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G. M. LEASING CORP. ET AL. v. UNITED STATES ET AL.

January 12, 1977

G. M. LEASING CORP. ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Burger, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens

Author: Blackmun

[ 429 U.S. Page 340]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case, 423 U.S. 1031 (1975), limited to the Fourth Amendment issue arising in the context of seizures of property in partial satisfaction of income tax assessments.*fn1

I

Petitioner G. M. Leasing Corp. is a Utah corporation organized in April 1972; among its stated business purposes is the leasing of automobiles. George I. Norman, Jr., although apparently not an incorporator, officer, or director of petitioner, was its general manager.

In 1971 Norman was tried and convicted in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on two counts of aiding and abetting a misapplication of funds from a federally insured bank, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 656. He was sentenced to two concurrent two-year terms of imprisonment. On appeal, his conviction was affirmed. United States v.. Cooper, 464 F.2d 648, 651-652 (CA10 1972). This Court denied certiorari. 409 U.S. 1107 (1973).

[ 429 U.S. Page 341]

     Norman and his wife, on November 15, 1971,*fn2 filed a joint income tax Form 1040 for the calendar year 1970 on which, apart from their names, address, social security numbers, occupations, and dependents, they indicated only that their tax for that year, "[e]stimated," was $280,000. The sum of $289,800 was transmitted when the form was filed and was placed by the Internal Revenue Service in a suspense account for future credit. Apart from the naked figure of estimated tax, the return contained no information as to income or deductions. App. 94.

The Normans also sought and were granted an extension of time within which to file their return for the calendar year 1971. A check for $405,125 was given to the Service on April 15, 1972, for application on their 1971 tax. This check evidently was dishonored. Although further extensions of time were granted, neither of the Normans ever filed a 1971 return.

In October 1972, after Norman's conviction was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit, the Service assigned the Norman account for 1970 and 1971 to Agent P. J. Clayton for investigation. Mr. Clayton, however, took no immediate action. Id., at 66; Tr. of Oral Arg. 24-25.

In March 1973, after Norman's petition for a writ of certiorari had been denied, and after his petition for rehearing had also been denied, 410 U.S. 959 (1973), he surrendered to the United States Marshal for the serving of his sentence. By a ruse, however, he immediately disappeared. Tr. of Oral Arg. 6. Norman thereupon became a fugitive from justice; he was still one at the time of the oral argument. App. 15; Brief for Petitioners 5; Tr. of Oral Arg. 5-6.

Upon Norman's becoming a fugitive, the Service activated its investigation. On March 19, it determined deficiencies in Norman's income tax liability for 1970 and 1971 in the

[ 429 U.S. Page 342]

     amounts of $406,099.34 and $545,310.59, respectively.*fn3 App. 95. These were based solely on information from third parties concerning the amount of stock sales Norman made through various brokerage houses. Id., at 30, 67.*fn4 Because of Norman's failure to file appropriate returns and because of his fugitive status, collection of the taxes as so determined was regarded by the Service as in jeopardy; the deficiencies, therefore, were assessed forthwith pursuant to the authority granted by § 6861(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C.§ 6861(a).*fn5

The following day revenue agents called at the Norman residence in Salt Lake City to endeavor to collect the taxes.

[ 429 U.S. Page 343]

     Mrs. Norman answered the door. The agents informed her of the jeopardy assessments and demanded payment. No payment was forthcoming, and Mrs. Norman suggested that the agents get in touch with her attorney. App. 56. Thereafter, pursuant to their authority under § 6331 of the Code, the agents filed notice of tax liens with the Salt Lake County Recorder's Office and levied on a bank account of Norman. App. 95, 58.

