TAX LAW RESEARCH GUIDE
by Scott Akehurst-Moore
The Internal Revenue Code
The Internal Revenue Code (hereinafter "IRC") was organized in 1939 and reorganized in 1954 and 1986. The 1986 IRC (as amended) is the present body of federal taxation law. It is found in Title 26 of the United States Code.
The IRC is divided into eleven subtitles (A-K) and further subdivided into chapters and subchapters. Subchapters often consist solely of certain tax aspects. Thus, partnership tax is in Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Subchapter K (Title 26 of U.S.C.), or individual income is in Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Subchater B.
Other United States Code Sections
Other titles of the U.S.C. may contain tax provisions (usually if another agency has some form of responsibility). Use secondary treatises or the topical index to the United States Code to find them. Note that many legislative tax acts may not get codified.
Enactment, Effective and Sunset Dates
Enactment dates (when an Act becomes law) occur upon presidential signature, congressional veto or some specified date within the Act.
The effective date is when the Act's particular provisions apply to a particular transaction (which can pre-date enactment). Effective dates often do not appear after codification in the IRC, so look in the Act.
A sunset clause is a provision that terminates or repeals all or portions of a law at a certain date or event. They are often extended through legislation called extenders - keep an eye out for them.
Sources (click on links to see Suffolk library locations)
Topical Taxes (selected)
Treasury regulations are either: (i) interpretive – those formulated by the IRS for the enforcement and interpretation of the IRC as authorized by 26 USC § 7805 or, (2) legislative – technical rules formulated by IRS experts under a specific code section. Interpretive and legislative regulations are either final, temporary or proposed.
Final and temporary regulations issued by the IRS are called Treasury Decisions (T.D.). Treasury Decisions are printed in the Federal Register. Each Treasury Decision has an official interpretation (very helpful). Treasury Decisions are numbered in order of issuance without reference to any IRC section, e.g. T.D. 9354. Unless otherwise indicated, both final and temporary regulations are effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
Treasury Decisions are then annually codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Note that, (1) a single Treasury Decision can amend various sections and, (2) official interpretations do not carry over into the CFR.
Before becoming a Treasury Decision, final or temporary regulations are printed in the Federal Register as Proposed Regulations (also known as "notices of proposed rulemaking"). After the publication of a proposed regulation, the public has a certain period of time to comment.
A proposed regulation will then either be (1) published in the federal register as a Treasury Decision (final or temporary regulation), (b) adjusted in accordance with comments and proposed again in the federal register or, (3) rejected. Proposed regulations are important to research because (a) the IRS has the authority to apply regulations retroactivley and (b) most will become final/temporary.
Proposed regulations have changed their numbering system over time, but usually include some form of letter-number combination. The current number begins with REG and is followed by an assigned number and year the proposed regulation was opened, e.g. REG-139059-02.
Sources (click clink to see locations)
Selected List of Unofficial Sources
Federal trial courts have exclusive jurisdiction over federal tax controversies (not to be confused with state taxes and state tax controversies in state courts). There are three courts of original jurisdiction for federal tax cases. Each court has their own rules of court, so check them out.
United States Tax Court
The United States Tax Court hears disputes involving a levied tax that has not yet been paid by the taxpayer (usually a notice of deficiency). Parties are usually the taxpayer against the “Commissioner.” Jury trials are unavailable. Between 1924 and 1942 the U.S. Tax Court was called the Board of Tax Appeals. Between 1942 and 1970 the U.S. Tax Court was called the Tax Court of the United States.
Regular decisions from the United States Tax Court concern new areas or interpretations of the IRC that are deemd useful for precedent. They are the most authoratative. When citing to the Reports of the United States Tax Court, use T.C. (e.g. 124 T.C. 32 (2001)).
In contrast, memorandum decisions are based on factual situations dealing with well settled legal issues. They are not officially published by the Tax Court and as such have a lesser authority. When released by the court, they are cited as T.C. Memo. Decisions are appealed to the appropriate Circuit Court of Appeals.
