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WATTS v. IRS

April 19, 1996

MICHAEL H. WATTS and BARBARA WATTS, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, J.J. JENNINGS, IRS DISTRICT DIRECTOR, IRS REVENUE OFFICER L. WALLING, and IRS MANAGER Ms. CYNTHIA MOODY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ORLOFSKY

 ORLOFSKY, District Judge:

 Plaintiffs, Michael and Barbara Watts, acting pro se, filed this action against the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") and J.J. Jennings, L. Walling and Cynthia Moody, all IRS employees, in their individual capacities. Plaintiffs seek relief from certain tax liens and tax levies, as well as other specified and unspecified damages.

 Count 1 of plaintiffs' complaint seeks an order demanding that the IRS answer plaintiffs' "request for status" and, further, seeks to estop the IRS from contesting an "affidavit" which plaintiffs mailed to the IRS by which "plaintiff canceled and revoked all signatures on any forms which bound the plaintiff to any agreement between he [sic] and the defendant or which may be construed to give the defendant or any other agency or department of the United States Government, authority or jurisdiction over plaintiff." Complaint P 2.

 Count 2 of the complaint seeks an answer to plaintiffs' demand for proof of "jurisdiction over plaintiff," also mailed to the IRS. Complaint P 8, In addition, Count 2 challenges the validity of the IRS's notices of intent to levy, which the plaintiff returned to the IRS with a "counter demand, pursuant to UCC ยง 3-505." Complaint P 10.

 Count 3 recites facts surrounding Mr. Watts' visit to the IRS office in Newark, New Jersey, on June 19, 1995, "to discuss" a "Notice of Federal Tax Lien" which had been recorded in Union County Court, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in May of 1995. Plaintiffs allege that the federal tax lien is illegal, that the IRS was without authority to place this lien, and that, in so doing, the individual defendants violated laws prohibiting disclosure of tax return information.

 Count 4 challenges the legality of tax levies on Michael Watts' wages. Again, plaintiff alleges that the IRS was without authority to levy on his wages.

 In their motion to dismiss, defendants contend that this action is, in fact, brought against the United States and as such is barred by sovereign immunity. The individual defendants assert that the actions complained of were taken within the scope of their employment and therefore, they argue, they cannot be personally liable and are protected by the sovereign immunity of the United States. Defendants further contend that, even if the Watts' claims were not barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the Watts's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

 For the reasons set forth in this opinion, insofar as this suit seeks to cancel or release federal tax liens or levies (Counts 2, 3 and 4), this Court is without subject matter jurisdiction to entertain such claims. As to the remaining claims of the complaint, plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint will be granted.

 I. Legal Standards Governing Dismissal Under Rule 12.

 The United States has moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On a motion to dismiss, the district court must read a pro se plaintiff's allegations liberally and apply a less stringent standard to a pro se pleading than to a complaint drafted by counsel. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, 92 S. Ct. 594 (1972).

 A. Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

 This Court must, as a threshold matter, conduct an independent analysis to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). A district court may also grant a defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) based on the legal insufficiency of a claim. A dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) is only proper, however, when the claim "'clearly appears to be immaterial.'" Kehr Packages Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1408 (3d Cir.) (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 683, 90 L. Ed. 939, 66 S. Ct. 773 (1946)), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1222 (1991). By contrast, a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim is not subject to the same standard. As the Third Circuit has noted, "the threshold to withstand a motion to dismiss under [Rule] 12(b)(1) is thus lower than that required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Id. at 1409 (quoting Lunderstadt v. Colafella, 885 F.2d 66, 70 (3d Cir. 1989)). Nevertheless, on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuading the Court that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Id. Although pro se plaintiffs are given considerable latitude in pleading, and pro se complaints will not be dismissed for mere technical flaws in the jurisdictional allegations, a pro se plaintiff must still carry the burden of establishing that the Court has jurisdiction to consider the claim presented.

 B. Failure to State a Claim

 The United States also moves to dismiss certain counts of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations in the complaint, and all inferences taken therefrom, must be read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 636, 64 L. Ed. 2d 572, 100 S. Ct. 1920 (1980); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255 (3d Cir. 1994); Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). Likewise, all pleadings must be liberally construed so "as to do substantial justice." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(f). See also Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). As previously noted, this rule is especially important when parties are acting pro se. Nevertheless, a complaint should be dismissed if, accepting as true all of plaintiff's allegations and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, no relief could be ...


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