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Tax Law Legal Research: Precedential Rulings & Guidance

Internal Revenue Bulletin

The Internal Revenue Bulletin is the authoritative instrument of the IRS Commissioner. It is published weekly and consolidated 2x yearly into a Cumulative Bulletin (which does not contain all the materials originally published)
Contains:
  • Revenue Rulings
  • Revenue Procedures
  • Notices & Announcements
  • Notices of Acquiescence

Administrative Guidance

Where to Find IRS Guidance

http://www.irs.gov/uac/IRS-Guidance

  • Most federal government agencies have an "Electronic Reading Room" somewhere on their website which collects all of the material they are required to make publically available under the Freedom of Information Act. Sometimes the materials will be found under FOIA or Freedom of Information Act instead.
  • Unless you are looking for material older than about 1995, the IRS site is quite comprehensive with respect to all public and private published guidance. However, the Cumulative Bulletin isn't available there.
  • Cumulative Bulletin:

Authoritative Weight

Authoritative weight is how much deference is given to a particular publication when the IRS or a federal court is making a ruling. With IRS Guidance, most publications are treated differently by the IRS and the courts.

 

Type of Guidance Administrative Practice Litigation
Revenue Rulings
  • If a R.R. applies to the situation, the taxpayer can use it as precedent when:
    • Seeking private letter rulings (next class).
    • Supporting a position taken on a return during an audit.
  • If a R.R. cannot be distinguished by the facts of the case, IRS is bound by the ruling when it comes to their own admininstrative decision-making.
  • Internal IRS Appeals of admininstrative decisions evaluate the risk that a court would agree or disagree with a taxpayer based on a R.R.
  • Revenue Rulings are not binding on courts and do not have any force of law or the authoritative weight of regulations.
  • They will often will be persuasive authority, but only with deference proportional to their power to persuade.
  • There are a few exceptions, however:
    • May be used as authority for avoid ing underpayment penalties under  I.R.C. § 6662(d)(2)(B)(i), even if the court ultimately rules against the taxpayer
    • Contemporaneous, long-standing interpretations of laws or regulations will generally have weight in court
    • As will revenue rulings interpreting regulations
    • Rulings issued to taxpayer in question specifically will have binding authority
Revenue Procedures
  • Treated similarly to Revenue Rulings
  • Also treated similarly to Revenue Rulings, including serving as authority for avoiding underpayment penalties
Notices & Announcements
  • Treated similarly to Revenue Rulings
  • Also treated similarly to Revenue Rulings, including serving as authority for avoiding underpayment penalties
Notices of Acquiescence
  • The IRS is only bound by Supreme Court decisions and stare decisis, so it does not have to follow court decisions made in tax cases if it disagrees with the ruling
  • N/A