Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tax Evaders And Scofflaws

The tax man wanted to take Gary Jones' home from him. Gary owned the home for over thirty years and had recently paid off his mortgage. Unfortunately, Gary missed a few tax payments after he paid the mortgage. The mortgage company had always made them, and Gary just forgot about it.

So here comes the man, determined to seize the entire estate to satisfy a few years of missed taxes. The state begins the process by mailing notice of the condemnation to Gary's address at the house. Problem was, he had divorced, and his wife lived at the home. She did not sign for the certified notice, and it was returned to the state. Gary never found out about the sale, and the state knew he never found out about it.

Nevertheless, they sold it for about one quarter of its total value. Gary discovers this only when the new owner shows up to kick his ex-wife out of the house. Foul! Cries Gary. How can you take my property without even telling me?

The state courts say the state can do it because they made a good faith attempt to find you. But they knew they did not find me, pleads the poor ex-homeowner. Tough, you lose.

So he takes his case to Scotus. Surely those property rights loving big government hating conservatives will help him. It looks doubtful. Conservative heroes Scalia and Thomas say his argument would make it "burdensome, impractical" for the state to take people's homes. They say he has failed "to be a prudent ward of his interests." They call him and his kind "tax evaders and scofflaws." They want to affirm the state's actions.

But just when he had given up hope, to the rescue swoop the god-hating, government empowering liberals, led by none other than Chief Justice Roberts. They say the state acted unreasonably. The state knew that Gary had no idea his property was about to be taken. In light of that knowledge, they should have made another attempt to notify Gary, so that Gary could have redeemed his home. Yesterday, they closed the case of Jones v. Flowers with these words:

There is no reason to suppose that the State will ever be less than fully zealous in its efforts to secure the tax revenue it needs. The same cannot be said for the State’s efforts to ensure that its citizens receive proper notice before the State takes action against them. In this case, the State is exerting extraordinary power against a property owner—taking and selling a house he owns. It is not too much to insist that the State do a bit more to attempt to let him know about it when the notice letter addressed to him is returned unclaimed.

Congratulations Gary, tax evaders and scofflaws like you are what the constitution is all about. You might even say the constitution was written by tax evaders and scofflaws like you.