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Lindsey v. United States

August 22, 2006

STEPHEN J. LINDSEY AND PATRICIA L. LINDSEY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiffs, Steven J. Lindsey and Patricia L. Lindsey, bring this action alleging that the United States Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") "recklessly, intentionally or by reason of negligence[,] disregarded and continue to disregard provisions of [the Internal Revenue Code ("IRC"),] Title 26 of the United States Code[,] and the regulations promulgated thereunder." Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 1. In response to the complaint, the defendant initially filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to properly execute service of process ("Def.'s Mot.") and thereafter submitted a supplemental motion to dismiss based on the plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their administrative remedies before bringing this lawsuit ("Def.'s Supp. Mot."), which the Court construes as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn1 For the following reasons, the Court denies the defendant's motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process, grants its motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims for a declaratory judgment, an injunction, and a refund on the grounds that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and therefore cannot provide such relief, and grants its motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' damages claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn2 Because the plaintiffs' response to the defendant's motion to dismiss appears to raise a new claim not asserted in the complaint, the Court will grant the pro se plaintiffs limited leave to amend their complaint for the sole purpose of adding this new claim.

I. Background

This case is one of at least a dozen virtually identical lawsuits brought by taxpayers, proceeding pro se, alleging a variety of forms of misconduct by the IRS.*fn3 The complaint here, however, provides no particularized facts pertaining specifically to the plaintiffs in this case; instead, it consists predominantly of argument and restatement of putatively pertinent legal standards. See Compl. ¶¶ 8-26. Moreover, even the few passages in the complaint which purport to describe facts that support the plaintiffs' positions merely offer boilerplate recitations of the factual showings required to satisfy the various statutory provisions relied upon by the plaintiffs. See Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7(a)-(r), 27-30.

In any event, the plaintiffs catalogue seventeen distinct provisions of the IRC which they claim have been violated. Compl. ¶¶ 7(a)-(r). The complaint seeks several forms of relief to redress the harm the plaintiffs have allegedly suffered, including a declaratory judgment that the defendant has violated one or more provisions of the IRC, Compl. ¶ 31, an injunction barring any further collection of taxes from the plaintiffs, Compl. ¶ 34, a refund of all unassessed taxes and the return of property unlawfully seized, Compl. ¶ 33, and an award of damages under 26 U.S.C. § 7433 (2000), Compl. ¶ 32. The plaintiffs attempted to effect service on the defendant by mailing a copy of the summons and complaint via certified mail to the Attorney General and the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia on September 19, 2005. Pls.' Resp. at 2.

The defendant first moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint for insufficient service of process pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) on December 1, 2005. Def.'s Mot. at 1. The plaintiffs filed an "Objection" to the defendant's first motion on December 16, 2005. Pls.' Obj. at 1. Several months later, the defendant brought a second motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint alleging that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over each of the plaintiffs' claims for relief under Rule 12(b)(1). Def.'s Supp. Mot. at 1. For the reasons discussed below, the Court construes this motion, in part, as challenging the Court's subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and, in part, as seeking dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). The plaintiffs filed a "Response" to this second motion on April 18, 2006. Pls.' Resp. at 1. The Court will address in turn each of these motions and their oppositions.

II. Standards of Review

A. Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(5)

The Court may dismiss a complaint for ineffective service of process pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) if the plaintiff fails to establish that he or she has properly effectuated service pursuant to Rule 4. See Light v. Wolf, 816 F.2d 746, 751 (D.C. Cir. 1987). "[T]he party on whose behalf service is made has the burden of establishing its validity when challenged; to do so, he must demonstrate that the procedure employed satisfied the requirements of the relevant portions of Rule 4 and any other applicable provision of law." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Hilska v. Jones, 217 F.R.D. 16, 20 (D.D.C. 2003) (holding that "the plaintiff carries the burden of establishing that he has properly affected service") (citing Light, 816 F.2d at 751).

B. Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

Once a defendant has moved to dismiss a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), "the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the factual predicates of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Erby v. United States, 424 F. Supp. 2d 180, 182 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)); see also Al-Owhali v. Ashcroft, 279 F. Supp. 2d 13, 21 (D.D.C. 2003) (Walton, J.) ("Throughout the Court's jurisdictional inquiry, it is plaintiff's burden to establish that the Court has jurisdiction."). "The [C]court, in turn, has an affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority." Abu Ali v. Gonzales, 387 F. Supp. 2d 16, 17 (D.D.C. 2005) (internal quotations omitted).

