- Keith Fogg, Holding People Hostage for the Payment of Tax – Writ Ne Exeat Republica (Procedurally Taxing Blog 2/11/14), here.
- Jay Adkisson, A Wedding And The Writ Of Ne Exeat Republica (Forbes 2/7/14), here.
The United States does not generally allow imprisonment – or, more broadly, constraining a person’s liberty -- for the nonpayment of debt. The exception for purposes of tax matters is the statutory approval in § 7402(a) for the writ of ne exeat republica. The Latin is “let him not go out of the republic,” and was developed in England as a chancery writ. The exercise of the writ implicates constitutional protections, including the “right to travel” which is “a constitutional liberty closely related to rights of free speech and association, * * *.” Notwithstanding this implication of constitutional rights, in extraordinary cases it can be granted.
The writ is sometimes used in domestic relations contexts to restrain someone from leaving the jurisdiction. In tax collection contexts:
The writ ne exeat republica is an extraordinary remedy and should only be considered when all other administrative and judicial remedies would be ineffective. In appropriate cases, the writ ne exeat may be used as a collection device against a United States taxpayer who is about to depart from the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or who no longer resides but is temporarily present in the United States and who has transferred his assets outside of the United States in order to avoid payment of his federal tax liabilities. The writ ne exeat is a court order which generally commands a marshal to commit to jail a defendant who fails to post bail or other security in a specified amount. The authority for the United States District Courts to issue writs ne exeat in tax cases is found in I.R.C. section 7402(a) and 28 U.S.C. section 1651.
The debt relied on to support the writ must be enforceable against the defendant, be of a pecuniary nature and be presently payable. Thus, in tax cases, an assessment should be outstanding against the taxpayer.
The purpose of the writ in tax cases is to prevent taxpayers from defeating the collection of tax liabilities by removing themselves and their assets from the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. As a practical matter collection by administrative means is ineffective where the taxpayer has either secreted his assets or removed them from the United States. If the taxpayer leaves the United States, judicial remedies may be likewise defeated since the court would then be powerless in most cases to enforce its orders or judgments against the taxpayer or his property, if located outside of the United States. Thus, the writ ne exeat ensures the continuing submission of the taxpayer to the jurisdiction of the court.
The writ may be used in conjunction with the appointment of a receiver.
The writ is very, very rarely used. I have never encountered it in my practice nor, anecdotally, have I heard of other practitioners’ encountering it. The cases are sparse. The sparsity of cases may be because, due to the constitutional implications, the requirements for the Government to obtain the writ are difficult to meet. The requirements, often referred to as the Mathewson requirements, are:
(1) a substantial likelihood the movant will succeed on the merits; (2) the movant will suffer an irreparable injury if the injunction is not issued; (3) the potential injury to the movant outweighs the potential harm to the opposing party; and (4) the injunction would not disserve the public interest.