Arlington, Va.—This week a federal court handed down a long-awaited decision vindicating Lyndon McLellan in his fight against the IRS.
Lyndon’s case came to the nation’s attention after the IRS seized his entire bank account in July 2014 using civil forfeiture for the innocent act of depositing his hard-earned money in the bank in amounts under $10,000. The Institute for Justice took Lyndon’s case to clear his name and get back his property, and in June 2015, the government finally returned Lyndon’s money.
In returning Lyndon’s money, however, the government sought to avoid its obligation under federal law to pay Lyndon’s attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest. Lyndon racked up nearly $20,000 in fees owed to his accountant and lawyer before the Institute for Justice took his case on a pro bono basis.
The district court’s decision rejected the government’s maneuver, stating:
Certainly, the damage inflicted upon an innocent person or business is immense when, although it has done nothing wrong, its money and property are seized. Congress, acknowledging the harsh realities of civil forfeiture practice, sought to lessen the blow to innocent citizens who have had their property stripped from them by the Government. . . . This court will not discard lightly the right of a citizen to seek the relief Congress has afforded.
“Today’s decision recognizes that Lyndon should not have to pay for the government’s outrageous use of civil forfeiture laws against a totally innocent property owner,” said IJ Attorney Robert Everett Johnson. “The government took Lyndon’s property even though he did nothing wrong, forcing him into a prolonged and expensive legal nightmare. Now the government will have to comply with its obligation to make Lyndon at least partly whole.”
The decision comes just as the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit prepares to consider the government’s similar attempt to avoid paying fees, costs, and interest to Carole Hinders—an Iowa restaurant owner who also had her entire bank account seized and then returned. The Eighth Circuit will hold oral argument in that case on February 9 in St. Paul, MN.
“The government cannot turn a citizen’s life upside down and then walk away as if nothing happened,” said IJ Attorney Wesley Hottot, who will argue the case for Carole Hinders. “Now that Lyndon has been vindicated, we look forward to holding the government to account in Carole’s case as well.”