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What is a Tax Court Petition?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 16, 2024
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A tax court petition is a legal document filed on behalf of a taxpayer who disputes a claim by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after an audit. The petition is generally filed in the U.S. Tax Court within 90 days after the IRS sends a "Notice of Deficiency" alerting the taxpayer that he or she owes money to the federal government. Once the petition is filed, further action by the IRS is halted until the case is decided in court. If the taxpayer misses the 90-day deadline, he or she loses the opportunity to dispute the claim.

Two options for seeking legal remedy are available in U.S. Tax Court. A small case trial handles disputes that fall under a predetermined amount after a tax court petition is filed. A trial judge oversees the case, which is handled in a more informal setting, and usually leads to a quick resolution. Court orders issued by judges in small case trials cannot be appealed at a later date.

When a small case trial is not appropriate, the taxpayer can request a tax trial before a judge who is an expert in U.S. tax law. Judges commonly favor reaching a resolution to the case before a formal trial. No jury trials are available in this venue, and a taxpayer is allowed to present evidence to support his or her argument without an attorney. Cases decided in tax court can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to IRS tax disputes, the U.S. Tax Court handles cases in certain types of judgments or collection actions. It also hears partnership disputes and cases when a spouse disputes liability on a joint tax return. The court is located in Washington, D.C., but judges travel around the country to hear cases.

A tax court petition may also be filed in U.S. District Court, where the case is decided by a jury. This option is used when the tax dispute is based on an issue of fairness instead of a dispute in the law itself. The taxpayer must pay the amount claimed by IRS before filing a tax court petition in U.S. District Court. The petition essentially asks for a refund, claiming the government's actions were unfair.

A rarely used option involves filing a tax court petition in the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals. Some lawyers use this court when seeking a judge who might favor the client. This court hears various claims against the government in Washington, D.C., but the judges are not tax experts. A hearing is first held in the city where the taxpayer lives, but if the case proceeds to trial, it will be decided in the country's capital.

Each specific court could have rules pertaining to a tax court petition and its format. A taxpayer should review the rules to ensure the petition meets all the court's requirements. Rules of the court often dictate the size of paper and the type size used in the legal document.

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