Henderson v. Stalder

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In Henderson v. Stalder, 407 F.3d 351 (5th Cir. 2005), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Louisiana's prestige license plate program that offered pro-life plates but not pro-choice plates could not be challenged in federal court.

Plaintiffs asserted that this program facially discriminates against pro-choice views in contravention of the First Amendment. The program diverts excess charges over handling and ordinary registration fees for the plates to organizations endorsed by the legislature.

Judge Edith Jones, writing for the Court, held sua sponte that federal courts lack jurisdiction over the case because of the Tax Injunction Act (TIA), 28 U.S.C. § 1341.

She held that:

The TIA prohibits a federal court from "enjoining, suspending or restraining the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such state." 28 U.S.C. § 1341. Keeler's goal in this suit, and the remedy ordered by the district court, in fact enjoined the state's collection of revenue for its entire specialty license plate program. Nevertheless, the TIA would not deprive federal courts of jurisdiction if (a) the "fees" charged by the state are not taxes for purposes of TIA, or if (b) Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U.S. 88, 124 S. Ct. 2276, 159 L. Ed. 2d 172 (2004) can be read to encompass this suit. Although reasonable minds can differ on both questions, we are persuaded that the additional amounts that the state collects for specialty plates - above handling and ordinary vehicle registration fees - are indeed taxes rather than regulatory fees. Further, Hibbs's interpretation of the TIA does not contemplate or authorize a suit whose object is to diminish the flow of state revenues. The TIA deprives the federal courts of jurisdiction over Keeler's claim.
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