United States v. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining

Clintwood Elkhorn Mining and various other coal producers and exporters filed Tucker Act claims in the Court of Claims against the United States requesting damages. Clintwood had paid coal export taxes to the United States. After the export tax was declared unconstitutional, Clintwood sought damages in the amount of the export tax and interest on the tax. The United States argued that Clintwood was required first to file a claim with the the Internal Revenue Service for a refund of of its taxes and that the Court of Claims had no Tucker Act jurisdiction over the claims. The Court of Claims ruled in favor of Clintwood.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed. In a prior case, Cyprus Amax Coal Co. v. United States, the Federal Circuit had recognized the Tucker Act jurisdiction of the Court of Claims for claims directed to recovery of payment of the unconstitutional export tax. The Federal Circuit based its decision on the fact that the export tax was declared unconstitutional, a direct violation of the Export Clause, and thus claims concerning the tas were not limited to the statutorily defined administrative processes of the Internal Revenue Service. The Federal Circuit declined to overrule its prior decision.

Question Presented:

Whether a taxpayer who would have been entitled to file a tax refund action in federal court to seek a refund of taxes (and interest thereon), but who failed to satisfy a statutory prerequisite to such an action (namely, the filing of a timely administrative refund claim) and is therefore barred from bringing such an action, may obtain a refund, and interest thereon, through an action directly under the Constitution pursuant to the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a).

Decision under Review

Supreme Court Opinion