United States v. Williams, 514 U.S. 527, 13 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

the tax liabilities of others. According to the Government, undermining this principle will lead to widespread abuse: In particular, parties will volunteer to pay the tax liabilities of others, only to seek a refund once the Government has ceased collecting from the real taxpayer.

Although parties generally may not challenge the tax liabilities of others, this rule is not unyielding. A taxpayer's fiduciary may litigate the taxpayer's liability, even though the fiduciary is not herself liable. See 26 CFR 301.6903- 1(a) (1994) (the fiduciary must "assume the powers, rights, duties, and privileges of the taxpayer with respect to the taxes imposed by the Code"); ibid. ("The amount of the tax or liability is ordinarily not collectible from the personal estate of the fiduciary but is collectible from the estate of the taxpayer . . . ."); 15 J. Mertens, Law of Federal Income Taxation 58.08 (1994) (refund claims for decedents filed by executor, administrator, or other fiduciary of estate). Similarly, certain transferees may litigate the tax liabilities of the transferor; if the transfer qualifies as a fraudulent conveyance under state law, the Code treats the transferee as the taxpayer, see 26 U. S. C. 6901(a)(1)(A); 5 J. Rabkin & M. Johnson, Federal Income, Gift and Estate Taxation 73.10, pp. 73-82 to 73-87 (1992), so the transferee may contest the transferor's liability either in tax court, see 14 Mertens, supra, 53.50, or in a refund suit under 1346(a)(1). See id., 53.55. Furthermore, the Court has allowed a refund action by parties who were not assessed, albeit under a different statute. See Stahmann v. Vidal, 305 U. S. 61 (1938) (cotton producers could bring a refund action for a federal cotton ginning tax if they had paid the tax, even though the tax was assessed against ginners rather than producers).

The burden on the principle that a party may not challenge the tax liability of another is mitigated, moreover, because Williams' main challenge is to the existence of a lien against her property, rather than to the underlying assessment on


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