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.
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).
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
The following day revenue agents called at the Norman residence in Salt Lake City to endeavor to collect the taxes.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
In May, petitioner corporation instituted this suit. By its amended complaint it asserted a claim for wrongful levy, with a request for the return of the automobiles; a claim for suppression of all evidence obtained from the seized documents; and a claim against the agents for damages. Id., at 105-112. It alleged that the assessments were arbitrary and capricious, that petitioner was not an alter ego of Norman, and that the levy upon its premises and the contents violated the Fourth Amendment. Ibid.
Shortly thereafter, the Service returned to the cottage the originals of the records and documents that had been seized. In the meantime, however, they had been photocopied.
Norman's son filed a complaint in intervention, id., at 112-117, alleging essentially the same facts and requesting
At the ensuing trial before the court without a jury there was testimony that Norman himself originally held title to some of the automobiles registered in petitioner's name, id., at 37; that petitioner had no employees and did not lease any cars, id., at 37, 39; that petitioner's only assets were luxury or vintage model automobiles; that the cars had not been transferred to it until at or near the end of 1972; and that petitioner never issued any stock, held any director's meetings, or engaged in any business.
The District Court entered judgment for petitioner and for the intervenor. It found that the premises in question were the offices of petitioner and the residence of the intervenor; that the revenue-officer defendants had no search warrant; that they forcibly entered the premises on March 23 and again on March 25;
The Court of Appeals, for the most part, reversed. 514 F.2d 935 (CA10 1975). It ruled that the evidence conclusively established that petitioner was Norman's alter ego so that its assets could be seized to satisfy Norman's income tax liability; that the District Court's finding to the contrary was clearly erroneous; that petitioner had not sustained its burden of proving the assessments to be erroneous; and that the trial court erred in invalidating the assessments and in dismissing the Government's counterclaim. In regard to the claim of illegal search and seizures, the Court of Appeals held:
"The refusal to pay authorized appellants to collect the tax by levy, and this included the power of `seizure by any means.' Thus appellants were acting pursuant to
The court also ruled that there was no evidence to support the trial court's finding that Clayton's participation "was of a malicious character." Ibid. In accord with a concession by the Government, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment insofar as it ordered the return of certain shares of stock to the intervenor.
A. Section 6331 (a) of the 1954 Code authorizes the Secretary or his delegate to collect taxes "by levy upon all property and rights to property" belonging to a person who "neglects or refuses to pay" any tax "or on which there is a lien . . . for the payment of such tax."
Under § 6321 of the Code,
B. Our grant of certiorari was limited to the Fourth Amendment issue, and we declined to review petitioner's and Norman's son's claims that the assessments and levies should have been voided and that petitioner was not Norman's alter ego. Pet. for Cert. 2, 3.
C. The seizures of the automobiles in this case took place on public streets, parking lots, or other open places, and did not involve any invasion of privacy. In Murray's Lessee v.
D. The seizure of the books and records, however, involved intrusion into the privacy of petitioner's offices. Significantly, the Court has said:
See Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454-455 (1971); id., at 512 (WHITE, J., concurring and dissenting); Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483 (1964); United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48 (1951); McDonald v. United States 335 U.S. 451 (1948); Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20 (1925).
The respondents do not contend that business premises are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Such a proposition could not be defended in light of this Court's clear holdings to the contrary. See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541 (1967); Go-Bart Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344 (1931); Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920). Nor can it be claimed that corporations are without some Fourth Amendment rights. Go-Bart Co. v. United States, supra; Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, supra; Oklahoma Press Pub. Co. v. Walling, 327 U.S. 186, 205-206 (1946); Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 75-76 (1906). Cf. California Bankers Assn. v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21 (1974); Federal Trade Comm'n v. American Tobacco Co., 264 U.S. 298, 305-306 (1924); Wilson v. United States, 221 U.S. 361, 375-376 (1911); Consolidated Rendering Co. v. Vermont, 207 U.S. 541, 553-554 (1908).
The Court, of course, has recognized that a business, by its special nature and voluntary existence, may open itself to intrusions that would not be permissible in a purely private context. Thus, in United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311 (1972), a warrantless search of a locked storeroom during business hours, pursuant to the inspection procedure authorized by the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U. S. C. § 923 (g), was upheld:
See also Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72 (1970) (Congress has broad authority to fashion standards of reasonableness for searches and seizures to regulate the liquor industry but failed in that case to authorize a warrantless search).
In the present case, however, the intrusion into petitioner's privacy was not based on the nature of its business, its license, or any regulation of its activities. Rather, the intrusion is claimed to be justified on the ground that petitioner's assets were seizable to satisfy tax assessments. This involves nothing more than the normal enforcement of the tax laws, and we find no justification for treating petitioner differently in these circumstances simply because it is a corporation.
