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Powell v. Internal Revenue Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 4, 2017

WILLIAM E. POWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se Plaintiff William E. Powell describes this Freedom of Information Act suit as a “long journey” to obtain his own tax records and those relating to his grandfather, father, and his family's printing businesses. See ECF No. 46 (Opposition to MTD/MSJ). That journey has yielded some, but not all, of the documents he seeks. In a prior Opinion, this Court concluded that, while the Internal Revenue Service had provided numerous records, it needed to search for others. Powell v. IRS, 255 F.Supp.3d 33, 47-48 (D.D.C. 2017). Believing its task now accomplished, the IRS renews its Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment. It contends both that certain of Powell's claims are currently moot, given that the records have been produced, and that the Service's search was adequate as to the others. Agreeing, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff seems to have been propelled on this quest by the distribution of assets following the death of his father, William A. Powell, in 1992. See ECF No. 26 (Amended Complaint) at 2-3, 7 n.3; ECF No. 49 (Surreply) at 2. Powell believes that the probate trustees charged with this distribution may have breached their fiduciary duties and that certain tax records will help him determine whether to sue them. See Am. Compl. at 3; ECF No. 26-28 (July 5, 2016, RAIVS Request). He seeks his own tax records, as well as those regarding his father, grandfather, and trusts and printing companies that those two men created. See ECF No. 41 (Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment), Exhs. 1-4 (RAIVS Requests); Am. Compl. at 14-15; Opp. at 1-2.

         Plaintiff desires four general types of documents: Master file-complete transcripts, Master file-specific transcripts, TXMOD(A) transcripts, and Non-Master Files. See Am. Compl. at 14-15. A primer for the tax layperson: Master-file transcripts are “the official repository of all taxpayer data extracted from magnetic tape records, paper and electronic tax returns, payments, and related documents.” ECF No. 31, Exh. 2 (Declaration of Joy E. Gerdy Zogby), ¶ 9. A “complete” transcript contains “all entity and tax module data associated with” a particular Taxpayer Identification Number for all years relevant to the taxpayer. Id., ¶ 11. The IRS can also search more narrowly for Master file-specific transcripts that contain information related to a specific tax period or type of tax return. See ECF No. 34, Exh. 2 (First Declaration of William J. White IV), ¶ 19; MTD/MSJ, Exh. 7 (Second Declaration of William J. White IV), ¶ 6. TXMOD(A) transcripts, the third type, contain information about “active taxpayer accounts” that have “ongoing tax liability issues associated with them.” Second White Decl., ¶ 16. In addition, there is a Non-Master File system for “certain types of tax assessments that cannot be implemented by Master File processing.” Zogby Decl., ¶¶ 10, 18.

         In pursuit of these records, Powell certainly cannot be accused of lacking effort; in fact, he has filed around 89 FOIA requests. See First White Decl., ¶ 3. He has challenged Defendant's responses to his requests in several suits in federal court in Michigan, as well as in this Court. See Powell v. IRS, 255 F.Supp.3d 33 (D.D.C. 2017); Powell v. IRS, No. 15-11033, 2016 WL 7473446 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 29, 2016); Powell v. IRS, No. 15-11616, 2016 WL 5539777 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 30, 2016); Powell v. IRS, No. 14-12626, 2015 WL 4617182 (E.D. Mich. July 31, 2015). In this suit, he takes issue with the IRS's responses to FOIA requests that he made on July 5, 15, and 19, 2016. See Am. Compl. at 14-15. In so doing, Plaintiff asserts both Privacy Act and FOIA causes of action. Id. at 1-2, 4-5.

         Responding to prior defense motions in this case, the Court offered partial victories to each side. Powell, 255 F.Supp.3d at 48. More specifically, the motions were denied without prejudice as to Powell's Privacy Act claims because he had not exhausted his administrative remedies. Id. at 40-42. As to his FOIA claims, the Court interpreted Plaintiff's Complaint as requesting the following specific documents for certain years between 1988 and 2005:

Entity/Individual

Transcript

Request

Andrew Powell Printing Company

Master file-complete

Master file-specific for “06”

Master file-specific for Form 1065

TXMOD(A)

July 15 RAIVS Request 1

Powell Printing Company

Master file-complete

Master file-specific for Form 1120

TXMOD(A)

July 15 RAIVS Request 2

William A. Powell Agreement of Trust

Master file-complete

Master file-specific for Form 1041

TXMOD(A)

July 5 RAIVS Request

July 15 RAIVS Request 2

Estate of William A. Powell

Master file-complete

Master file-specific for Form 706

Master file-specific for Form 1041

TXMOD(A)

July 5 RAIVS Request

July 15 RAIVS Request 2

William A. Powell

Master file-complete

Master file-specific for Form 1040

TXMOD(A)

July 19 RAIVS Request

William E. Powell

Master file-complete

Master file-specific for Form 1040

TXMOD(A)

July 19 RAIVS Request

Id. at 44.

         The Court dismissed several of the FOIA claims as moot because the IRS had already given Powell certain requested documents - namely, the Individual Master file-complete for William E. Powell, the Business Master file-complete for the Estate of William A. Powell, and the Business Master file-complete for the Powell Printing Company. Id. at 46. Claims regarding Non-Master files also were dismissed because Plaintiff had not alleged or provided records to show that he had requested any from the IRS. Id. at 45. The Court denied the motion, however, as to several other claims because there was not enough evidence to determine, as the IRS urged, that Powell had failed to provide appropriate documentation authorizing him to receive certain records or that he had abandoned some of his requests. Id. at 46-48.

         After the issuance of the Opinion, Defendant conducted a new search for records responsive to the remaining claims. IRS Senior Disclosure Specialist William J. White IV, who was tasked with this effort, first realized that the IRS had already released the following documents to Plaintiff on January 15, 2015:

• Master file-specific transcript for Form 1120 for the Powell Printing Company for tax year 1993;
• Master file-specific transcript for Form 1041 for the William A. Powell Agreement of ...

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