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Stewart v. United States

September 23, 2008

ROBERT D. STEWART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Robert Stewart seeks damages pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 7433 for alleged misconduct by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") in connection with the collection of taxes in the absence of a lawful tax assessment, resting his claims on many of the same boilerplate allegations that have been asserted by numerous other individuals mounting similar challenges in this district. His first lawsuit on this subject was dismissed for failure to prosecute and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. See Stewart v. United States, No. 06-0127, 2006 WL 1582280 (D.D.C. June 6, 2006). Plaintiff has renewed his request for relief under section 7433 with the filing of this restyled amended complaint. Defendant United States ("defendant") responds that the complaint still must be dismissed because several of the claims do not fit within the cause of action authorized by section 7433, and the complaint, in any event, contains insufficient factual allegations to satisfy the notice pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Defendant also contends that plaintiff is precluded by statute from obtaining any injunctive relief relating to the assessment or collection of taxes. Defendant therefore has moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

BACKGROUND

Section 7433(a) of the Internal Revenue Code ("Code") authorizes taxpayers to bring an action for civil damages against any officer or employee of the IRS who acts in disregard of the Code or its implementing regulations in connection with collection activity. The provision authorizing this cause of action states:

If, in connection with any collection of Federal tax with respect to a taxpayer, any officer or employee of the Internal Revenue Service recklessly or intentionally, or by reason of negligence disregards any provision of this title, or any regulation promulgated under this title, such taxpayer may bring a civil action for damages against the United States in a district court of the United States. Except as provided in section 7432, such civil action shall be the exclusive remedy for recovering damages resulting from such actions.

26 U.S.C. § 7433(a) (emphasis added). A taxpayer's ability to obtain injunctive relief, however, is limited by the Anti-Injunction Act, which provides that "no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person" except for actions under specific statutory provisions enumerated therein.*fn1 26 U.S.C. § 7421.

Plaintiff alleges that the United States, through the IRS and its employees, has unlawfully taken the position that he owes taxes and has disregarded the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and its regulations in the course of pursuing collection activities against him. Am. Compl. at 4-22. Plaintiff enumerates 34 "counts" of alleged IRS misconduct, reciting a litany of regulations and statutory provisions, but providing few facts underlying the violations alleged. See id.. He does not identify the tax years at issue or the amount of taxes demanded by the IRS; nor does he specify the persons involved in the alleged misconduct, or identify the encumbered properties at issue. Instead, plaintiff alleges the following general types of violations of law: (1) failure to prepare or execute substitute tax returns on his behalf, and disclose such returns to him (Counts 1-7); (2) failure to lawfully make or record proper assessments of taxes against him (Counts 8-15); (3) failure to implement the IRS's authority to collect taxes under section 6301 in compliance with existing regulations (Counts 16-22); (4) failure to provide notice of unpaid tax and demands for payment thereof (Counts 23-25); (5) "conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse" (Count 26); and (6) unlawful attempts to collect taxes through improper notices of unidentified liens and/or levy issued without proper procedures (Counts 27-34).

Based on these allegations, plaintiff requests an order directing defendant to pay damages under 26 U.S.C. § 7433 in the amount of $10,000 for each disregard of each Internal Revenue Code law or regulation, or, in the alternative, to order such payment under 26 U.S.C. § 7214, a separate provision of the Internal Revenue Code governing criminal offenses by federal employees. Am. Compl. at 22-23.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). Therefore, the factual allegations must be presumed true, and plaintiffs must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236; Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, the Court need not accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor inferences that are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Trudeau v. Federal Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

Here, the Court will treat defendant's motion to dismiss the damages claim as one for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the alleged deficiency pertains, in large part, to the boundaries of the right of action under section 7433, in contrast to a statutory provision speaking to the jurisdiction of the district courts. See Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 126 S.Ct. 1235, 1245 (2006) ("when Congress does not rank a statutory limitation as . . . jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as non-jurisdictional in nature"); see also Trudeau, 456 F.3d at 188, 191 (observing that whether a statute authorizes a cause of action presents a question of whether plaintiff states a claim upon which relief can be granted, rather than jurisdiction).

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court is mindful that all that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atl. Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65; see also Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286. Instead, the complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. Damages under 26 U.S.C. ...


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