Some states have a very poor record with regard to collecting taxes via legal means. The State of Florida is one of those states. In the recent In re: Omine case the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals details the Florida Department of Revenue’s illegal collection activities.

Facts & Procedural History On Omine Case

Gregg and Michele Omine filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in 2001. The Florida DOR then filed a proof of claim seeking to recover public assistance money Hawaii paid to Gregg Omine’s former wife and children, who resided there. This Hawaii tax debt was included among those to be paid in the Omines’ Chapter 13 plan. The Omines filed a motion for contempt and sanctions, contending that the Florida DOR had continued debt-collection efforts after the filing of the bankruptcy petition, in violation of the automatic stay. The Omines withdrew the motion in January 2002 after the Florida DOR assured them that no further actions would be taken against them, but that assurance proved illusory.

The court opinion goes on to say:

The following year, Gregg Omine’s employer received a letter from the Florida DOR directing the employer to garnish Omine’s wages in connection with the Hawaii debt. n1 After counsel for both sides conferred, the Florida DOR agreed to cease this garnishment, but then, a week later, Omine received a letter threatening him with various penalties if he failed to pay the Hawaii debt. Again, after the parties’ counsel conferred, the collection efforts were halted, albeit only temporarily.

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The Florida DOR soon directed Omine’s employer to begin garnishing Omine’s wages again to pay the Hawaii debt, and counsel for each side again conferred and resolved to halt the collection effort. A few days later the Omines received a notice that their 2002 tax refund had been offset against the Hawaii debt. The Omines then filed a motion for sanctions that alleged the Florida DOR repeatedly violated the automatic stay.

The bankruptcy judge discharged the remainder of the Hawaii debt and awarded the Omines $1,000 in actual damages, plus $1,600 in attorney’s fees and costs. This monetary award, in my opinion, is very low given the State of Florida’s intentional and repeat violations of our laws. It sounds as if the Florida Department of Revenue has forgotten that its job is to administer our tax laws, not break them.

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