Discovery in tax litigation can take many different forms, including informal discovery requests (in the US Tax Court), request for admissions, interrogatories and depositions. In addition to obtaining facts, litigants frequently want to know the legal authorities on which the other side intends to rely. Over the years, we have seen numerous requests, both during examinations and in litigation, where the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requests a listing of the legal authorities supporting a taxpayer’s position.
Sometimes it is beneficial for a taxpayer to disclose those authorities. For example, in some IRS audits it may be worthwhile to point out to the IRS agent the applicable authority and cases that directly support the taxpayer’s position. However, once a case progresses to litigation, it is clear that the parties disagree and that simply pointing out relevant authorities will not help the IRS to concede the case. This raises the question of how to respond to such a request while in litigation.
The Tax Court recently addressed this issue in a pending case involving issues under Internal Revenue Code Section 482 (see here). The IRS issued interrogatories that requested information seeking to obtain the taxpayer’s legal arguments. The taxpayer objected on the grounds that this was inappropriate. The Tax Court, in an unpublished order, agreed:
Tax Court Rule 70(b) does not require a party to disclose the legal authorities on which he relies for his positions. See Zaentz v. Commissioner, 73 T.C. 469, 477 (1970). Other courts have held that interrogatories requiring a party to disclose legal analyses and conclusions of law are impermissible. See, e.g., Perez v. KDE Equine, LLC, 2017 WL 56616 at *6 (W.D. Kentucky Jan. 4, 2017); In re Rail Freight Fuel Surcharge Antitrust Litigation, 281 F.R.D. 1, 11 (D.D.C. Nov. 17, 2011).
Practice Point: Although this unpublished order technically reflects only the view of the issuing Judge, it is an important point that litigants should remember. There are numerous ways to determine an adversary’s legal position. Generally, however, discovery requests directly asking for an opponent’s supporting legal authorities are not an appropriate technique. Techniques to make that determination include: issuing requests for admissions relating to the elements of potential legal theories, filing a dispositive motion like summary judgment which will invoke a response from the other side, and discussing with your opponent whether the case should be submitted (in Tax Court) fully stipulated. And sometimes the most efficient way to get the information is to pick up the phone and just ask. Typically, litigants are wary of putting their legal theories down in writing and pinning themselves down early in a case. But most lawyers love to hear themselves talk!