RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: James R. Browning Courthouse
DOCKET NO.: 75-235
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
CITATION: 429 US 338 (1977)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 1976
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1977
Robert H. Bork - for respondents
Richard J. Leedy - for petitioners
Facts of the case
Media for G. M. Leasing Corporation v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 04, 1976 in G. M. Leasing Corporation v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 12, 1977 in G. M. Leasing Corporation v. United States
Warren E. Burger:
The judgments and opinion of the Court in 75-235, G.M. Leasing Corporation against the United States will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.
Harry A. Blackmun:
This case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
The petitioner, G.M. Leasing Corp. is a Utah corporation and Georgine Norman Jr. was its General Manager.
Norman, however, was convicted of a federal crime and became a fugitive from justice, and the Internal Revenue Service in investigating his income tax liability for 1970 and 1971 determined deficiencies, and made some jeopardy assessments.
In the course of their collective efforts, agents observed that the Norman resident's certain expensive show or collector of cars and they subsequently determined that those automobiles were registered in the name of the petitioner corporation.
And further investigation indicated that the corporation was engaged in no business activity.
The service then concluded that the corporation was the alter ego of Mr. Norman and proceeded to levy upon and seize several automobiles from a property in which the petitioner had no interest.
These seizures were made without a warrant.
The agents also went to the premises of the petitioner corporation consisting of a cottage-type building and a garage and made a warrantless forced entry into those premises.
The agents made no seizures at that time but tow days later, again under the cottage without a warrant, and this time, seized books and records.
The petitioner corporation thereafter instituted this suit.
It claimed that it was not Norman's alter ego that the assessments were invalid and that the seizures violated its rights under the Fourth Amendment.
It sought return of the automobiles and suppression of the evidence, and damages from Internal Revenue Service agents.
The District Court entered judgment for the petitioner and the Court of Appeals for the most part reversed.
We granted certiorari limited to the Fourth Amendment or search and seizure issues.
In an opinion today filed with the clerk, we hold that the warrantless automobile seizures which occurred on public streets and parking lots or other open areas involved no invasion of privacy requiring a warrant and were not unconstitutional.
We also hold, however, that the warrantless entry into petitioner's office did violate the Fourth Amendment.
This intrusion was not justified by being based on any special nature of the petitioner's business or regulation of its activities, but only on the ground that its assets were seizable to satisfy tax assessments.
In our view, this does not justify depriving the petitioner of its Fourth Amendment rights simply because it is a corporation.
The seizures were affected on private property, and the Government's mere interest in the collection of taxes does not suffice to justify a per se exemption from the usual warrant requirement.
Furthermore, there were no accident circumstances relied upon here to justify an exception to that requirement.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The Chief Justice has filed a separate concurring opinion.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.