For many years the Tax Court did not concern itself with circuit court precedent in deciding cases and decided cases as it thought best. The leading case for the Tax Court’s thinking on this issue was Lawrence v. Commissioner, 27 T.C. 713 (1957), decided based on the nationwide jurisdiction of the Tax Court and the desire for uniform application of federal tax laws, which caused the creation of Court almost a century ago:
One of the difficult problems which confronted the Tax Court, soon after it was created in 1926 as the Board of Tax Appeals, was what to do when an issue came before it again after a Court of Appeals had reversed its prior decision on that point. Clearly, it must thoroughly reconsider the problem in the light of the reasoning of the reversing appellate court and, if convinced thereby, the obvious procedure is to follow the higher court. But if still of the opinion that its original result was right, a court of national jurisdiction to avoid confusion should follow its own honest beliefs until the Supreme Court decides the point. The Tax Court early concluded that it should decide all cases as it thought right.
The downside of that practice was that it forced petitioners or the IRS with favorable circuit court precedent to file an appeal and obtain an easy victory in the circuit court overturning the decision of the Tax Court. Eventually, the Tax Court decided that making taxpayers and the IRS engage in a two-step process to reach an outcome already dictated by circuit precedent did not make sense and it announced a change in its practice in the case of Golsen v. Commissioner, 54 T.C. 742 (1970). Reversing the Lawrence decision, the Tax Court held:
Fifty years later the Tax Court still follows Golsen and even if the Tax Court has issued a precedential opinion on an issue, the Tax Court will follow the precedent of the circuit to which the case will be appealed. For that reason, the place where the taxpayer resides at the time of filing the petition can have an outcome-changing impact.
While the Tax Court has bowed to the will of circuits in the cases it decides, does or should the same recognition of authority apply to the rules it creates? If the Tax Court has a rule that conflicts with circuit precedent, should the Tax Court follow the circuit precedent in writing its rules? You might question how the Tax Court can write rules that reflect varying precedent among the circuits. Certainly, writing a set of rules that vary based on circuit precedent would be challenging and in most rules unnecessary, but what about rules that apply to cases appealable to only one circuit? If every case the Tax Court decides will go to one circuit, shouldn’t the rules of the Tax Court follow the law of the circuit rather than the position of the Tax Court? Such a view of the rules would seem faithful to the precedent in Golsen. It would also alert parties practicing before it of the law that would be applied in a given situation, rather than having a rule that could mislead practitioners or the 70% of petitioners who file pro se.
Tax Court Rule 13(c) provides:
Timely Petition Required: In all cases, the jurisdiction of the Court also depends on the timely filing of a petition.
The Court may not need a rule that states a legal conclusion, but if it has such a rule and if the Golsen rule applies to the Court’s rules, it would seem that Tax Court Rule 13(c) should recognize that in two of the types of cases it describes in Rule 13(b) the jurisdiction of the Court does not depend on timely filing. Certainly, timely filing is very important but in whistleblower cases and in passport cases timely filing is not a jurisdictional prerequisite. We have discussed the decisions in the D.C. Circuit on the jurisdictional issue, holding that timely filing is not a jurisdictional prerequisite here and here.
Since the appeal of any whistleblower case or passport case from the Tax Court would go only to the D.C. Circuit under the catchall language at the end of IRC 7482(b)(1), it would seem that precedent from that circuit would control the outcome of a Tax Court case regarding jurisdiction under the Golsen rule. If it would control the outcome of a Tax Court case in which the Court was writing an opinion, why wouldn’t the circuit court precedent also control the Tax Court rules?