The respondents argue that there is a broad exception to the Fourth Amendment that allows warrantless intrusions into privacy in the furtherance of enforcement of the tax laws. We recognize that the "Power to lay and collect Taxes" is a specifically enunciated power of the Federal Government, Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 1, and that the First Congress, which proposed the adoption of the Bill of Rights, also provided that certain taxes could be "levied by distress and sale of goods of the person or persons refusing or neglecting to pay." Act of Mar. 3, 1791, c. 15, § 23, 1 Stat. 204. This, however, relates to warrantless seizures rather than to warrantless searches. It is one thing to seize without a warrant property resting in an open area or seizable by levy without an intrusion into privacy, and it is quite another thing to effect a warrantless seizure of property, even that owned by a corporation, situated on private premises to which access is not otherwise available for the seizing officer.
The respondents urge that the history of the common law in England and the laws in several States prior to the adoption of the Bill of Rights support the view that the Fourth Amendment was not intended to cover intrusions into privacy in the enforcement of the tax laws. We do not find in the cited materials anything approaching the clear evidence that would be required to create so great an exception to the Fourth Amendment's protections against warrantless intrusions into privacy.
The respondents also rely upon certain dicta in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886)
Finally, the respondents argue that warrantless searches are justified by congressional enactment, as were the searches in Biswell and Colonnade. The statute, § 6331 (b) of the Code, 26 U. S. C. § 6331 (b), authorizes "distraint and seizure by any means." See n. 15, supra. Read narrowly, it authorizes
The respondents recognize that one of the Court's critical concerns in Camara and See was the discretion of the seizing officers. Brief for Respondents 66. Yet § 6331 clearly gives the Secretary or his delegate discretion as to what property to seize. If more than one location is involved, the Secretary will choose which dwelling will be invaded. If property is to be found both in public places and in private areas, the Secretary may choose which to seize. This hardly can be called a restraint on discretion. The respondents also recognize the concern with the existence of questions of disputed fact. They argue that in the seizure situation there are no such questions; yet in the present case the agents' confusion over whether the premises were an office or a residence demonstrates the contrary.
The respondents assert that the burden on the Government of obtaining a warrant is a relevant factor. Brief for Respondents 67-68. They suggest that the burden is great here because the Government is dealing with persons who may attempt to put their property beyond reach. Yet the statute authorizes distraint and seizure whenever a taxpayer neglects or refuses to pay his tax, and regardless of any indication of risk of concealment. The statute simply does not focus on situations involving a need for rapid action.
The respondents argue that the interest in the collection of taxes is such as to bring this case within the reasoning of Biswell and Colonnade. Those cases involved voluntary
The respondents suggest that the privacy interest in business premises is less than that in a private home. Even if correct, the assertion is irrelevant with respect to the intent of the statute, for the statute makes no distinction between business properties and dwelling areas. If it authorizes entries at all, it authorizes entries into both business premises and private homes.
The respondents offer no legislative history in support of their reading of § 6331, and to give the statute that reading would call its constitutionality into serious question. We therefore decline to read it as giving carte blanche for warrantless invasions of privacy. Rather, we give it its natural reading, namely, as an authorization for all forms of seizure, but as silent on the subject of intrusions into privacy.
The intrusion into petitioner's office is therefore governed by the normal Fourth Amendment rule that "except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper consent is `unreasonable' unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant." Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U. S., at 528-529.
As an alternative to their argument that a new exception to the warrant requirement should be recognized, the respondents assert that the facts of this case bring it within the "exigent circumstances" exception to the warrant requirement.
We therefore conclude that the warrantless entry into petitioner's office was in violation of the commands of the Fourth Amendment.
This takes us to the issue of remedy. Specifically, petitioner, by its second amended complaint, prayed for (a) the return of the photocopies of the books and records; (b) the return of the automobiles; (c) a declaration that petitioner is not the alter ego of Norman or of Mrs. Norman; (d) the suppression of all evidence obtained from the books and records; (e) the suppression of the automobiles as evidence; (f) the release of all levies; and (g) general and punitive damages against the individual defendant-agents. App. 123-124.
The alter ego issue, as has been noted, was denied review. The books and records were returned, and the photocopies concededly have been destroyed; that claim, thus, is moot. We have decided the issue of the legality of the seizure of the automobiles adversely to petitioner. The suppression issue, as to the books and records, obviously is premature and may be considered if and when proceedings arise in which the Government seeks to use the documents or information obtained from them. See Meister v. United States, 397 F.2d 268, 269 (CA3 1968); Hill v. United States, 346 F.2d 175 (CA9), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 956 (1965). And the irreparable injury required to support a motion to suppress, under Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 41 (e), on equitable grounds in advance of any proceedings, has not been demonstrated.
This leaves only the issue of damages against the individual agents. The District Court found that Agent Clayton "maliciously committed said forced entry, and search and seizure," App. 138, and concluded that he and other individual defendants acted "knowing full well that they were violating the rights of" petitioner. Ibid. It concluded that petitioner was entitled to judgment for those actions. The Court of Appeals, in the context of its holding that the entry and search were not illegal, ruled that the finding of maliciousness on the part of Clayton was unsupported by any evidence in the record and was clearly erroneous. 514 F. 2d, at 940-941. It also reversed the judgment awarding petitioner damages. Id., at 942.
