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United States v. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining Co.

April 15, 2008

UNITED STATES, PETITIONER
v.
CLINTWOOD ELKHORN MINING COMPANY ET AL.



On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Federal Circuit Court Below: 473 F. 3d 1373

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2007

Argued March 24, 2008

The Internal Revenue Code requires a taxpayer seeking a refund of taxes unlawfully assessed to file an administrative claim with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) before filing suit against the Government, see 26 U. S. C. §7422(a). Such claim must be filed within three years of the filing of a tax return or two years of the tax's payment, whichever is later, see §6511(a). In contrast, the Tucker Act allows claims to be brought against the Government within six years of the challenged conduct. Respondent coal companies paid taxes on coal exports under a portion of the Code later invalidated under the Export Clause of the Constitution. They filed timely administrative claims and recovered refunds of their 1997-1999 taxes, but sought a refund of their 1994-1996 taxes in the Court of Federal Claims without complying with the Code's refund procedures. Nevertheless, the court allowed them to proceed directly under the Export Clause and the Tucker Act. Affirming in relevant part, the Federal Circuit ruled that the companies could pursue their Export Clause claim despite their failure to file timely administrative refund claims.

Held: The plain language of 26 U. S. C. §§7422(a) and 6511 requires a taxpayer seeking a refund for a tax assessed in violation of the Export Clause, just as for any other unlawfully assessed tax, to file a timely administrative refund claim before bringing suit against the Government. Pp. 4-12.

(a) Because the companies did not file a refund claim with the IRS for the 1994-1996 taxes, they may, under §7422(a), bring "[n]o suit" in "any court" to recover "any internal revenue tax" or "any sum" alleged to have been wrongfully collected "in any manner." Moreover, §6511's time limits for filing administrative refund claims -- set forth in an "unusually emphatic form," United States v. Brockamp, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Roberts

Opinion of the Court

553 U. S. ____ (2008)

The Internal Revenue Code provides that taxpayers seeking a refund of taxes unlawfully assessed must comply with tax refund procedures set forth in the Code. Under those procedures, a taxpayer must file an administrative claim with the Internal Revenue Service before filing suit against the Government. Such a claim must be filed within three years of the filing of a return or two years of payment of the tax, whichever is later. The Tucker Act, in contrast, is more forgiving, allowing claims to be brought against the United States within six years of the challenged conduct. The question in this case is whether a taxpayer suing for a refund of taxes collected in violation of the Export Clause of the Constitution may proceed under the Tucker Act, when his suit does not meet the time limits for refund actions in the Internal Revenue Code. The answer is no.

I.

A taxpayer seeking a refund of taxes erroneously or unlawfully assessed or collected may bring an action against the Government either in United States district court or in the United States Court of Federal Claims. 28 U. S. C. §1346(a)(1); EC Term of Years Trust v. United States, 550 U. S. ___, ___, and n. 2 (2007) (slip op., at 2, and n. 2). The Internal Revenue Code specifies that before doing so, the taxpayer must comply with the tax refund scheme established in the Code. United States v. Dalm, 494 U. S. 596, 609-610 (1990). That scheme provides that a claim for a refund must be filed with the Internal Revenue Service before suit can be brought, and establishes strict timeframes for filing such a claim.

In particular, 26 U. S. C. §7422(a) specifies:

"No suit or proceeding shall be maintained in any court for the recovery of any internal revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, or of any penalty claimed to have been collected without authority, or of any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected, until a claim for refund or credit has been duly filed with the [IRS]."

The Code further establishes a time limit for filing such a refund claim with the IRS: To receive a "refund of an overpayment of any tax imposed by this title in respect of which tax the taxpayer is required to file a return," a refund claim must be filed no later than "3 years from the time the return was filed or 2 years from the time the tax was paid, whichever of such periods expires the later." §6511(a). And §6511(b)(1) mandates that "[n]o credit or refund shall be allowed or made" if a claim is not filed within the time limits set forth in §6511(a). "Read together, the import of these sections is clear: unless a claim ...


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