United States v. Williams, 514 U.S. 527, 5 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

ment insisted, because she lacked standing to seek a refund under 1346(a)(1).2 According to the Government, that provision authorizes actions only by the assessed party, i. e., Rabin. The District Court accepted this jurisdictional argument, relying on precedent set in the Fifth and Seventh Circuits.3

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, 24 F. 3d 1143, 1145 (1994), guided by Fourth Circuit precedent.4 To resolve this conflict among the Courts of Appeals, we granted certiorari, 513 U. S. 959 (1994), and now affirm.


The question before us is whether the waiver of sovereign immunity in 1346(a)(1) authorizes a refund suit by a party who, though not assessed a tax, paid the tax under protest to remove a federal tax lien from her property. In resolving this question, we may not enlarge the waiver beyond the purview of the statutory language. Department of Energy v. Ohio, 503 U. S. 607, 614-616 (1992). Our task is to discern the "unequivocally expressed" intent of Congress, construing ambiguities in favor of immunity. United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U. S. 30, 33 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted).

To fathom the congressional instruction, we turn first to the language of 1346(a). This provision does not say that only the person assessed may sue. Instead, the statute uses broad language:

2 The dissent, perhaps finding unappealing the Government's defense of unjustified taking, tenders factual inferences, post, at 545-546, both unfavorable to Williams and beyond the parties' stipulation of uncontroverted facts. The sole issue in this case, however, is whether one in Williams' situation has standing to sue for a refund, and to that issue the strength of Williams' case on the merits is not relevant.

3 See Snodgrass v. United States, 834 F. 2d 537, 540 (CA5 1987); Busse v. United States, 542 F. 2d 421, 425 (CA7 1976).

4 See Martin v. United States, 895 F. 2d 992 (1990).


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