We have held above, however, that a warrant should have been obtained, under the circumstances of this case, before the forcible entry was effected. This brings into focus and for consideration this Court's decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), and the reservation there of the immunity question. The Government suggests that, assuming a violation of the Fourth Amendment by the agents, petitioner is not entitled to money damages if the agents acted in good faith; that good faith was supported by the "apparent fact" that the agents' conduct was in conformity with standard Service procedures based upon Murray's Lessee, supra; and that the record justifies the conclusion that the agents acted in good faith. That may well be, but we conclude that this aspect of the facts, the existence of proof of any injury to petitioner resulting from the entry and the temporary seizure of the books and records, and the immunity issue all should be addressed in the first instance by the Court of Appeals and, if it so directs, by the District Court.
It is so ordered.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring.
While I concur in the opinion of the Court, it may be useful to note that the factual setting of this case provides what seems, to me, a classic illustration of the dividing line between an impermissible, warrantless entry and one permissible under the "exigent circumstances" exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.
After their initial entry into, and retreat from, the petitioner's office-cottage, the IRS agents assigned to the investigation of the fugitive Norman's tax liability placed the premises under 24-hour surveillance. One night during the course of this surveillance, the agents observed cartons and other materials being removed from the premises by persons unknown to them. Against the background facts, such surreptitious nighttime activity constituted an exigent circumstance that would have justified an immediate seizure of the materials being moved in order to protect the interests of the United States. This is especially so since here the premises were controlled by the alter ego of an individual who was not only a delinquent taxpayer, but who was, at the time, a fugitive from justice. Rather than acting immediately, however, the agents chose to wait for approximately a day and a half to two days before making their entry. I agree with the conclusion that there were no exigent circumstances on these facts; however, the Court holds no more than that the agents' delay after observing these highly suspicious events makes that exception to the warrant requirement unavailable to them. By failing to act at once, the exigency was dissipated, and I do not understand our
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Petitioner protests any adverse inference that might flow from this testimony and asserts that there is no evidence that Clayton requested assistance from Norman or his representatives who had filed powers of attorney with the Service. Reply Brief for Petitioners 3-4. Counsel for respondents at oral argument stated: "I want to correct any wrong implication if there is one, that they received no cooperation from Mr. Norman. . . . [N]obody had asked him prior to that time [his becoming a fugitive] for cooperation." Tr. of Oral Arg. 25.
The notice which is required after jeopardy assessment by § 6861 (b) of the Code enables the taxpayer to file a petition with the United States Tax Court for a redetermination of the deficiency. See Laing v. United States, 423 U.S. 161 (1976). A timely notice was sent to Norman, and a petition was filed on his behalf with the Tax Court. His case awaits trial there (Docket No. 6000-73).
"(a) Authority of Secretary or delegate.
"If any person liable to pay any tax neglects or refuses to pay the same within 10 days after notice and demand, it shall be lawful for the Secretary or his delegate to collect such tax (and such further sum as shall be sufficient to cover the expenses of the levy) by levy upon all property and rights to property (except such property as is exempt under section 6334) belonging to such person or on which there is a lien provided in this chapter for the payment of such tax. . . . If the Secretary or his delegate makes a finding that the collection of such tax is in jeopardy, notice and demand for immediate payment of such tax may be made by the Secretary or his delegate and, upon failure or refusal to pay such tax, collection thereof by levy shall be lawful without regard to the 10-day period provided in this section.
"(b) Seizure and sale of property.
"The term `levy' as used in this title includes the power of distraint and seizure by any means. A levy shall extend only to property possessed and obligations existing at the time thereof. In any case in which the Secretary or his delegate may levy upon property or rights to property, he may seize and sell such property or rights to property (whether real or personal, tangible or intangible)."
"If any person liable to pay any tax neglects or refuses to pay the same after demand, the amount (including any interest, additional amount, addition to tax, or assessable penalty, together with any costs that may accrue in addition thereto) shall be a lien in favor of the United States upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belonging to such person."
"The search for and seizure of stolen or forfeited goods, or goods liable to duties and concealed to avoid the payment thereof, are totally different things from a search for and seizure of a man's private books and papers for the purpose of obtaining information therein contained, or of using them as evidence against him." 116 U. S., at 623.
The Court's concern in Boyd was with establishing the impermissibility of the subpoena of papers. It was not concerned with the warrant requirement for entry into private places. The Court, however, did say:
"The entry upon premises, made by a sheriff or other officer of the law, for the purpose of seizing goods and chattels by virtue of a judicial writ, such as an attachment, a sequestration, or an execution, is not within the prohibition of the Fourth or Fifth Amendment, or any other clause of the Constitution." Id., at 624 (emphasis added).
The Court was not concerned with, and therefore did not explain, whether the "judicial writ" referred to above was necessary in order to meet the warrant requirements. The opinion does describe the "obnoxious writs of assistance" against which the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect. This description gives an indication of the types of tax-enforcement actions that the Amendment's protections were intended to reach:
"Even the act under which the obnoxious writs of assistance were issued did not go as far as this, but only authorized the examination of ships and vessels, and persons found therein, for the purpose of finding goods prohibited to be imported or exported, or on which the duties were not paid, and to enter into and search any suspected vaults, cellars, or warehouses for such goods." (Footnote omitted.) Id., at 623.