United States District Court, District of Columbia
TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Relief describes itself as an organization dedicated to
alleviating human suffering, focusing on individuals targeted
for their nonbelief, secular activism, or blasphemy. It was
initially incorporated as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3)
organization. All such organizations must file a detailed
financial report-known as a Form 990-unless the organization
is exempt from doing so. Churches and religious institutions
are exempt. To protest this allegedly preferential treatment
for churches, Nonbelief Relief refused to file a Form 990 for
three consecutive years and then had its tax-exempt status
revoked. It now sues the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue
Service, alleging that its status was revoked in violation of
the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and the Fifth
Amendment's Due Process Clause. The Commissioner moved to
dismiss, as did Intervenor, The New Macedonia Baptist Church.
In response, NonBelief Relief moved to amend its complaint.
For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the
Commissioner's and The New Macedonia Baptist Church's
motions to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds and deny
NonBelief Relief s motion to amend because it would be
Relief, Inc. was founded as a nonprofit corporation in 2015.
ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 4, 14. Its
mission is “to improve conditions in this world,
including by seeking to help remediate conditions of human
suffering and injustice on a global scale, whether the result
of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious
dogma.” Id. ¶ 16. NonBelief Relief seeks,
more specifically, to assist atheists and other nonreligious
individuals. See Id. ¶¶ 17-20. It donates
thousands of dollars per year to other charitable
organizations. Id. ¶ 22.
incorporation, NonBelief Relief qualified as a tax-exempt
nonprofit organization under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) of
the Internal Revenue Code. Id. ¶¶ 4, 31.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes various
administrative requirements on 501(c)(3) organizations, such
as requiring them to file annual reports and certain other
forms; these requirements differ somewhat for secular and
religious organizations. See Id. ¶¶ 27,
30; see also 26 C.F.R. § 6033 (filing
requirements for tax-exempt organizations). In exchange for
complying with these administrative requirements, 501(c)(3)
organizations are exempt from federal income tax, and
donations to them are tax-deductible. Compl. ¶ 26;
see also 26 U.S.C. §§ 170, 501(a).
the first three years after its incorporation, NonBelief
Relief complied with all 501(c)(3) administrative
requirements save one: submission of Form 990, a detailed
annual report of its finances. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 27-28;
see also 26 U.S.C. § 6033(a)(1). It refused to
file a Form 990 because churches and religious institutions
are not also required to submit one, see 26 U.S.C.
§ 6033(a)(3). Compl. ¶¶ 39-40. Organizations
that must submit a Form 990 have to do so each year, although
the IRS gives noncompliant organizations a grace period;
their tax-exempt status is revoked only after they fail to
file it for three consecutive years. 26 U.S.C. §
6033(j)(1). Accordingly, after NonBelief Relief failed to
file Form 990 for the three consecutive years, its tax-exempt
status was automatically revoked in 2018. Compl. ¶¶
6, 31; 26 U.S.C. § 6033(j).
that year, NonBelief Relief brought this suit, alleging that
(1) the IRS's exemption for churches and religious
organizations from the requirement to file Form 990 (the
“church exemption”) and (2) the IRS's
revocation of NonBelief Relief's tax-exempt status each
violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
Compl. ¶¶ 61, 63. It also asserted that the
IRS's revocation of its tax-exempt status violated the
equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due
Process Clause. Id. ¶ 63. Its prayer for relief
requested declarations that both the church exemption and the
revocation of its tax-exempt status were unconstitutional, an
injunction barring the IRS from continuing to exempt churches
and religious organizations from filing Form 990, and a court
order reinstating its tax-exempt status. Id. at
after NonBelief Relief filed suit, The New Macedonia Baptist
Church moved to intervene. ECF No. 5. The Court granted that
motion, reasoning that The New Macedonia Baptist Church's
interests might diverge from the Commissioner's because
of its intention “to argue not simply that the
IRS's reporting exception is lawful, but that it is
constitutionally required under the First Amendment,
” and because its motion otherwise satisfied the
requirements for intervention as of right. ECF No. 30 at 4-5.
Commissioner moved to dismiss NonBelief Relief s complaint on
several grounds: that (1) the Anti-Injunction Act and
Declaratory Judgment Act bar the declaration sought regarding
NonBelief Relief s own tax-exempt status and reinstatement of
that status; (2) sovereign immunity bars the injunctive and
declaratory relief sought; and (3) NonBelief Relief lacks
standing to bring its constitutional challenge to the church
exemption. ECF No. 19. In response, NonBelief Relief moved to
amend its complaint. The proposed amended complaint strikes
its previous requests for an order reinstating its tax-exempt
status and a declaration that the revocation of its
tax-exempt status was unconstitutional, seemingly in response
to the Commissioner's arguments concerning the
Anti-Injunction Act and Declaratory Judgment Act, but is
otherwise identical in substance to the operative complaint.
See ECF No. 25.
Macedonia Baptist Church filed its own motion to dismiss,
arguing that the Court lacks jurisdiction over NonBelief
Relief s claims, NonBelief Relief lacks standing to bring
them, and the IRS's actions were not only consistent with
the Establishment Clause but required by the Free Exercise
Clause. See ECF No. 31. The parties completed
briefing on all these motions, including an unopposed
surreply by the Commissioner to NonBelief Relief s motion to
amend. See ECF Nos. 27, 29, 32, 33, 35.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only
that power authorized by Constitution and statute.”
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994). “Within constitutional bounds,
Congress decides what cases the federal courts have
jurisdiction to consider.” Bowles v. Russell,
551 U.S. 205, 212 (2007). Courts lack subject- matter
jurisdiction over cases which fall within the scope of the
Anti-Injunction Act. Maze v. Internal Revenue Serv.,
862 F.3d 1087, 1091 (D.C. Cir. 2017). In addition, under
Article III of the Constitution, an indispensable element of
the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction is the plaintiffs
standing to bring its claims. See Swigert v. Perez,
334 F.Supp.3d 36, 40 (D.D.C. 2018). Challenges to a
plaintiffs standing are thus properly brought as motions to
dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).
Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir.
1987). “To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of
standing, a complaint must state a plausible claim that the
plaintiff has suffered an injury in fact fairly traceable to
the actions of the defendant that is likely to be redressed
by a favorable decision on the merits.” Humane Soc
'y v. Vilsack, 797 F.3d 4, 8 (D.C. Cir. 2015). In
considering the motions to dismiss, the Court will
“accept the well-pleaded factual allegations as true
and draw all reasonable inferences from those allegations in
the plaintiffs favor.” Arpaio v. Obama, 797
F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), a party may amend
its complaint with leave of court. The Court should grant
that leave “freely . . . when justice so
requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). But the Court need
not grant the motion when the proposed amended complaint
would not survive a motion to dismiss. Hettinga v. United
States, 677 F.3d 471, 480 (D.C. Cir. 2012).