617 F.3d 370 (6th Cir. 2010), 09-1710, United States v. Barr

Docket Nº:09-1710.
Citation:617 F.3d 370
Opinion Judge:ROGERS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Carolyn C. BARR, Defendant-Appellant, Charles J. Barr; Comerica Incorporated; City of Detroit and County of Wayne, Defendants.
Attorney:Neal Nusholtz, Law Office, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellant. John A. Nolet, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. Neal Nusholtz, Law Office, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellant. John A. Nolet, Thomas J. Clark, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: BATCHELDER, Chief Judge; ROGERS, Circuit Judge; GREER, District Judge.[*] ROGERS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which GREER, D.J., joined. BATCHELDER, C.J. (pp. 377-80), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Chief Judge, ...
Case Date:August 04, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 370

617 F.3d 370 (6th Cir. 2010)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Carolyn C. BARR, Defendant-Appellant,

Charles J. Barr; Comerica Incorporated; City of Detroit and County of Wayne, Defendants.

No. 09-1710.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

August 4, 2010

Argued: April 21, 2010.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 372

ARGUED:

Neal Nusholtz, Law Office, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellant.

John A. Nolet, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Neal Nusholtz, Law Office, Birmingham, Michigan, for Appellant.

John A. Nolet, Thomas J. Clark, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before: BATCHELDER, Chief Judge; ROGERS, Circuit Judge; GREER, District Judge.[*]

ROGERS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which GREER, D.J., joined. BATCHELDER, C.J. (pp. 377-80), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

ROGERS, Circuit Judge.

The Government seeks to foreclose the federal income tax debt owed by Charles Barr against the home that he and his wife Carolyn own as tenants by the entirety. Mrs. Barr argues on appeal, as she did before the district court, that she is entitled to the vast majority of the sale proceeds of any foreclosure sale and that foreclosure is not appropriate based on her dominant interest in the home and other equitable factors. Because spouses owning property as tenants by the entirety are entitled to equal distribution of proceeds under all circumstances contemplated by Michigan law, such an equal division is also proper in this case. In light of this equal division, the district court correctly determined that foreclosure was appropriate.

Charles Barr owed the Government more than three hundred thousand dollars in unpaid income taxes, interest, and other statutory accruals. The Government filed suit seeking to foreclose the federal tax lien created by these debts against the home in Detroit, Michigan, that Mr. Barr and his wife Carolyn Barr own as tenants by the entirety. Mr. Barr did not file a response in the case, and the district court granted default judgment against Mr. Barr in the amount of his tax debt. The Government then filed a motion for summary judgment on its foreclosure claim. Mrs. Barr opposed the motion and asked the district court to exercise its limited equitable discretion to decline to order the sale of the home. She argued in particular that, because she was likely to outlive her husband, her interest in the home was more than fifty percent of the value of the home. She contended that foreclosure was therefore inappropriate because of her larger interest and because only her husband had unpaid federal tax liabilities. The Government argued that an equal division was appropriate under Michigan law and that Mrs. Barr had assisted in shifting properties other than the home out of Mr. Barr's name and into her name. The Government thus urged the conclusion that Mrs. Barr bore some of the responsibility for the fact that the Government could only collect taxes from Mr. Barr by foreclosure. The district court held that an equal division of any proceeds was appropriate, and the court refused to exercise its equitable discretion to prevent the foreclosure sale. Mrs. Barr now appeals, arguing

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primarily that the district court erred in determining that she was only entitled to half of the proceeds of any foreclosure sale.

Mrs. Barr is entitled to fifty percent of the proceeds of the foreclosure sale of the home. Title 26 U.S.C. § 7403 authorizes federal courts to decree a sale of property to enforce a federal tax lien. When such a foreclosure sale takes place, the proceeds are to be distributed " according to the findings of the court in respect to the interests of the parties and of the United States," thus providing fair compensation both to the Government and to any third parties. Id. § 7403(c). In determining property interests for federal tax law purposes, " the definition of underlying property interests is left to state law, [and] the consequences that attach to those interests is a matter left to federal law." United States v. Rodgers, 461 U.S. 677, 683, 103 S.Ct. 2132, 76 L.Ed.2d 236 (1983). Under Michigan law, Mr. and Mrs. Barr have identical rights to their marital home. Indeed, spouses are entitled to equal interests in entireties property in every situation contemplated by Michigan law. Spouses are " equally entitled to the rents, products, income, or profits ... of real ... property held by them as tenants by the entirety." Mich. Comp. Laws § 557.71. If property held by the entirety is sold, each spouse is entitled to half of the proceeds, and upon divorce, state law provides for a default equal division of such property. Id. § 552.102; United States v. Craft, 535 U.S. 274, 282, 122 S.Ct. 1414, 152 L.Ed.2d 437 (2002). Under 26 U.S.C. § 7403(c), the " distribution of the proceeds" of a tax foreclosure sale is made " according to the findings of the court in respect to the interests of the parties and of the United States." Because Mr. and Mrs. Barr have equal interests in their home, division according to their interests results in an equal distribution of the proceeds of the sale of that home. The Third Circuit has reached the same conclusion in the context of distributing the proceeds of the market sale of a federal tax-encumbered home that had been owned by a married couple as tenants by the entirety. Popky v. United States, 419 F.3d 242, 245 (3d Cir.2005). The Third Circuit noted that Pennsylvania entireties law was materially similar to that of Michigan, id. at 244, and reasoned as follows:

As the District Court correctly observed, " the equal division of assets between spouses ... parallels the distribution of entireties property when an entireties estate is severed because of a sale with consent of both tenants, divorce or other reasons." Sound policy reinforces the District Court's approach to valuation, as an equal valuation is far simpler and less speculative than the valuation contemplated by the [married couple].

Id. at 245 (citations omitted) (first alteration in original).

Detailed consideration of the component interests of a tenancy by the entirety reinforces this intuitive conclusion. A tenancy by the entirety under Michigan law consists of at least the following rights:

the right to use the property, the right to exclude third parties from it, the right to a share of income produced from it, the right of survivorship, the right to become a tenant in common with equal shares upon divorce, the right to sell the property with the [the other spouse]'s consent and to receive half the proceeds from such a sale, the right to place an encumbrance on the property with the [the other spouse]'s consent, and the right to block [the other spouse] from selling or encumbering the property unilaterally.

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Craft, 535 U.S. at 282, 122 S.Ct. 1414. Mrs. Barr asserts that her right of survivorship and her right to prevent sale or encumbrance of the property are worth more than her husband's survivorship and sale-prevention rights, but both of these rights generate equal spousal interests.

Michigan law dictates the result that survivorship rights are equal between spouses. If the spouse with the greater life expectancy had a larger interest under Michigan law, then this greater interest would be reflected in the Michigan rules for dividing property upon divorce or consensual sale. However, because Michigan law provides for equal division of property upon divorce or consensual sale, differences in life expectancy do not result in different survivorship interests.

This conclusion is consistent with Rodgers. In Rodgers, Lucille Rodgers was the widow of Philip Bosco, a tax debtor. 461 U.S. at 687, 103 S.Ct. 2132. Rodgers and her husband had owned and occupied their home as a homestead under Texas law. Id. Texas law provides that, at the death of one spouse, the other spouse...

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