The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the tax refund case that was filed in the District Court of Guam.
Guam – In a sternly worded, 27-page opinion issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today, the higher court affirmed the District Court of Guam’s permanent injunction on GovGuam that it must pay tax refunds within six months.
The opinion was, at times, blaring. Written by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marsha Berzon and joined by Judges Kim Wardlaw and John B. Owens, the message was loud and clear: the government of Guam must pay tax refunds within the court-ordered deadline of six months of the tax filing deadline.
The 27-page opinion outlines years of abuse by GovGuam officials, but also acknowledges Guam’s struggle to balance its budget which is what led to the disparity in paying out tax refunds in which taxpayers often waited years before ever receiving a tax return.
The government habitually used money owed to taxpayers to pay for other financial responsibilities. In the end, however, the Judge Berzon wrote, “Guam must find another way to deal with its fiscal difficulties.”
Judge Berzon also made some disparaging remarks about the government’s use of the “expedited refund” process, calling it a “violation of equal protection.”
“Guam’s policy … fell most heavily on taxpayers of limited means, while expedited refunds were available to those with personal or political connections,” she wrote.
She criticized the informal expedited refund policy that ranked medical necessity at the top of its priority to those with financial hardships as the least, calling it opaque and tedious. She pointed out that as noble as the policy might have seemed, it wasn’t even practiced.
Judge Berzon quoted the District Court order in the case which said “In reality however, while taxpayers experiencing medical emergencies were often unable to obtain expedited refunds, other taxpayers with less urgent financial needs received their refunds on an expedited basis.” She also harshly points out that Department of Revenue and Taxation employees were able to expedite their own refunds, as well as that of their families and friends.
In fact, she notes, the plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit got their refunds expedited without asking for it hoping this would solve the case. This seemingly inappropriate policy, Judge Berzon agreed, violated taxpayers equal protection rights.
Judge Berzon also did not see any abuse of authority in the District Court setting a permanent injunction for a six-month deadline to pay tax refunds.
The Calvo Administration had argued in June this year that “the six-month period was simply too short and unjustifiably tied Guam’s hands in administering its budget” and further “Guam suggests that under the internal revenue code and the organic act, it has the power to defer refund payments for its own budgetary purposes for as long as it pleases, so long as it eventually pays the overpayment back with interest.”
The ninth Circuit responded: “We thoroughly disagree. These tax overpayments were never Guam’s to begin with, and it has no legal claim to them … if anything, allowing Guam six months to honor refund requests it has determined to be valid and not subject to audit or investigation is more solicitous than necessary to Guam’s concerns.”
The governor’s office did not respond to our requests for comment as of news time.
You can read the full 27-page decision by clicking on the file below.