I recently had occasion to speak with a lawyer in the Office of Legal Council of the IRS (whom I will call L) about a US Tax Court case. The IRS had accepted a revised return ans so there was no further dispute. The government lawyer told me that the plaintiff (petitioner) could not dismiss the case, nor could the plaintif request the court to do so. Any request for dismissal, he said, had to be initiated by the defendant (the IRS), responded to (accepted or objected to) by the plaintiff, and accepted or rejected by the Tax Court judge. (When the plaintiff agrees with the dismissal, he said, court acceptance is normally automatic.)

L said this specifically about a tax court case initiated by the petition of a taxpayer, but strongly implied this was the rule for all civil cases, that the plaintiff may not initiate a request or dismissal of the case.

Thhs seemed very odd to me, because I was under the impression that either party could move for dismissal in a civil case. Indeed there is a Q&A thread on this site about how a plaintiff asks for such a dismissal under Maryland law, or I thought so, but I cannot find it just now. So:

  1. Is it correct that only the defendant may request a dismissal of a case in the US Tax Court?

  2. Is it correct that only the defendant may request a dismissal of a case in other US federal courts, and particularly in general Federal courts (that is, in District or Circuit courts)?

  3. Is it correct that only the defendant may request a dismissal of a case in US state courts? If the rule varies by state, what is the majority rule?

  4. If there is such a rule in any of these jurisdiction, is there a known or official or commonly accepted reason or justification for this rule? If so, what is the reason or justification?

  • Was there a counterclaim?
    – SegNerd
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 1:02
  • @SegNerd No. It was a claim that the the IRS had made a mistake in issuing an deficiency notice. Would that matter? Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


In Tax Court, Rule 53 permits the court to dismiss a case on the motion of "a party." I don't have any experience in Tax Court, but I see no reason why the rule would say "a party" if it actually meant "the respondent."

In United States District Court, the governing rules are Rule 12 and Rule 41. Rule 12 permits a defendant to ask the court dismiss the case for any of several specific reasons. Rule 41 permits the plaintiff to dismiss the case (a) unilaterally, but only if the defendant hasn't answered yet; or (b) at any time, with the consent of all the parties who have appeared.

State courts of course vary from one to the next, but you'll generally find the rules are very similar. I don't know of any civil court in the country that will prohibit the plaintiff from dismissing his own case. The courts want efficiency, so they aren't going force people to litigate cases they don't want to litigate.

  • Part of the trickiness of tax court that may be causing confusion is that in tax court, the IRS imposes liability before the case starts, and tax court is an option to prevent the liability from giving rise to a collection of it. Tax court cases are basically administrative appeals of IRS determinations. Dismissal of a tax court case is equivalent to an acceptance of a present obligation to pay the amount of tax imposed by the IRS (although one does have the option of paying the amount requested under protest, and then suing for a refund in U.S. District Court, instead).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 21:29
  • The main reason for limitations on dismissals of cases by plaintiffs in ordinary cases is that a defendant may have a counterclaim, or a claim for litigation costs and/or fees that need to be resolved first, or that a defendant may want a chance to have the case dismissed with prejudice rather than risking that it be refiled with more litigation costs and delay when a case is dismissed without prejudice.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 21:32

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