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SCHEIB v. INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania


February 19, 2004.

CAROLE L. SCHEIB, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS HARDIMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Carole L. Scheib ("Scheib"), filed a pro se Complaint against the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), challenging the validity of her tax assessments for several years as far back as 1985. The IRS filed a motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity, the Anti-Injunction Act of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 ("Anti-Injunction Act"), 26 U.S.C. § 7421, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Because the IRS filed an Answer to Ms. Scheib's Complaint, the Court will treat this motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted.

The standard of review for a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is identical to the standard for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b). Turbe v. Government of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss questions the court's jurisdiction to hear a case. Robinson v. Dalton, 107 F.3d 1018, 1021 (3d Cir. 1997). Under Rule 12(b)(1), "no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiffs allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims. Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). The court "is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case." Intern. Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 673 F.2d 700, 711 (3d Cir. 1982). At the same time, the court must read a pro se plaintiff's factual allegations liberally and must apply a less stringent pleading standard than if the plaintiff was represented by counsel. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

  The gravamen of Ms. Scheib's Complaint is that she was the subject of undue audits, assessments, penalties and liens by the IRS. Pl. Comp. at 1-6. The IRS argues that these claims are barred by sovereign immunity and the Anti-Injunction Act. The Court agrees.

  The United States enjoys sovereign immunity from suits and may be sued only if it has waived that immunity. United States v. Idaho, 508 U.S. 1, 6-7 (1993); FMC Corp. v. Department of Commerce, 29 F.3d 833, 838-39 (3d Cir. 1994). As an agency of the United States, the IRS is shielded from private actions unless sovereign immunity has been waived. Beneficial Consumer Discount Co. v. Poltonowicz, 47 F.3d 91, 94 (3d Cir. 1995). Waivers of federal sovereign immunity must be unequivocally expressed in the statutory text and any such waiver must be strictly construed in favor of the United States. Idaho, 508 U.S. at 6-7 (quotations and citations omitted).

  Regarding tax collection and assessments, the United States has waived sovereign immunity in the limited circumstances outlined in 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a), none of which apply to the instant case. The Internal Revenue Code does not waive sovereign immunity to allow a challenge to the merits of a tax lien or the underlying tax assessment in district court. Aqua Bar & Lounge, Inc. v. United States, 539 F.2d 935, 940 (3d Cir. 1976); Stoecklin v. United States, 943 F.2d 42, 43 (11th Cir. 1991).

  Even if sovereign immunity had been waived, Ms. Scheib's claims for injunctive relief would be barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. The Anti-Injunction Act prohibits the maintenance of any suit "for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax." 26 U.S.C. § 7421. Commonly known as the "pay and sue rule," the Anti-Injunction Act attempts to avoid excessive litigation outside the Tax Court so as not to interfere with the tax collection process. See Aqua Bar & Lounge, Inc., 539 F.2d at 940; Westgate-California Corp. v. United States, 496 F.2d 839 (9th Cir. 1974).

  To avoid the bar of the Anti-Injunction Act, Ms. Scheib's claims must fall within one of the Act's statutory exceptions or the judicially created exception which requires: (1) the existence of equity jurisdiction for injunctive relief; and (2) no chance that the government will ultimately prevail on the merits. Flynn v. United States, 786 F.2d 586, 589 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navigation Co., 370 U.S. 1 (1962)). Here, no statutory exception to the Anti-Injunction Act applies, and even with the most liberal reading of the Complaint, there is no allegation to suggest the judicially created exception applies. Thus, the Anti-Injunction Act also bars the injunctive relief sought by Ms. Scheib.

  In her response to the government's motion, Ms. Scheib raises several state law tort claims and argues that they fall under the waiver of sovereign immunity in the Federal Tort Claims Act. However, it is well established that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not apply to cases regarding assessment and collection of taxes. See 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c); Warrington v. Pavlish, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5599, at * 18 (M.D. Pa. 1998). Thus, these claims are also barred by sovereign immunity.

  The Court is sympathetic to Ms. Scheib's plight, but cannot grant her the relief she seeks. Generally, taxpayers who wish to challenge IRS determinations must either do so in tax court or pay the disputed taxes and sue in the district court for a refund. Robinson v. United States, No. 89-5984, 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2027, at *2 (E.D. Pa. February 27, 1990). Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Document No. 11), treated by this Court as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), is GRANTED. Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED, and the clerk is directed to mark this case CLOSED.

20040219

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