While the agents were at the Norman residence, they observed automobiles parked in the driveway. Later, upon checking with the Utah Motor Vehicle Division, they learned that these vehicles were registered in the name of petitioner or in the name of another corporation owned by Norman, and that no automobile was registered in Norman's name or in that of his wife. Id., at 73-74. They also learned that petitioner had no license to conduct business within Salt Lake County and had no telephone listing. Id., at 74. It was further ascertained that, pursuant to the request of the Utah Department of Employment Security, petitioner had filed a Status Report. That report described the corporation's principal business activity as "Leasing Luxury Automobiles, Boats, etc." It recited that the corporation's "average number of employees" was zero and that it had paid no wages while it was in existence during the last three quarters of 1972 or thus far in 1973. Id., at 91-92. On its Utah Sales and Use Tax Return for the second quarter of 1972, the corporation reported no sales. Id., at 93. The agents regarded the automobiles seen at the Norman residence as "show" or "collector" cars and not the type "that would normally be used in a leasing business." Id., at 74.

All these facts suggested to the agents that petitioner corporation was not engaged in any business activity but, instead, was Norman's alter ego and a repository of at least some of his personal assets. The agents consulted with the Service's Regional Counsel. With his concurrence,

[ 429 U.S. Page 344]

     the conclusion was drawn that the assets of the corporation actually belonged to Norman. Accordingly, the decision was made to levy upon and seize automobiles titled in petitioner's name in partial satisfaction of the assessments against Norman. Id., at 75-76.

On or about March 21, two days after the jeopardy assessments, revenue officers, without a warrant, seized several automobiles. Among them were a 1972 Stutz, a Rolls Royce Phantom V, a 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom I, two 1971 Stutzes, and a Jaguar. Three were taken at two different locations in Salt Lake City; two at the Century Plaza parking lot in Los Angeles, Cal.; and one near Norman's residence in Salt Lake City. Id., at 121, 129; Tr. of Oral Arg. 13-14. None of the cars was on property in which petitioner had an interest. All were registered in petitioner's name. App. 75-76. The officers left a Chevrolet and a station wagon for the personal use of Mrs. Norman and her family.*fn6 Id., at 58.

Also on March 21, revenue officers went to petitioner's office in Salt Lake County to levy on property subject to seizure, including the building itself. Id., at 19. They had information that one, and possibly two, luxury automobiles might be there. Upon learning that a car was in the garage on the premises, they telephoned their superior, Bert Applegate, and asked him to come out to assist. Id., at 77-79. The premises consisted of a cottage-type building and the garage. When Applegate arrived, a locksmith was there. He already had removed the lock from the garage door

[ 429 U.S. Page 345]

     at the direction of the officers. A Stutz automobile was inside. The locksmith also had removed the lock on the cottage's rear door. Id., at 80-81.

Applegate entered the cottage. He observed that its outward appearance was such that it could be a residence. He noticed a kitchen. He instructed the officers not to proceed with the seizure of any property there until the status of the cottage could be confirmed.*fn7 Id., at 81, 23-24. The officers then left the cottage without taking anything, and its lock was replaced. Id., at 82.

While the officers were in the cottage, Norman's son, George I. Norman III, age 19, and listed as a dependent on the 1970 Form 1040, appeared. He told the officers that the Stutz belonged to the petitioner corporation, and not to Norman. Id., at 80, 34. He testified that he was living at the cottage "as security." Id., at 34. He was asked to provide evidence as to the car's ownership. A decision was made not to seize the automobile at that time.

Information then came to Applegate, primarily from a Mr. Redd who was a contractor for Norman, that the cottage was a place of business and not a residence. Id., at 79. In addition, there was activity at the cottage that night; the lights were on and boxes were being moved. The next morning the Stutz was not in the garage.*fn8 Id., at 83. Sometime during the next two days, a decision was made to seize the cottage, its furnishings and any other assets there.*fn9 On

[ 429 U.S. Page 346]

     March 23,*fn10 agents, acting without a warrant, and with the assistance of locksmiths and the equipment of a private van and storage firm, entered the cottage and removed its remaining contents, including furnishings and books and records. An inventory was made of the property so seized. The agents hoped to examine the books and records to see if they contained stock certificates or information concerning the location of other assets. The Regional Counsel, ...


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