Did Ford commit a venue foot-fault? The Government thinks so. An opinion from the Supreme Court last week gives lawyers yet another illustration of the principle that jurisdictional challenges may be raised at any time – even in a court of last resort. In response to Ford Motor Company’s petition for certiorari to recover overpayment interest of approximately $470 million in deposits in the form of cash bonds remitted to the IRS before Ford converted them to payments (see our previous post), the Supreme Court of the United States vacated the Sixth Circuit’s judgment and remanded to the Sixth Circuit. The opinion can be found here. The Supreme Court is asking the Sixth Circuit to determine whether the district court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a) (the “Tucker Act”), which requires claims against the U.S. founded insofar as relevant upon any Act of Congress be brought in the Court of Federal Claims. Essentially, the Government argues that refund claims for overpayment interest, as opposed to claims for tax, penalties, and interest on tax and penalties, must exclusively be brought in the Court of Federal Claims rather than an appropriate federal district court. To explain why it was raising this novel argument for the first time before the Supreme Court, the Government argued that it had failed to previously raise the issue due to controlling circuit precedent holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1) grants original jurisdiction over claims for overpayment interest both to district courts and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Under this precedent, an award of overpayment interest is typically considered to be an essential component of the relief sought under a tax or penalty refund claim and is interpreted to fall within a district court’s refund jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1346.
The Supreme Court determined that, because it is a court of “final review” and not one of “first view,” the Sixth Circuit should be the initial court to consider the Government’s claim. The Supreme Court also urged the Sixth Circuit to consider if such determination impacts whether or not Section 6611 of the Internal Revenue Code (relating to overpayment interest) is a waiver of sovereign immunity that should be narrowly construed. Interestingly, if the Sixth Circuit again determines that Section 6611 of the Code is the provision that waives sovereign immunity for claims of overpayment of interest, then presumably Ford is in the same place it was before the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Sixth Circuit’s decision: seeking certiorari and “arguing that the Sixth Circuit was wrong to give [Section] 6611 a strict construction.” Alternatively, if the Government is correct regarding its interpretation of the Tucker Act, and if the case cannot be transferred to the Court of Federal Claims, Ford may be time-barred from filing a claim for refund, potentially losing its claim to $445 million – an important reminder of the importance of choice of venue when filing suit.