In a press release earlier this week, the Tax Court announced new features had been added to DAWSON. Since its introduction over a year ago, the Court has stated that the initial rollout in December 2020 was a first step and not the last step. This announcement discusses new features coming online. The announcement is copied in its entirety below.
The new announcement also disappoints with the statement that the Tax Court will continue to make only the documents its generates, i.e., orders and opinions, publicly available online. In denying access to all other documents, the Tax Court continues to be inconsistent with other federal courts. While Tax Court cases implicate sensitive taxpayer information, other courts (such as bankruptcy courts) balance those concerns with public access and greater transparency of court functions. Moreover, the Tax Court fails to explain the privacy concerns it protects in the entity cases filed with the Court nor address the methods that could be used to publish information regarding individuals while protecting their privacy.
For prior discussions of this issue see the discussions here and here which include a link to a larger article on this issue published in Tax Notes. The Tax Notes article makes a number of suggestions that would allow the Court to publish documents without raising significant privacy concerns. It also discusses how the Court’s reasoning for not publishing documents has no applicability to the cases filed by entities even if it uniquely provides a basis for hiding the information regarding individuals. Other courts have done this balancing of privacy versus the public nature of court information and come out on the other side.
Early in the Tax Court’s discussion of DAWSON the court had signaled the possibility that the enhanced features made available through DAWSON would cause a rethinking of its position to deny electronic access to all documents generated by parties other than the Court. The new announcement does nothing to reveal its thinking on why it continues to deny this information electronically. Going into the Court to look at documents, for those fortunate enough to have that option, has been unavailable for almost two years meaning any effort to see documents in this Court requires paying for the privilege.
UNITED STATES TAX COURT
Washington, D.C. 20217
February 1, 2022
On December 28, 2020, the Court discontinued the use of its decades-old legacy case management system and began phasing in DAWSON (Docket Access Within A Secure Online Network), a new case-management system designed to help litigants and the Court manage active cases more efficiently and with greater transparency. DAWSON allowed, for the first time, the electronic filing of petitions with the Tax Court. Over 750 new features have been added since December 28, 2020, such as the ability to view Today’s Orders and Today’s Opinions, and the ability to search the Court’s opinions and orders. Features were also added to accommodate remote proceedings, unforeseen when DAWSON development began, but vital to the Court’s continued operations.
The Court now displays all bench opinions on its Today’s Opinions page. The Court also now publicly releases all orders in non-sealed cases, providing the ability to sort by page count or time of release. The ability to view unsealed documents in cases where some, but not all, documents have been sealed will be implemented in the coming months. After that, the next major feature will be consolidated case functionality.
The Court will continue to safeguard taxpayer privacy and will maintain limits to online access to case records other than Court-issued documents (i.e., opinions and orders).
DAWSON Release Notes detailing enhancements and new features can be found on the Court’s website at https://ustaxcourt.gov/dawson.html, along with User Guides and detailed instructions on how to use the system to file and manage a case.