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United States of America v. Ebert G. Beeman

June 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District J.,


In this civil action the United States seeks to reduce to judgment the assessments made against Ebert G. Beeman ("Beeman"), the defendant taxpayer, for unpaid federal income taxes and statutory additions to tax. The United States further seeks to: (i) foreclose on the corresponding federal tax liens which the United States holds against certain real properties allegedly owned by Beeman, (ii) sell the properties, and (iii) distribute the proceeds in accordance with the rights of the parties, with amounts attributable to Beeman‟s interests to be paid to the United States in satisfaction of his unpaid federal tax liabilities. Finally, the United States seeks to obtain a determination that certain entities controlled by Beeman are his nominees or alter egos and/or obtain a declaration that certain transfers relating to these properties were fraudulent transfers or sham transactions.*fn1 Besides Beeman, the named Defendants include Beeman‟s parents, Howard and Lillian Beeman, and two corporate entities --

Fifth Third Financial, LLC ("Fifth Third") and Autumn Frost, LLC ("Autumn Frost"), both of which are limited liability companies organized under the laws of New Mexico and wholly owned by Beeman.

Presently pending before this Court are numerous motions, including motions by Beeman to dismiss the complaint and motions by the United States for summary judgment on its various claims. For the reasons stated below, Beeman‟s various motions will be denied. The United States‟ first motion for summary judgment (relative to Count I of the complaint) will be granted, as will the government‟s motion to dismiss Beeman‟s counterclaims. The Court will defer its ruling relative to the United States‟ second motion for summary judgment pending an opportunity for Defendants Fifth Third and Autumn Frost to secure legal counsel and pending an opportunity for Fifth Third, Autumn Frost, and Howard Beeman to show cause why judgment should not be entered in favor of the United States relative to Counts II and III of the complaint.


Beeman is a resident of Erie County, Pennsylvania, which is located within this judicial district. Beginning in the year 2000 and continuing through 2008, the IRS made assessments against Beeman for unpaid federal taxes and certain statutory additions relative to the tax years 1994, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Notices and demands for payment were made upon Beeman but, to date, Beeman has failed to pay the full amounts allegedly due. In the meantime, interest, costs, and statutory additions accrued on the assessments such that, as of September 20, 2010, a sum of $2,116,390.74 allegedly remained due and owing to the United States.

By virtue of the assessments previously described, federal tax liens arose pursuant to 26 U.S.C. §§ 6321 and 6322, and these liens attached to all property and rights to property then owned or thereafter acquired by Beeman. Notices of these federal tax liens were filed in the office of the Prothonotary for Erie County.

In the course of its investigation, the IRS discovered that Beeman acquired an interest in four separate properties (referred to herein as the "Four Real Properties"), all of which are located in Erie County within this judicial district.*fn2 It is the position of the United States that its federal tax liens attach to these properties.

The IRS further discovered that Defendant Fifth Third acquired a putative interest in the Four Real Properties based on a deed dated October 16, 2007 and that Defendant Autumn Frost acquired a putative interest in certain of the Four Real Properties based upon a mortgage interest dated March 21, 2007 which was assigned to it on February 4, 2008. It is the position of the United States that any financial interests asserted by Fifth Third and/or Autumn Frost relative to the Four Real Properties is void inasmuch as Beeman was enjoined from transferring the properties and/or mortgaging them by virtue of a prior court order.

The IRS also discovered that Defendants Howard Beeman and Lillian Beeman purportedly acquired or attempted to acquire an interest in the Four Real Properties based on a mortgage dated February 3, 1992. The United States challenges any assertion these Defendants may make relative to an interest in the Four Real Properties based on the fact that both Howard Beeman‟s and Lillian Beeman‟s respective interests were declared fraudulent and void by the same court order previously mentioned.


