U.S. Supreme Court Denies Review of Ninth Circuit Decision in Guam Tax Refund Lawsuit
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On June 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not review a ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in litigation involving the timely payment of tax refunds to Guam residents. The Supreme Court’s ruling, which officially denied the Government of Guam’s Petition for Certiorari, marks the official end to a long and hard-fought legal battle dating back to 2011, when four Guam residents on behalf of a class of taxpayers challenged the Government of Guam’s failure to pay tax refunds on time. By denying the petition, the Supreme Court has effectively ruled that the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will stand as the final decision, and the Government of Guam has no additional legal options to challenge the ruling.
The class action lawsuit was initially filed in April 2011, at which time the Government of Guam owed more than $200 million in GTIT refunds, dating back to 2006. The Government of Guam had a decades-long practice of failing to pay income tax refunds to its residents, with taxpayers often waiting a period of years before receiving their refunds. The Guam Legislature passed laws in 1994 and 2002 that required revenues to be regularly set aside so the refunds could be paid as they come due, but the Government did not comply with those laws. The plaintiffs also challenged the Government’s practice of paying “expedited” refunds to certain Guam taxpayers above others due to the manner in which the program was executed.
On August 21, 2012, the Honorable Consuelo Marshall of the District Court of Guam granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, and issued a permanent injunction, requiring the Government of Guam to pay most tax refunds no later than six months after tax returns are due. The injunction also terminated the practice of “expediting” refunds to certain taxpayers. Under the court’s ruling, for five years following the injunction, government officials would also be required to provide periodic reports to the plaintiffs about their efforts to timely pay income tax refunds.
Following that summary judgment decision, the Government of Guam took a broad-ranging appeal, questioning the district court’s ability to institute a six-month deadline for the payment of tax refunds, among other challenges. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the district court’s ruling in all respects.