United States Court of Federal Claims
The United States Court of Federal Claims can hear disputes when a tax liability has been assessed and paid, and a refund claim by the taxpayer has been denied. The opposing party is always the “United States.” The court has concurrent jurisdiction with United States District Courts on tax refund controversies. Jury trials are unavailable.
The court was known as the United States Claims Court (1982-1992), United States Court of Claims (1948-1982) and Court of Claims of the United States (1863-1948). Decisions are appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
United States District Courts
Federal District Courts hears disputes when a tax liability has been assessed and paid, and a refund claim by the taxpayer has been denied. The opposing party is always the “United States.” Jury trials are available. Decisions are appealed to the appropriate Circuit Court of Appeals.
Trial court decisions (from all three courts) are appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals or Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Very few cases reach the United States Supreme Court.
United States Tax Court
United States Court of Federal Claims
United States District Courts
United States Courts of Appeals
Documents officially published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (and Cumulative Bulletin)
Documents published in the I.R.B. and C.B. are intended for public consumption and guidance.
Revenue Rulings (Rev. Rul.)
Revenue rulings indicates how the IRS will apply the Code to a specific factual situation. Originally, revenue rulings were issued in response to a specific private letter ruling. Today, the IRS issues revenue rulings in areas percieved to be of public interest. Note that later revenue rulings can affect older ones.
A taxpayer with substantially the same facts can rely on a ruling; otherwise they are not as authoritative as treasury regulations. But remember, they are not binding on courts. Revenue rulings (as issued by the IRS) are designated by the year and number of publication, e.g. Rev. Rul. 99-109.
Revenue Procedures (Rev. Proc.)
Revenue procedures are statements issued by the IRS on IRS practices and procedures relevant to the public. Those of general applicability may get published in the CFR, else look to the I.R.B. Some are re-published annually and provide guidance on how to obtain rulings, determinations, etc. Revenue procedures are designated by the year (since 1955) and number of publication, e.g. Rev. Proc. 85-219.
Notices & Announcements (Ann.)
Notices provide guidance for taxpayers before a ruling or procedure becomes available. Announcements are less formal than notices. Notices and announcements are designated by the year and number of publication, e.g. I.R.S. Notice 99-12.
Documents not published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin but issued by the IRS
These documents are not published in the I.R.B. but elsewhere by commercial vendors. They consist of written determinations made public under the FOIA. What follows is a selected list.
Private Letter Rulings (Priv. Ltr. Rul.)
Like a revenue ruling, a Private Letter Ruling applies to a taxpayer's specific facts. They are requested by taxpayers prior to a transaction. A Private Letter Ruling may be re-issued as a revenue ruling.
Technical Advice Memoranda (TAM or Tech. Adv. Mem.)
Technical Advice Memoranda are issued by the National Office of the IRS. They are like revenue and private letter rulings but are requested from an IRS agent when a question arises from a tax audit. They can be turned into a revenue ruling if important enough.
Determination Letters are issued by regional offices and deal with less controversial questions.
Chief Counsel Memoranda (Gen. Couns. Mem. or GCM) are documents issued by the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office. They indicate the reasoning and authority used in rulings and TAMs.
Actions on Decision (AOD) is a memorandum prepared by the IRS after losing a significant case, which recommends the next step.
Field Service Advice (FSA) are requested by field officers from the national office when a case presents a significant legal question of first impression. Field Officers can use these instead of a TAM, and without the taxpayers knowledge.
Other Possible Documents
Service Center Advice (issued by national office on admin. responsibilities); Legal Memoranda (information on taxpayers sent to field personnel); Bulletins (various topical bulletins provide IRS employees with information and case summaries); Litigation Guideline Meomoranda (discusses tactical approaches to ligitation for IRS personnel); others include Chief Counsel Notices; IRS Information Letters; IRS Compliance Officer Memoranda; IRS Technical Assistance; Internal Revenue Manual
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