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THOMPSON v. UNITED STATES

March 23, 1977

MARGIE J. THOMPSON
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCGLYNN

 MCGLYNN, J.

 This tax refund suit must be decided in a somewhat bizarre factual context.

 The story begins on September 1, 1972, when the taxpayer *fn1" was about to embark on a flight from the Philadelphia International Airport to Los Angeles, California. Because she fit the "profile" *fn2" of a potential hijacker, she was detained by Customs Agents who, with her consent, searched her baggage. *fn3" It was discovered that one of the smaller pieces of luggage "was completely filled with stacks of money" which, when counted, totalled $40,055.00. Asked the source of the money, the taxpayer explained that she earned the money as a prostitute during the summer months at a New Jersey seashore resort. She stated she earned the money at the rate of $100.00 per date.

 While she was detained, the Internal Revenue Service was notified and a computer check disclosed that she had not paid income taxes for the years 1969, 1970 and 1971. Consequently, on September 6, 1972, the $40,055.00 was levied on after a jeopardy assessment was made pursuant to Section 6861, Internal Revenue Code of 1954 for the years 1969, 1970 and 1971. *fn4" The taxpayer was given a receipt for the payment of taxes in the amount of $40,055.00.

 On April 26, 1974, the taxpayer filed Form 1040 -- Individual Income Tax Returns for the periods ending December 31, 1969, December 31, 1970, December 31, 1971 and December 31, 1972. The taxpayer reported no income for the years 1969, 1970 and 1971, but on her 1972 return she reported income in the amount of $41,000.00 and claimed a refund in the amount of $31,729.67, being the difference between the income and self-employment taxes due on $41,000.00 and the $40,055.00 which had been seized by the Government.

 When her claim for refund was not acted upon within six months, she instituted the present suit.

 The Court accepted the 1972 return at face value and found that she had income that year of $41,000.00. The Court also found, based on her testimony, that the taxpayer earned $4,075.00 in 1969, $8,100.00 in 1970 and $3,625.00 in 1971.

 However, during the course of the discovery proceedings prior to trial, the plaintiff testified that the $40,055.00 seized at the airport did not belong to her but belonged to a person named Joe, whose last name was unknown, and that she was merely transporting it to California. This development was reflected in an amended complaint in which she alleged that she was carrying the money as a bailee. She repeated the substance of her deposition at trial. Thus it is undisputed that the funds seized by the Internal Revenue Service through attachment did not belong to the taxpayer but were in her possession in her capacity as a courier. It also developed at trial that the taxpayer has not seen nor heard from "Joe" since the seizure.

 Relying on Section 6402(a) of the Internal Revenue Code, the Government contends that a refund can be claimed only by the person who made the payment, and, argues the Government, since it was "Joe's" money which was used to pay the taxes, the Court has no authority to grant a refund to the plaintiff.

 Plaintiff, on the other hand, takes the position that regardless of the source of the funds, she was the person who made the payment and therefore she is entitled to the refund.

 The standing vel non of plaintiff to obtain a refund of the tax overpayment rests upon an interpretation of 26 USCA § 6402 (a), which states in pertinent part:

 
"In the case of any overpayment, the Secretary . . . may credit the amount of such overpayment, including any interest allowed thereon, against any liability in respect of an internal revenue tax on the part of the person who made the overpayment and shall refund any balance to such person." (emphasis supplied)

 Both parties cite Scanlon v. United States, 330 F. Supp. 269 (E.D. Mich. 1971) in support of their respective interpretations of § 6402(a). The Court in Scanlon denied the requested refund, noting that plaintiff's employer had expressly assumed the liability for plaintiff's taxes, and had actually paid such taxes with its own check. Therefore, plaintiff was not the person ...


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