In 1961, the Legislature created the first new type of court since authorizing district courts in 1913 -- the Oregon Tax Court.1 The Tax Court has exclusive jurisdiction over controversies involving the "tax laws" of the state.2 It also has concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit courts over cases involving the priority of tax liens, and certain real and personal property transactions.3
The Tax Court is a court of general jurisdiction, with all the powers of a circuit court.4 Unlike the circuit courts, however, the Tax Court has statewide jurisdiction. And while decisions of the circuit courts generally are appealed to the Court of Appeals, decisions of the Tax Court must be appealed directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.5
The first attempts to create what later became the Oregon Tax Court date back to 1949.6 At that time, challenges to the decisions of the state tax commission were heard by the circuit courts.7 The 1949 proposed legislation would not have created a new court, but an administrative tribunal to hear tax appeals, which was the favored thinking at the time.8 The 1949 bill was defeated in the Legislature, as were similar bills in future legislative sessions.9 (In 1959, the Legislature passed the bill but failed to fund the administrative board, so Governor Mark O. Hatfield vetoed it.10)
In 1961, the Legislature was presented with competing bills -- one to create an administrative board of tax appeals, and the other to create an actual court of general jurisdiction with authority to decide tax cases.11 The Legislature chose to create the court of general jurisdiction.
The first judge appointed to preside over the Oregon Tax Court was Judge Peter M. Gunnar.12 Although the legislation creating the Oregon Tax Court otherwise became effective on January 1, 1962, the Legislature specifically provided that the judge of the Tax Court could be appointed before that date, and it authorized the judge to "take any action that is necessary to enable him properly to exercise after that date the duties, functions and powers given the tax court under...this Act."13 Prior to January 1, 1962, then, Judge Gunnar was appointed to serve as a circuit court judge pro tem in several circuits, so that he could hear tax cases that had been filed too early to be heard directly by the Tax Court.14
In 1995, the Legislature effectively provided that the Tax Court would consist of two levels: the Magistrate Division and the Regular Division.15 Generally, all appeals to the Tax Court must first go to the Magistrate Division; if a party is dissatisfied with the magistrate's disposition, then the party must appeal separately to the Regular Division.16
When the Tax Court was first created, the Legislature had provided for a separate small claims division.17 The 1995 legislation creating the Magistrate Division abolished the small claims division, effective September 1, 1997.18 An option to file a small claims procedure was created in the Magistrate Division effective the same date.19 From 1997 to 2005, the small claims option resulted in the magistrate's decision being final with no right of appeal.20 In 2005, the Legislature eliminated the small claims procedure, and all decisions of the Magistrate Division can now be appealed to the Regular Division.21