Court Allows Foreclosure of Delinquent Taxpayer’s Home and Business Property for Employment Tax Liability

Post by
March 18, 2016

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently held that the government is entitled to foreclose federal tax liens against a delinquent taxpayer’s home and business property, even though the taxpayer’s wife may be a joint owner. In United States v. Fields, Samuel Fields, the sole proprietor of a dry cleaner business, owed $211,855.80 in employment and unemployment taxes from 1993 to 2009. The IRS had made assessments against Fields starting in 1995. In 2005, for no consideration, Fields executed deeds to his two real properties – his home residence and business property – located in New Mexico, stating that he and his wife were joint owners. The U.S. Department of Justice sought partial summary judgment against Fields personally and to foreclose its federal tax liens against his home and business property.

The key issue was whether the federal tax liens were superior to the wife’s interests in the properties. Under Internal Revenue Code Sections 6321 and 6322, if a person fails to pay federal taxes owed, on the day the taxes are assessed a statutory tax lien arises and attaches to all property rights owned by the person. Further, the tax liens will also defeat a third party’s interest in the property unless that third party is a certain secured interest holder, a judgment lien creditor, or a purchaser. While priority of federal tax liens is determined by federal law, property interests are determined under state law – New Mexico law, in this case.

The court held that the tax liens arising from assessments made before Fields executed the deeds encumber and are superior to the property interests of both Fields and his wife. But the tax liens arising from assessments made after Fields executed the deeds, as a matter of law, only encumber and are superior to Fields’ interests in half of the value of each property. Although the United States may ultimately be entitled to the full value of each property if the deeds were a fraudulent transfer under New Mexico law, this issue may involve a factual determination as to Fields’ intent, and so the United States did not include it in its motion for partial summary judgment. Thus, the court permitted the foreclosure, as Section 7403(c) allows district courts to order the sale of property subject to a federal tax lien regardless of homestead exemptions or other ownership interests.

This case is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s commitment to cracking down on employment tax violations.