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Ellis v. Jackson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 13, 2020

MICHAEL B. ELLIS et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AMY BERMAN JACKSON et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs Michael Ellis, Robert McNeil, and Harold Stanley's Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's June 19, 2018 Opinion adopting the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey and dismissing this case, ECF No. 27 (“Reconsideration Mot.”).[1] Plaintiffs purport to identify fourteen errors in the Court's opinion dismissing one of Plaintiffs' attempts to enjoin the federal government's enforcement of the income tax against individuals who do not file their returns. The Court assumes familiarity with the factual and procedural background of this case. For the reasons explained below, Plaintiffs' motion will be denied.

         I. Legal Standard

         A court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend a judgment “under three circumstances only: (1) if there is an ‘intervening change of controlling law'; (2) if new evidence becomes available; or (3) if the judgment should be amended in order to ‘correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.'” Leidos, Inc. v. Hellenic Republic, 881 F.3d 213, 217 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curiam)). Rule 59(e) motions “are disfavored and should be granted only under extraordinary circumstances.” Sieverding v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 910 F.Supp.2d 149, 160 (D.D.C. 2012) (quotation omitted). Parties may not use Rule 59(e) motions to relitigate arguments that were made or could have been made before entry of judgment. See Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008).

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiffs do not argue that there has been any intervening change in law or newly discovered facts since the Court's dismissal of their case, and none of the alleged errors they identify are clear errors (or, in fact, errors at all) warranting reconsideration. The Court addresses each allegation below.

         1. Alleged Error 1: “Unsupported Presumption”

         Plaintiffs object to the Court's characterization of Plaintiffs as “non-filers” who do not file their tax returns. Reconsideration Mot. at 6-7. But Plaintiffs admit that they do not file tax returns; that is the entire basis for their suit. See Stanley v. Lynch, 17-cv-22, ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 32-36; Ellis v. Jackson, 16-cv-2313, ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 11-12, 19, 100-02. The Court did not err by accurately describing them.

         2. Alleged Errors 2 and 9: Administrative Procedure Act

         Plaintiffs argue that the Court failed to adjudicate their claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Reconsideration Mot. at 7, 14-15. Their misunderstanding appears to stem from the Court's correct citation of the APA as 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq., while Plaintiffs invoke, instead, its judicial review provision at 5 U.S.C. § 702. Citation quibbles aside, the Court properly considered Plaintiffs' claims of APA violations and dismissed them for the reasons outlined in its June 19, 2018 Opinion. See generally ECF No. 26 (“Opinion”). That Plaintiffs can point to a statutory cause of action does not entitle them to have their claims adjudicated on the merits; they must first present a justiciable case or controversy.

         3. Alleged Error 3: “Inferences” vs. “Declaratory Judgments”

         Plaintiffs object to the Court's characterization of the relief they seek as a declaratory judgment that Congress has not imposed a duty on Americans to file income tax returns. See Reconsideration Mot. at 8. Rather, they claim, they asked the Court to make various “inferences” that non-filers do not have a duty to file returns or pay income tax. Id. This is a semantic distinction without a difference. An “inference” is not a recognized form of legal or equitable relief, and Plaintiffs seek declarations concerning their rights under 28 U.S.C. § 2201. The Court did not err in characterizing their request for relief as it did.

         4. Alleged Errors 4-7: The Anti-Injunction Act

         Plaintiffs object in various ways to the Court's conclusion that the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a), bars consideration of their suit. First, they argue that the AIA does not apply because no “disputed tax sums” are in controversy. Reconsideration Mot. at 9. But the entire purpose of Plaintiffs' suit is to prevent the IRS from assessing income tax against non-filers, and it is thus squarely a “suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection” of a tax. 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a). That Plaintiffs may not have identified a specific dollar amount in controversy is of no moment. Next, they argue that the Court's analysis was insufficient because it failed to explicitly determine that “falsifying digital and paper documents upon which [the] IRS builds [its] justification for criminal prosecutions and civil forfeitures” constitutes an “assessment” or “collection” under the AIA. Reconsideration Mot. at 10-11. But the Court need not engage with the substance of Plaintiffs' conspiratorial allegations to determine that their suit attempts to restrain the collection of a tax. Finally, Plaintiffs argue that the IRS's conduct is criminal and therefore contrary to law ...


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