United States v. Williams, 514 U.S. 527, 3 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 527 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether respondent Lori Williams, who paid a tax under protest to remove a lien on her property, has standing to bring a refund action under 28 U. S. C. 1346(a)(1), even though the tax she paid was assessed against a third party. We hold that respondent has standing to sue for a refund. Respondent's suit falls within the broad language of 1346(a)(1), which gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear "[a]ny civil action against the United States for the recovery of any internal-revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected," and only a strained reading of other relevant provisions would bar her suit. She had no realistic alternative to payment of a tax she did not owe,1 and we do not believe Congress intended to leave parties in respondent's position without a remedy.

I

Before this litigation commenced, respondent Lori Williams and her then-husband Jerrold Rabin jointly owned their home. As part owner of a restaurant, Rabin personally incurred certain tax liabilities, which he failed to satisfy. In June 1987 and March 1988, the Government assessed Rabin close to $15,000 for these liabilities, and thereby placed a lien in the assessed amount on all his property, including his interest in the house. See 26 U. S. C. 6321 ("If any person liable to pay any tax neglects or refuses to pay the same after demand, the amount . . . shall be a lien in favor of the United States upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belonging to such person."). The Government has not alleged that Williams is personally liable for these or any subsequent assessments.

1 Seeking summary disposition in the District Court, the Government did not contend otherwise or question the District Court's understanding that "the plaintiff here is left without a remedy." App. 22.

529

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