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Carol Diane Gray and Strategic Research Consulting, Inc v. United States of America

September 4, 2012

CAROL DIANE GRAY AND STRATEGIC RESEARCH CONSULTING, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Plaintiffs Carol Gray and Strategic Research Consulting, Inc. (collectively "Gray") filed a four count Second Amended Complaint on January 16, 2012, alleging violations of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §§ 7422, 7432, 7433. The government moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(6) on the basis that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction since the United States has not waived sovereign immunity and Gray has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the motion.

Background

The relevant factual background is reproduced here from this Court's December 16, 2011 Order dismissing the First Amended Complaint. During Gray's divorce proceedings in the 1990s, it came to light that her ex-husband allegedly failed to file and pay federal income tax for several years including 1992 through 1995, some of the years at issue in the present litigation. Gray alleges that she paid installments on her tax bill for the years 1992 to 1995 until receiving a letter from the IRS on October 8, 1997, in response to her request for an installment plan. The letter stated that the IRS "can't consider an installment agreement for you because our records show you don't owe anything on this account." The letter further states that, due to her ex-husband Steven Gray's bankruptcy proceedings, "[a]ll collection activities are currently suspended." Gray believes the letter indicated that her tax arrearages had been dismissed. Gray alleges that she showed the October 8, 1997, letter to IRS agents and that they ignored the letter and thus the process was unfair and lacked impartiality. Gray alleges that she was threatened with perjury for asking to amend her 1992 through 1995 tax returns. Gray alleges that Appeals Officer Zimmerman told her in June 2000, that Gray would receive relief from penalties for 1992 through 1995, but in the Appeals Officer's final decision she was denied relief.

Gray claims that she significantly overpaid her taxes for the years 1996 through 1999 and the IRS owes her a refund. She further explains that she did not file timely returns for 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 because she had to pay her son's college tuition and incurred significant failure to file penalties for those years.

Gray alleges that in 2007 Revenue Officer Holcomb promised her that no further lien would be placed on her properties as long as Gray complied with the payment schedule, but a month later five additional liens were placed on Gray's business property. Gray claims that the tax liens have ruined her credit and she has lost, among other things, money, equity in her home, and business opportunities.

In 2009, Gray underwent an audit for the years 1992 through 1995. Gray alleges that significant changes were made to her tax returns for those years, resulting in an increase in liability. On November 16, 2011, Gray filed an administrative claim for the determination of her tax liabilities for the years at issue in the Second Amended Complaint. (2d Amend. Compl. at ¶ 140).

Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(1) requires dismissal of claims over which the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Jurisdiction is the "power to decide" and must be conferred upon the federal court. In re Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. Co., 794 F.2d 1182, 1188 (7th Cir. 1986). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court may consider additional materials beyond the complaint to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. See United Phosphorus Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946 (7th Cir. 2003) (en banc). A plaintiff faced with a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss bears the burden of establishing that the jurisdictional requirements have been met. See Western Transp. Co. v. Couzens Warehouse & Distributors, Inc., 695 F.2d 1033, 1038 (7th Cir. 1982).

A motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990) (quoting Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir.1989)). In the context of a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all well pleaded allegations as true, views them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bonte v. U.S. Bank, N.A., 624 F.3d 461, 463 (7th Cir. 2010). Although the bar to survive a motion to dismiss is not high, the complaint must allege sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)).

Discussion

The government moves to dismiss Gray's claims for negligence on the part of IRS officers in the collection of her taxes assessed for tax years 1992 through 1995 (Count I), the placement of a lien on her property relating to tax years 2001, 2003, and 2004 (Count II), refund stemming from an alleged overpayment for tax years 1996 through 1999 (Count III), and the 2009 audit of Gray's tax returns from 1992 through 1995 (Count VI). The government argues that it has not waived sovereign immunity and that Gray fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Generally, the United States maintains sovereign immunity against civil suits unless Congress expressly waives it. United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 34 (1992). Under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1346(a)(1), a district court has original jurisdiction in "[a]ny civil action against the United States for the recovery of any internal-revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, or any penalty claimed to have been collected without authority or any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected under the internal-revenue laws." Where a statute provides for a specific consent to suit, "the limitations and conditions upon which the Government consents to be sued must be strictly observed and exceptions thereto are not to be implied." Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996) (quotingLehman v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156, 161 (1981)). The burden is on the plaintiff to establish that the government consents to be sued in this case. See Whittle v. United States, 7 F.3d 1259, 1261 (6th Cir. 1993). Here, Gray is seeking to sue the ...


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