A court ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss "may consider documents outside the pleadings to assure itself that it has jurisdiction." Al-Owhali, 279 F. Supp. 2d at 21; see also Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir.1987) ("In 12(b)(1) proceedings, it has been long accepted that the judiciary may make appropriate inquiry beyond the pleadings to satisfy itself on [its] authority to entertain the case." (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)). The level of scrutiny with which the Court examines the allegations in the complaint that support a finding of jurisdiction, however, depends upon whether the motion to dismiss asserts a facial or factual challenge to the court's jurisdiction. See I.T. Consultants v. Pakistan, 351 F.3d 1184, 1188 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

Facial challenges, such as motions to dismiss for lack of standing at the pleading stage, "attack[] the factual allegations of the complaint that are contained on the face of the complaint." Al-Owhali, 279 F. Supp. 2d at 20 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "If a defendant mounts a 'facial' challenge to the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's jurisdictional allegations, the court must accept as true the allegations in the complaint and consider the factual allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Erby, 424 F. Supp. 2d at 181; see also I.T. Consultants, 351 F.3d at 1188. The court may look beyond the allegations contained in the complaint to decide a facial challenge, "as long as it still accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true." Abu Ali, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 18; see also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 402 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2005) ("At the pleading stage . . . . [w]hile the district court may consider materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the court must still accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true." (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)).

Factual challenges, by contrast, are "addressed to the underlying facts contained in the complaint." Al-Owhali, 279 F. Supp. 2d at 20. Where a defendant disputes the factual allegations in the complaint that form the basis for a court's subject matter jurisdiction, "the court may not deny the motion to dismiss merely by assuming the truth of the facts alleged by the plaintiff and disputed by the defendant." Phoenix Consulting, Inc. v. Republic of Angola, 216 F.3d 36, 40 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Instead, a court deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion asserting a factual challenge "must go beyond the pleadings and resolve any disputed issues of fact the resolution of which is necessary to a ruling upon the motion to dismiss." Id. In such situations, "the plaintiff's jurisdictional averments are entitled to no presumptive weight; the court must address the merits of the jurisdictional claim by resolving the factual disputes between the parties." Erby, 424 F. Supp. 2d at 181 (internal quotations omitted); see also Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1976) (holding that a court ruling on a factual challenge to its jurisdiction is not required to accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, but rather "is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case . . . and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims").

The defendant's supplemental motion to dismiss raises both facial and factual attacks upon the Court's jurisdiction. The defendant raises a facial challenge to the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief, and its motion also appears to assert a facial objection to the plaintiffs' claim for an injunction.*fn4 In contrast, the grounds upon which the defendant seeks dismissal of the plaintiffs' refund and damages claims raise solely factual challenges in that they dispute the plaintiffs' allegation that they "has/have [sic] exhausted all administrative remedies." Compl. ¶ 6.

C. Motions to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

When adjudicating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must view all the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, and it must grant the plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from those facts. See Barr. v. Clinton, 370 F.3d 1196, 1199 (D.C. Cir. 2004). However, the Court need not accept inferences or conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). The Court may only consider the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached as exhibits, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice. See EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 (D.C. Cir. 1997). "A court should not dismiss a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim 'unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Abigail Alliance For Better Access to Developmental Drugs and Washington Legal Foundation v. von Eschenbach, 445 F.3d 470, 475 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

D. Pro Se Litigants

Notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiffs' complaint is substantially identical to those filed in numerous other pro se cases recently decided by other members of this Court or currently pending in the Court, see supra n.3, the plaintiffs here are proceeding pro se, and their complaint must therefore be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 n. 2 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Courts of this Circuit have interpreted the Supreme Court's instruction in Haines as encompassing all filings submitted by pro se litigants, not just their pleadings. See, e.g. Richardson v. United States 193 F.3d 545, 548 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (holding that "[c]courts must construe pro se filings liberally") (citing Haines, 404 U.S. at 520); Voinche v. FBI, 412 F. Supp. 2d 60, 70 (D.D.C. 2006) (observing that "[t]his Court gives pro se parties the benefit of the doubt and may ignore some technical shortcomings of their filings" and applying the Haines rule to a plaintiff's summary judgment motion) (citing Haines, 404 U.S. at 520); Calloway v. Brownlee, 366 F. Supp. 2d 43, 55 (D.D.C. 2005) (Walton, J.) (holding that the Court "must take pains to protect the rights of pro se parties against the consequences of technical errors") (citing Haines, 404 U.S. at 520).

