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Lanier v. Wachovia Bank

March 24, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.


Defendant, Wachovia Bank, N.A., moves to dismiss the pro se complaint of plaintiff, Claudia Lanier, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In her complaint, plaintiff contends that Wachovia improperly turned over to the Internal Revenue Service (the "IRS") deposits from her bank accounts pursuant to a notice of levy. She claims that Wachovia should have first confirmed that the notice of levy was valid. She contends that it was not. Wachovia contends that it was required to comply with the notice of levy pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6332 and that it has statutory immunity from any claim against it for such compliance, regardless of the validity of the underlying tax assessment. I conclude that Wachovia is correct. Well-settled precedent establishes that plaintiff's recourse for any dispute she might have regarding the validity of the tax assessed against her is with the IRS, not with third parties such as Wachovia who are merely fulfilling their statutory obligations. In fact, plaintiff's arguments in opposition to Wachovia's motion, although sincere, are misguided and frivolous. Accordingly, I will grant Wachovia's motion and will dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff alleges that she opened a checking account with Wachovia on or about January 2, 2004. (Compl. ¶ 7.) She further alleges that she began working for Wachovia as a bank teller in November 2005. (Id. ¶ 9.) According to plaintiff, on November 16, 2006, the IRS issued a notice of levy instructing Wachovia to turn over the money she had on deposit with the bank. (Id. ¶ 10.) She alleges that Wachovia complied with the notice of levy on or about December 11, 2006, even though she protested to Wachovia that the notice of levy was invalid because the IRS had not obtained a court order against her. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 44-45.)*fn1 She alleges that Wachovia has turned over $15,000 of her deposits to the IRS over time. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 16.)

Plaintiff filed this action pro se on September 3, 2009, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. Wachovia removed the case to this court on October 5, 2009. In her complaint, plaintiff contends that the IRS was without statutory authority to issue the notice of levy. (Id. ¶¶ 22-40, 63-66a.*fn2 ) She also contends that, before issuing a notice of levy, the IRS was required -- but failed -- to (1) prepare an assessment of her taxes and (2) file a formal legal action in court. (Id. ¶¶ 50-62.) She further contends that Wachovia had a fiduciary duty to determine whether the IRS was within its rights to garnish her accounts. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 65b-66b.) She claims that by failing in that duty, Wachovia violated her rights under the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions. (Id. ¶ 72.) She also claims that Wachovia is liable for breach of contract, theft by conversion, negligence, the downgrading of her credit score, the "loss of life's pleasures," and invasion of privacy. (Id. ¶¶ 73-87.)

II. Legal Standards

In analyzing a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, the court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-211 (3d Cir. 2009). "This 'plausibility' determination will be 'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. In performing its analysis, the court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211. The assumption of truth does not, however, apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Pro se allegations are broadly construed and given every favorable inference which may reasonably be drawn from them. Edwards v. Boeing Vertol Company, 717 F.2d 761, 764 (3d Cir. 1983) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nevertheless, because "no set of facts can cure a claim that lacks a legal foundation," such a claim should be dismissed with prejudice because any attempt to amend it would be "futile." Dick v. Healthcare Risk Solutions, LLC, No. 08-2497, 2008 WL 4682621, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 22, 2008) (citing Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004)); see also Lawson v. Nat'l Continental-Progressive Ins. Co., 347 Fed.Appx. 741, 744 (3d Cir. 2009) (affirming dismissal with prejudice of pro se complaint on grounds of futility).

III. Discussion

Even read in the light most favorable to plaintiff, her complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6332(e), Wachovia is immune from liability for actions taken to comply with the notice of levy. Furthermore, given Wachovia's immunity, there is no set of facts that plaintiff could assert in an amended complaint that would make Wachovia liable for those actions. To the extent that plaintiff's complaint can be read as challenging the validity of the underlying tax assessment, the IRS would have been the appropriate party against which to pursue such a claim, not Wachovia. Accordingly, I will dismiss the complaint with prejudice.

A. Plaintiff's Complaint Should Be Dismissed With Prejudice Because Wachovia Was Required to Comply With the Notice of Levy and Has a Complete Defense for Such Compliance

The heart of plaintiff's complaint is her contention that Wachovia should not have complied with the notice of levy because the IRS did not obtain a court order to garnish her bank accounts. This claim is meritless. Regardless of whether the IRS needed to obtain such a court order -- it did not -- Wachovia was required by law to comply with the notice of levy and is immune from liability for such compliance.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, a tax lien arises at the time of assessment on "all property and rights of property, whether real or personal," belonging to a delinquent taxpayer:

If any person liable to pay any tax neglects or refuses to pay the same after demand, the amount (including any interest, additional amount, addition to tax, or assessable penalty, together with any costs that may accrue in addition thereto) shall be a lien in favor of the United States upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belonging to such person.

26 U.S.C. § 6321; Congress Talcott Corp. v. Gruber, 993 F.2d 315, 318 (3d Cir. 1993) ("When a taxpayer is delinquent in paying taxes, section 6321 of the Internal Revenue Code places the government in the position of a secured creditor and empowers it to impose a lien on 'all property and rights to property' belonging to the taxpayer.") (quoting 26 U.S.C. § 6321). The statutory language is broad and is meant to reach every interest in property that a taxpayer might have, including earned wages. United States v. Nat'l Bank of Commerce, 472 U.S. 713, 720 (1985).

The IRS's lien is not, however, self-executing. The IRS must select between two options when enforcing its lien. In the first option, a 26 U.S.C. ยง 7403(a) lien foreclosure suit, the IRS files an action in district court to enforce the lien. Id. This is an involved proceeding that ...

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