United States v. Williams, 514 U.S. 527, 14 (1995)

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540

UNITED STATES v. WILLIAMS

Opinion of the Court

her husband. That is, her primary claim is not that her husband never owed the tax 10—a matter that, had she not paid these taxes herself under the duress of a lien, would not normally be her concern. Rather, she asserts that the Government has attached a lien on the wrong property, because the house belongs to her rather than to him—a scenario which leaves her "subject to" the tax in a meaningful and immediate way.

We do not find disarming the Government's forecast that allowing Williams to sue will lead to rampant abuse. The Government's posited scenario seems implausible; it is not clear what incentive a volunteer has to pay someone else's taxes as a way to help that person evade them. Nor does the Government report that such schemes are commonplace among the millions of taxpayers in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, Circuits that permit persons in Williams' position to bring refund suits. Furthermore, our holding does not authorize the host of third-party challenges the Government fears. Williams paid under protest, solely to gain release of the Government's lien on her property—a lien she attacked as erroneously maintained. We do not decide the circumstances, if any, under which a party who volunteers to pay a tax assessed against someone else may seek a refund under 1346(a).

10 On motion for summary judgment in District Court, Williams did challenge her husband's liability as well. See Plaintiff's Notice of Motion and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment 13. However, counsel retreated from this claim at oral argument. Tr. of Oral Arg. 36 ("We're not arguing that she's going to go into court and litigate the liability of her ex-husband."); id., at 37 ("[W]e're not saying that she wa[nts] [to] go into court and litigate his tax liability. That's his problem, not hers."). Moreover, to affirm the Ninth Circuit's judgment, we can rely solely on Williams' standing to challenge the lien, regardless of whether she has standing to challenge the underlying assessment on her husband. Accordingly, we need not resolve whether Williams is still asserting her challenge to the underlying assessment, let alone whether she has standing to do so.

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