III. Legal Analysis

A. The Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Insufficient Service of Process

The defendant contends that the plaintiffs' complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) for insufficient service of process. Def.'s Mot. at 1. Relying on Rule 4(c)(2), which governs who may effect service of process, the defendant asserts that the summons and complaint can be served on the federal government defendant by "any person who is not a party," Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(2). Def.'s Mem. at 1. Because one of the plaintiffs effected service by sending the summons and complaint to the Attorney General and United States Attorney by way of certified mail, the defendant argues that the service violates Rule 4(c)(2) and thus warrants dismissal. Id. at 1-2. In return, the plaintiffs argue that Rule 4(c)(2) "applies to personal service only," Pls.' Obj. ¶ 4, and contend that the controlling rule-Rule 4(i)(1)(b), which prescribes the method for serving the United States-"is silent as to who may sign the return of service," Pls.' Obj. ¶¶ 5-6.*fn5 Although the Court concludes that service of process was improper under Rule 4, it nonetheless declines to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint for that reason.

The parties do not dispute that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(i)(1) directs plaintiffs bringing suit against the United States to effect service in the following manner:

(A) by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the United States attorney for the district in which the action is brought or to an assistant United States attorney or clerical employee designated by the United States attorney in a writing filed with the clerk of the court or by sending a copy of the summons and of the complaint by registered or certified mail addressed to the civil process clerk at the office of the United States attorney and (B) by also sending a copy of the summons and of the complaint by registered or certified mail to the Attorney General of the United States at Washington, District of Columbia, and (C) in any action attacking the validity of an order of an officer or agency of the United States not made a party, by also sending a copy of the summons and of the complaint by registered or certified mail to the officer or agency.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(i)(1) (emphasis added). Instead, they disagree with respect to who may effect the service that is required. Nothing in Rule 4(i) indicates who may or may not effect service under this subsection. See generally Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(i). By contrast, Rule 4(c)(2), the general provision governing who may serve the summons and complaint, provides, in pertinent part, that "[s]ervice may be effected by any person who is not a party and who is at least 18 years of age."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(2) (emphasis added). Read together, then, Rules 4(i)(1) and 4(c)(2) direct that service upon the United States be made (1) by a person over the age 18 or older (2) who is not a party (3) either through in-person delivery or sending by certified mail a copy of the summons and complaint to both the Attorney General and the United States Attorney for the judicial district where the action is brought.

The plaintiffs contend, however, that Rule 4(c)(2) does not apply in the context of the circumstances before the Court. Pls.' Obj. ¶¶ 4-5. According to the plaintiffs, "Rule 4(c)(2) applies to personal service only," id. ¶ 4, while Rule 4(i)(1) exclusively governs service on the United States, id. ¶ 5. As Rule 4(i)(1) places no limitation on who may effect service, the plaintiffs argue that Rule 4 was not violated when they personally mailed the summons and complaint to the Attorney General and United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. Id. ¶¶ 2, 6, 8. The Court cannot agree with the plaintiffs' position.

First, nothing in the language of the current version of Rule 4(c)(2) indicates that the limitation it imposes on who may effect service applies only to personal service. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(2). The plaintiffs cite no authority, and the Court can find none, that supports their interpretation of Rule 4(c)(2). Second, the plaintiffs' argument that Rules 4(c)(2) and 4(i)(1) are mutually exclusive misses the mark. The former describes who may make service upon any defendant, while the latter prescribes the method by which service upon the United States can be effected. Courts thus apply Rules 4(c)(2) and 4(i)(1) in conjunction with each other. See, e.g., Daniels v. G & M Towing, Civ. No. 05-2647, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15027, ...


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