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Picano v. Borough of Emerson

2009 WL 4193878 (3rd Cir. 2009) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; PAYMENTS; CASH — United States law providing that its coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, and dues does not stand for the proposition that the recipient has to accept payment in cash.

Partly motivated by an incident at a nearby municipality “in which a tax collector had embezzled cash payment of taxes” a municipality adopted an ordinance “requiring residents to pay their property taxes by check or money order, rather than in cash.” A property owner sued in federal court alleging that the municipality had “violated its constitutional rights.” The lower court held against the property owner, saying “that the ordinance was permissible so long as the [municipality] continued to accept other forms of U.S. currency, such as checks.” In his original complaint, the property owner’s appeal characterized his “claim as a constitutional violation of his right to substantive due process,” but appeared to have “abandoned this constitutional claim in favor of a statutory claim based on 31 U.S.C. [sec] 51.03.” The Court of Appeals found no support whatsoever “for the proposition that there is a substantive due process right to pay one’s taxes in cash.” It further found that the ordinance was justified by the municipality’s “legitimate interest in protecting tax revenues from embezzlement.” Otherwise, it rejected the property owner’s argument, first raised on appeal, that Section 51.03, which provides that “United States coins and currency ... are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues” stood for the proposition that a local government (or any other entity) had to accept payment in cash. The Court of Appeals found that no prior court had so held.

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