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Hierarchy of Tax Authorities

Trial Courts

U.S. Tax Court 

Most tax cases are litigated in Tax Court, a court with nationwide jurisdiction. Although physically located in Washington, D.C., Tax Court judges travel nationwide to conduct trials in various designated cities. The nineteen Tax Court judges have special expertise in federal tax laws and are appointed by the President.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims 

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims is a special court with nationwide jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as claims for money damages against the United States. Tax cases are a substantial subset of the cases decided by this court. Approximately one-fourth of the cases before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims involve tax refund suits. Tax cases presented before this court are often large, complex and technical claims by national and multi-national companies.

Bankruptcy Courts 

The jurisdiction to render decisions on tax issues that arise in a bankruptcy proceeding resides with the bankruptcy courts. Bankruptcy court decisions are appealed to the U.S. District.

U.S. District Courts 

Federal District Courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters, within their geographic areas.

Appellate Courts

U.S. Court of Appeals 

The losing party in a decision by a trial court in the federal system normally is entitled to appeal the decision to a federal court of appeals. Each regional circuit court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as, appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.

Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit 

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those decided by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (as well as cases involving patent and copyright laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade).

Appeals of Tax Court Cases 

Tax Court cases are appealed to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals where the taxpayer resides. Thus, a Tax Court case decided against a taxpayer in Texas would be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Highest Court

Supreme Court of the United States 

This court does not rule on many tax cases; if there is a constitutional issue concerning a tax or if there is a split in the Circuits on a particular tax matter, the Supreme Court is far more likely to accept the case.

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