The U.S. Tax Court will continue its consideration of a requirement that would push the Internal Revenue Service commissioner to publicly file answers to all small tax cases.Chief Judge John Colvin first announced the proposed change in September, noting that small tax cases comprise about half of the court’s docket. He said that petitioners in those cases are increasingly being represented by low-income taxpayer clinics, and suggested that those parties, as well as the court itself, might benefit from improved pretrial communication between all the parties involved in settling some of those cases.

The provision excusing the IRS from filing answers for small tax disputes was first introduced in 1969, and aimed at simplifying the procedure largely because pleadings requirements in those smaller cases and regular cases were identical. A decade later, another provision was passed into law, excusing the commissioner from filing an answer unless there was a matter on which the IRS had the burden of proof, such as a determination of petitioner fraud.

Another major change was that in 1969, “small cases” were defined as those involving disputes amounting to $1,000 or less. Since then, Congress has increased that amount to $50,000, along with providing additional categories of small tax cases.

The court had originally planned to have the amendment, to Rule 173(b) “Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure,” go into effect for all small tax cases filed after Nov. 27. In a statement this week, Colvin said that the enactment will be delayed indefinitely will the court considers a number of comments submitted on the change. Most were in agreement that the change was a welcome one – made in the spirit of improving the court’s processing and disposition of small tax cases.

Both the proposal and the related comment letters can be viewed at www.ustaxcourt.gov/press/112806.pdf.

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