Refusing to Accept Crumpled $1 Bills as Property Tax Payment Doesn’t Violate First Amendment
From Lull v. County of Sacramento, decided Tuesday by Magistrate Judge Jeremy Peterson (E.D. Cal.):
Plaintiff claims that defendants engaged in retaliation forbidden by the First Amendment when they refused to let him pay some of his property taxes with crumpled one-dollar bills emptied from garbage bags, which he brought to the Sacramento County Department of Finance office on tax day. Defendants maintain that, although they do accept some cash payments and had previously accepted one from plaintiff, they refused the payment at issue because it did not comply with the county’s requirements for cash payments and because they did not have the resources to process it. Plaintiff disputes that defendants’ rejection of his payment was motivated by these considerations, claiming instead that defendants sought to suppress his protest, but he offers scant evidence of this. I recommend that the court grant summary judgment for defendants….
In 2017, plaintiff was behind on his property tax payments and was under pressure from his mortgage holder to pay the taxes. He needed to pay by February 6 to avoid either a fee, a higher interest rate, or default. Plaintiff sought to make his tax payment in one-dollar bills, which he alleges was intended as a form of protest. Before attempting such a cash payment, he consulted with the county attorney, Keith Floyd. Floyd told him that coins were not an acceptable form of payment, but dollar bills would be acceptable under certain conditions, namely:
- All tendered bills would have to be in a readily countable condition. This means the bills must be flat when presented. No folded, crinkled, wadded up, rolled, or otherwise altered bills would be accepted.
- The payment would have to be offered in person at an agreed upon date and time. The Department of Finance needs to ensure that it has adequate staffing resources available to count the money during regular business hours while you or your representative remain present during the process.
- The Department of Finance would allow for one recount if the counted total appeared to be less than the tax bill amount.
Plaintiff arranged w
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