On September 22, 2010, based on the foregoing facts, the United States commenced the instant action against the named Defendants. The complaint [1] asserts six causes of action. Count I of the Complaint seeks a court order reducing Beeman‟s various tax assessments to judgment in the amount of $2,116,390.74 as of September 20, 2010, together with all applicable interest and penalties that have been accruing since that time. Count II seeks an order adjudging and decreeing: (i) that the United States has valid and subsisting federal tax liens on all property and rights to property of Beeman, including his interest in the Four Real Properties; (ii) that any putative interests in the Four Real Properties on the part of Fifth Third, Autumn Frost, Howard Beeman, or Lillian Beeman are void; and (iii) that the federal tax lien attaching to Beeman‟s interest in the Four Real Properties be foreclosed upon and the proceeds applied toward Beeman‟s tax liabilities for the years in question. Count III seeks an order adjudging and decreeing that Fifth Third is the nominee or alter ego of Beeman. Counts IV and V seeks orders setting aside, respectively, Beeman‟s transfer of his interest in the Four Real Properties to Fifth Third and his transfer of the mortgage interest in the properties located at 12744 and 12752 Route 19 to Autumn Frost on the ground that these transfers were fraudulent. In the alternative, Count VI seeks an order adjudging and decreeing that the various transfers between Beeman and the other named Defendants are sham transactions and that Beeman is the true and sole owner of the Four Real Properties.

In response to the complaint, Beeman, proceeding pro se, filed an answer [7] and three separate motions to dismiss citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction [8], improper venue [9], and failure to state a cognizable claim for legal relief [10]. The United States has filed its response to these motions [11] and the matter is ripe for consideration.

Subsequently, on November 2, 2010, the United States filed a motion for partial summary judgment relative to Count I of the complaint [12], to which Beeman replied by way of a document styled "Answer and Verified Complaint of Libel" [22]. On December 15, 2010, the United States filed a motion to dismiss Beeman‟s counterclaims [26]. Beeman has since filed a motion to dismiss the government‟s motion for partial summary judgment [32], along with a supporting brief [36]. The United States filed its response [37] to this motion on March 17, 2011, and Beeman, in turn, has filed a reply to the government‟s response [38].

In the meantime, the Clerk of Court on December 3, 2010 entered a default against Defendants Fifth Third, Autumn Frost, and Howard Beeman based on the failure of these Defendants to appear, plead or otherwise defend the litigation [21].*fn3 On December 28, 2010 Beeman filed a Motion to Set Aside Clerk‟s Entry of Default [27]. The United States has filed its response [28] to this motion.

Finally, on December 30, 2010, the United States filed a Second Motion for Summary Judgment [29] relative to the remaining claims in the complaint. Defendants were directed to respond to this motion on or before March 17, 2011; however, no documents have been filed by the Defendants subsequent to the Court‟s briefing order other than Beeman‟s previously-referenced brief [36] and reply [38] in support of his motion [32] to dismiss the United States‟ first motion for partial summary judgment.


A. Pro Se Pleadings

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded," must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance"); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 295 (D.C.Cir.1992); Freeman v. Department of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir.1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in the pleadings in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir.1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Company, 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir.1990) (same). Because Beeman is proceeding pro se in this case, the foregoing standards will be applied to his papers.

B. Motion to Dismiss

In reviewing a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the claims at issue must be viewed in the light most favorable to the complainant and all the well-pleaded allegations must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 95 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, ----, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

A court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir.2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir.1997)). Nor must a court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir.2009) ("[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.") (quoting Iqbal, --- U.S. at ----, 129 S. Ct. at 1949) (alteration in the original). A plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a "showing‟ rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D. Del. February 22, 2008) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir.2008)). "This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n. 3).

Recently, the Third Circuit expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal/Phillips line of cases:

To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.

After Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show such an entitlement with its facts. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief. This plausibility requirement will be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir.2009).

C. Motion for Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuinely disputed material fact relative to the clams in question. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3d Cir.1990). A material fact is a fact whose resolution will affect the outcome of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The burden then shifts to the non-movant to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Company v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d Cir.1989). Under Rule 56(c)(1), a non-moving party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support such an assertion by: "(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or

(B) showing that the materials citied [by the opposing party] do not establish the absence . of a genuine dispute..." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).

At the summary judgment stage, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a "genuine" dispute as to those facts. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).A dispute is "genuine" only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-249. See Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586--587 (1986) ("Where the record taken as a whole ...

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