United States v. Williams, 514 U.S. 527, 10 (1995)

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Opinion of the Court

The taxpayer is the person ultimately liable for the tax itself." Ibid. As a result, we determined that the tax had been imposed on the customers rather than the bank. If Colorado Nat. Bank is relevant at all, it shows our preference for commonsense inquiries over formalism—a preference that works against the Government's technical argument in this case.


As we have just developed, 28 U. S. C. 1346(a)(1) clearly allows one from whom taxes are erroneously or illegally collected to sue for a refund of those taxes. And 26 U. S. C. 6402(a), with similar clarity, authorizes the Secretary to pay out a refund to "the person who made the overpayment." The Government's strained reading of 1346(a)(1), we note, would leave people in Williams' position without a remedy. See supra, at 529, n. 1. This consequence reinforces our conclusion that Congress did not intend refund actions under 1346(a)(1) to be unavailable to persons situated as Lori Williams is. Though the Government points to three other remedies, none was realistically open to Williams. Nor would any of the vaunted remedies be available to others in her situation. See, e. g., Martin v. United States, 895 F. 2d 992 (CA4 1990); Barris v. United States, 851 F. Supp. 696 (WD Pa. 1994); Brodey v. United States, 788 F. Supp. 44 (Mass. 1991) (all ordering refunds of amounts erroneously collected to the people who paid those amounts).

If the Government has not levied on property—as it has not levied on Williams' home—the owner cannot challenge such a levy under 26 U. S. C. 7426. Nor would an action under 28 U. S. C. 2410(a)(1) to quiet title afford meaningful relief to someone in Williams' position. The first lien on her property, for nearly $15,000, was filed just six months before the closing; and liens in larger sum—over $26,000, out of $41,937—were filed only 11 days before the closing. (Williams did not receive actual notice of any of the liens until barely a week before the closing.) She simply did not have

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