything that happens in court will be recorded. The Tax Court contracts with independent reporting companies who record the entire trial. Any of the parties may purchase a typewritten transcript of the trial testimony. You should ask the trial clerk (the person who sits at the desk in front of the Judge in the courtroom) about how to purchase a transcript. The reporter recording the trial is not a Tax Court employee, so do not leave any documents with the reporter.

For all non-technical questions, including procedural, case-related, or general questions about the Court, you must contact the Office of the Clerk of the Court at (202) 521-0700 or by postal mail at U.S. Tax Court, 400 Second Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20217, Attention: Office of the Clerk of the Court. For your information, no documents can be filed with the Court at this or any other e-mail address.

After Trial

What happens after I finish my trial?

The Judge may direct the filing of posttrial briefs, or may permit the parties to make oral argument or file memoranda or statements of legal authority. A brief is a legal document in which a party presents proposed findings of fact and legal arguments. At the end of the trial, the Judge will tell you what will be required.

When will the Judge decide my case? (When will I find out whether I’ve won or lost my case?)

There is no fixed time within which a Judge will decide your case. The Judge might issue an opinion (called a Bench Opinion) during the trial session. In this situation, the Judge reads the opinion in court during the trial session. The Tax Court will send you a copy of the portion of the transcript reflecting the Judge's opinion within a few weeks after the trial. If a Bench Opinion is not issued, the Judge will return to Washington, D.C., to review the testimony and exhibits in the case and issue an opinion as quickly as practicable.

Does a petitioner (taxpayer) ever win a case?

Yes. Sometimes the petitioner wins some or all of the issues. Sometimes the IRS wins some or all of the issues. Sometimes, in a lien or levy case, the case might be sent back to the IRS to reconsider collection alternatives or other matters.

How will I find out whether I won or lost my case?

You will receive a copy of the opinion in the mail. The same day it is mailed, the Tax Court will post the opinion on its web site. Someone may call you to tell you the opinion is on the web site. The opinion, written by the Judge, explains the conclusions reached after the trial or hearing. After the opinion is issued, a decision will be entered that is consistent with the opinion issued by the Judge.

What if I disagree with the opinion of the Judge?

You may not appeal the Judge's decision in an S case. In a regular (non-S) case you may appeal the Judge's decision or, in rare circumstances, you may file a motion for reconsideration of an opinion within 30 days after the written opinion was mailed. Your motion for reconsideration should clearly explain what you disagree with and the reasons you believe your disagreement has merit. Normally, the Judge who decided your case will decide the motion for reconsideration. A motion for reconsideration will not usually be granted absent unusual circumstances or substantial error.

How do I file an appeal from the Judge's decision? Can I appeal my case?

If you chose, and the Tax Court granted you, small tax case status, there is no appeal from the decision of the Tax Court. See the discussion above about choosing S case status. In an S case, neither the IRS nor the petitioner can appeal. The Judge's decision is final.

If your case is a regular case, you may appeal the decision to one of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. You must wait for a decision (as opposed to the opinion) to be entered by the Tax Court before you file an appeal. A decision is a judicial determination that disposes of a case. An opinion is a statement explaining the Tax Court's decision. The notice of appeal must be filed with the Tax Court within 90 days of the decision's being entered, and the cost for filing a notice of appeal is $450. See other rules for filing an appeal.

Can I get money back from the IRS for my costs (but not taxes) if I win my case?

Not exactly. There are some limited circumstances where a petitioner, as a prevailing party, can recover fees and costs from the IRS. In general, a party is not a prevailing party if the IRS establishes that its position was "substantially justified". A request for fees and costs cannot be filed until after the parties have settled their dispute or the Tax Court has issued its opinion.

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