The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM J. NEALON, JR.
Lucy Freck, a/k/a Lucy Cameron, proceeding pro se, filed the present complaint alleging that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) "wrongfully took an out of court award of $ 32,500.00 from her in 1987,"
and that it illegally placed tax liens against her property for alleged deficiencies in tax returns filed by the man she was living with, William J. Cameron, for the years 1978, 1979, and 1980. After receiving pretrial memoranda from the parties, a bench trial was conducted on August 6, 1992. For reasons which follow, the court will dismiss the plaintiff's complaint.
The procedural history of this case began on January 25, 1991, when, by Order of the court, Miss Freck was granted in forma pauperis status. After having been granted an extension of time in which to file its answer, the government complied on May 3, 1991. The parties filed their pre-trial memoranda and, after a pre-trial conference, they were directed by letter to address several issues raised therein, including the plaintiff's eligibility for innocent spouse status.
The court received several correspondences from the parties in response to its directive, and granted the United States sixty (60) days in which to locate and interrogate William Cameron so that it could make a recommendation to the Internal Revenue Service as to whether or not the plaintiff should be granted equitable relief as an innocent spouse.
The plaintiff responded to the government's motion with a "Motion to Maintain Civil Action No. 90-2141 in District Court and Not Dismiss" which the court construed as a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. She supplemented her brief by letter dated April 28, 1992, in which she reiterated her request to have her case "heard". On June 26, 1992, an Order was issued denying the defendants' motion to dismiss and a trial date was set for August 6, 1992. Pretrial memoranda were filed, and on August 6, 1992, the court conducted its bench trial.
Lucy and William Cameron began living together in 1972, one year after Lucy's high school graduation. Over the next ten (10) years the couple resided both in New York and New Jersey where common law marriages are not recognized by law. The couple had three children. William was the family's sole financial supporter; he managed the bills, paid the rent and taxes. During the years in question, William was employed first as a "runner" on the New York commodity exchange then, in 1980, he became self-employed as a trader, doing business as "L and B" Trading Corp. He incorporated this entity and owned all the stock. Lucy and William resided with their children in New Jersey while William worked and did all the banking, both business and personal, in New York City. Lucy testified that she played no role in the family's financial picture other than the handling of basic household expenses such as purchasing clothes and groceries on the $ 50.00 to $ 100.00 weekly "allowance" given her by William. Her role in the preparation of the couple's federal income tax consisted of signing the tax returns, which she described as a "rubber stamp" on the 1978 return. She conceded at trial that if she had been presented with the 1978 through 1980 returns for her signature, she probably signed them if instructed to do so by William Cameron. She further testified that she would have signed them without conducting as much as even a cursory review of their contents. The plaintiff testified that the family lived the lifestyle of one on a $ 13,200.00 income as reported in the couple's 1978 tax return (a return prepared by H & R Block). In 1979, the couple purchased a home at 9 Euclid Avenue, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, for $ 57,000.00, of which $ 50,000.00 was obtained by a mortgage loan. She also stated that in 1979 the family began experiencing hard financial times when William was not as successful in the "market." Some time in 1981 William began defaulting on the mortgage payments and became delinquent on the real estate taxes. On December 8, 1981, Lucy and William filed an IRS form, "Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax", which they both signed. Lucy claims that she and William parted amicably in late 1982. (Evidence and testimony at trial revealed that after Lucy and William separated, 173 Martin Avenue was the only address with which William was in any way affiliated. This address was obsolete by December 1983.) The government represented at the time of trial that the whereabouts of William Cameron could not be ascertained despite their exhaustive efforts.
Lucy Freck contended that she began to realize that William Cameron had been experiencing severe financial problems when bill collectors began to call on her at their home. On February 23, 1983, the plaintiff and William Cameron sold the property at 9 Euclid Avenue to her brother and sister-in-law, John and Faith Valentinetti as two-thirds owners, and her brother Thomas Valentinetti, a one-third owner, for the sum of sixty-two thousand five hundred dollars ($ 62,500). The details of this transfer were not fully developed at trial, but testimony by the plaintiff revealed that, despite the transfer, Mrs. Cameron and her three children continued to live in the home, with her relatives. In the plaintiff's "Trial Brief" she explains that at some point, Thomas Valentinetti transferred his one-third interest in the Euclid Avenue property to Lucy Freck.
Evidence at trial established that on December 9, 1983, the IRS sent two notices of deficiency to the plaintiff and Mr. Cameron by certified mail at two different addresses. One notice was mailed to 173 Martin Avenue, Staten Island, New York,
and the other was mailed to her residence at 9 Euclid Avenue, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. The plaintiff admitted that she was residing at the Euclid Avenue address at the time the government claims to have sent the notice to that address; she also maintained that she never received the notice.
Lucy Cameron was a welfare recipient from April of 1983 to January of 1986, at which time she began a secretarial job as a result of training provided her through the Education Opportunity Fund at Bergen Community College. At no time could the plaintiff receive alimony from William Cameron, nor could she collect Social Security benefits under his earnings, due to New York's and New Jersey's failure to recognize common law marriages. At some point thereafter, Lucy began her relationship with her present husband, Stephen Freck, and eventually married him in April of 1987, prior to the initiation of this action.
In June of 1987, the IRS filed a federal lien against the property located at 9 Euclid Avenue for the years 1978 through 1980. This lien represented the results of an audit in which the IRS recalculated William and Lucy Cameron's taxable income and federal tax liabilities for the three years in question.
Documents submitted by the plaintiff, and admitted into evidence, reflect that in August of 1987, Lucy (now using the name ...