Amdt14.S1.4.15.4 Collection of Taxes

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

States may undertake a variety of methods to collect taxes. For instance, collection of an inheritance tax may be expedited by a statute requiring the sealing of safe deposit boxes for at least ten days after the death of the renter and obliging the lessor to retain assets found therein sufficient to pay the tax that may be due the state. 1 A state may compel retailers to collect such gasoline taxes from consumers and, under penalty of a fine for delinquency, to remit monthly the amounts thus collected. 2 In collecting personal income taxes, most states require employers to deduct and withhold the tax from the wages of employees. 3

States may also use various procedures to collect taxes from prior tax years. To reach property that has escaped taxation, a state may tax estates of decedents for a period prior to death and grant proportionate deductions for all prior taxes that the personal representative can prove to have been paid. 4 In addition, the Court found no violation of property rights when a state asserts a prior lien against trucks repossessed by a vendor from a carrier (1) accruing from the operation by the carrier of trucks not sold by the vendors, either before or during the time the carrier operated the vendors’ trucks, or (2) arising from assessments against the carrier, after the trucks were repossessed, but based upon the carrier’s operations preceding such repossession. Such lien need not be limited to trucks owned by the carrier because the wear on the highways occasioned by the carrier’s operation is in no way altered by the vendor’s retention of title. 5

As a state may provide in advance that taxes will bear interest from the time they become due, it may with equal validity stipulate that taxes which have become delinquent will bear interest from the time the delinquency commenced. Further, a state may adopt new remedies for the collection of taxes and apply these remedies to taxes already delinquent. 6 After liability of a taxpayer has been fixed by appropriate procedure, collection of a tax by distress and seizure of his person does not deprive him of liberty without due process of law. 7 Nor is a foreign insurance company denied due process of law when its personal property is distrained to satisfy unpaid taxes. 8

The requirements of due process are fulfilled by a statute which, in conjunction with affording an opportunity to be heard, provides for the forfeiture of titles to land for failure to list and pay taxes thereon for certain specified years. 9 No less constitutional, as a means of facilitating collection, is an in rem proceeding, to which the land alone is made a party, whereby tax liens on land are foreclosed and all preexisting rights or liens are eliminated by a sale under a decree. 10 On the other hand, although the conversion of an unpaid special assessment into both a personal judgment against the owner as well as a charge on the land is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment, 11 a judgment imposing personal liability against a nonresident taxpayer over whom the state court acquired no jurisdiction is void. 12 Apart from such restraints, however, a state is free to adopt new remedies for the collection of taxes and even to apply new remedies to taxes already delinquent. 13

Footnotes

  1.  National Safe Deposit Co. v. Stead, 232 U.S. 58 (1914).
  2.  Pierce Oil Corp. v. Hopkins, 264 U.S. 137 (1924). Likewise, a tax on the tangible personal property of a nonresident owner may be collected from the custodian or possessor of such property, and the latter, as an assurance of reimbursement, may be granted a lien on such property. Carstairs v. Cochran, 193 U.S. 10 (1904); Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, 216 U.S. 285 (1910).
  3.  The duty thereby imposed on the employer has never been viewed as depriving him of property without due process of law, nor has the adjustment of his system of accounting been viewed as an unreasonable regulation of the conduct of business. Travis v. Yale & Towne Mfg. Co., 252 U.S. 60, 75, 76 (1920).
  4.  Bankers Trust Co. v. Blodgett, 260 U.S. 647 (1923).
  5.  International Harvester Corp. v. Goodrich, 350 U.S. 537 (1956).
  6.  League v. Texas, 184 U.S. 156 (1902).
  7.  Palmer v. McMahon, 133 U.S. 660, 669 (1890).
  8.  Scottish Union & Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Bowland, 196 U.S. 611 (1905).
  9.  King v. Mullins, 171 U.S. 404 (1898); Chapman v. Zobelein, 237 U.S. 135 (1915).
  10.  Leigh v. Green, 193 U.S. 79 (1904).
  11.  Davidson v. City of New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97, 107 (1878).
  12.  Dewey v. City of Des Moines, 173 U.S. 193 (1899).
  13.  League v. Texas, 184 U.S. 156, 158 (1902). See also Straus v. Foxworth, 231 U.S. 162 (1913).