issue preclusion; tax refund; excise tax

In some federal tax disputes, if at first you don’t succeed you may not get to try again. A recent Fifth Circuit decision confirms issue preclusion when the parties and the issue are truly the same. See ETC Sunoco Holdings, LLC v. United States, No. 21-10937 (5th Cir. June 8, 2022). Sunoco sought a refund in the Court of Federal Claims for tax years 2005 through 2008, arguing that they should be permitted a deduction of their costs of goods sold as an excise tax expense even though it did not technically reduce the company’s excise-tax liability. The Court of Federal Claims disagreed. See Sunoco, Inc. v. United States, 908 F.3d 710, 715 (Fed. Cir. 2018). Sunoco then sued again, five years later, for alleged overpayments from tax years 2010 and 2011 but filed suit in the Northern District of Texas instead. Jurisdiction in tax disputes can often be brought in the Federal District Court with local jurisdiction or the Court of Federal Claims that has national jurisdiction. Therefore, jurisdictionally, this was proper.  However, District Courts can choose not to hear the case if they conclude that the doctrine of issue preclusion applies.