January 18, 2013 The Tax Lawyer

Federal Courts and State Taxes: Some Jurisdictional Issues, with Special Attention to the Tax Injunction Act

Vol. 65, No. 4 - Summer 2012

Peter D. Enrich

Abstract

    Typically, controversies concerning state and local taxes are litigated in the state courts. But for a variety of reasons, one of the parties to such a controversy may prefer to litigate in the federal courts. While there are several familiar grounds for federal jurisdiction over such cases, a range of procedural obstacles will confront many efforts to invoke federal jurisdiction. Several of these obstacles—particularly the Tax Injunction Act, comity, and standing—have been the subjects of substantial judicial attention in recent years, and the Supreme Court’s decisions about them often reflect larger tensions within the Court about the proper relationship between federal and state authority.

    This Article, together with the accompanying article by Philip Tatarowicz and William Nolan, will explore some of the significant jurisdictional issues that determine whether and when the federal courts provide a permissible forum for state and local tax disputes.1 In particular, this Article will begin with a general introduction to the jurisdictional rules and principles governing federal jurisdiction over state and local tax disputes and will then focus on the limitations imposed on federal jurisdiction by the Tax Injunction Act (the Act). The latter discussion will also explore the relationship between the Act and doctrines of comity, a topic brought into sharp relief by the Supreme Court’s decision in Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc. Tatarowicz and Nolan’s article provides greater detail about the role of comity principles together with a discussion of the standing doctrine.

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