Jones v. Mnuchin

Citation529 F.Supp.3d 1370
Decision Date08 March 2021
Docket NumberCV 119-222
Parties Craig Thomas JONES, Plaintiff, v. Steven T. MNUCHIN, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Treasury ; Charles P. Rettig, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Internal Revenue; Michael R. Pompeo, in his official capacity as Secretary of State; and the United States, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Georgia)
ORDER

J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE

Presently before the Court is Defendantsmotion for summary judgment (Doc. 17), Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 27), and Plaintiff's motion for hearing (Doc. 38).1 For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's motions are DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from Plaintiff's inability to renew his passport due to his federal tax liability. Plaintiff has federal income tax liability for the years 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009. (Pl.’s Second Am. Compl., Doc. 31, ¶ 18.) As a result of his liability, which totaled $404,928.24, the Department of the Treasury, through the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), certified Plaintiff as having "seriously delinquent tax debt" pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 7345. (Id. ¶ 20; Doc. 17, at 1.) Thereafter, the Department of State issued a letter to Plaintiff explaining that he is "ineligible to receive passport services" due to the certification. (Pl.’s Second Am. Compl., ¶ 24.) Plaintiff contends there are no facts in dispute for the purposes of the Partiessummary judgment motions and the only issue is whether Section 7345 is constitutional. (See Pl.’s Br. in Opp'n & Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., Doc. 26, at 2.) Thus, the Court will not delve into the specific facts surrounding the certification of Plaintiff's tax debt as "seriously delinquent."

II. The FAST Act

Section 7345 was enacted pursuant to Section 32101 of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (the "FAST Act") to increase tax compliance.2 See FAST Act, § 32101(a), Pub. L. No. 114-94, 129 Stat. 1312, 1729 (2015). Under Section 7345, "[i]f the Secretary [of the Treasury ("Secretary")] receives certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue that an individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State for action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport." 26 U.S.C. § 7345(a). Seriously delinquent tax debt is debt that is greater than $50, 000. Id. § 7345 (b) (1) (B). Before the IRS can certify a tax debt as seriously delinquent, it must be "assessed."3 However, a tax liability will not be assessed by the IRS until

the amount of the liability has been determined through an administrative process that provides the taxpayer with notice and an opportunity to challenge the IRS's position ... includ[ing] the right to petition the United States Tax Court for a redetermination ... and the right to appeal an adverse Tax Court decision to the Court of Appeals for the relevant circuit.

Maehr R&R, 2019 WL 8359183, at *3 (citing 26 U.S.C. §§ 6213(a) and 7482 ). Moreover, prior to certification, the IRS "must attempt to collect the debt through a specific administrative process." Id.; see 26 U.S.C § 7345(b)(1)(C) (requiring "a notice of lien [to be] filed pursuant to section 6323 and the administrative rights under section 6320 with respect to such filing [to be] exhausted or have lapsed, or ... a levy is made pursuant to section 6331" prior to certification). Additionally, debt that "is being paid in a timely manner pursuant to an agreement to which the individual is party under section 6159 or 7122" or debt that "collection is suspended ... because a due process hearing under section 6330 is requested or pending" or because innocent spouse relief is requested under Section 6015 cannot be certified as seriously delinquent. See 26 U.S.C § 7345 (b) (2).

Section 7345 also requires that the IRS contemporaneously notify an individual of any certification. Id. § 7345(d). Finally, Section 7345 outlines situations in which certification should be reversed and how to challenge erroneous certifications. See id. §§ 7345 (c), (e).

III. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is appropriate only if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56 (a). Facts are "material" if they could "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing [substantive] law," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), and a dispute is genuine "if the non[-]moving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor." Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). The Court must view factual disputes in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986), and must "draw all justifiable inferences in [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (citation, internal quotation marks, and internal punctuation omitted). The Court should not weigh the evidence or determine credibility. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

The moving party has the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials in the record, the basis for the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Because the standard for summary judgment mirrors that of a directed verdict, the initial burden of proof required by either party depends on who carries the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548. When the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it may carry the initial burden in one of two ways – by negating an essential element of the non-movant's case or by showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the non-movant's case. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) ; Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ). The movant cannot satisfy its initial burden by merely declaring that the non-moving party cannot meet its burden at trial. Id. at 608.

If – and only if – the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant must "demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. When the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carries its initial burden. For example, if the movant presents evidence affirmatively negating a material fact, the non-movant "must respond with evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial on the material fact sought to be negated." Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993). On the other hand, if the movant shows an absence of evidence on a material fact, the non-movant must either show that the record contains evidence that was "overlooked or ignored" by the movant or "come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1116-17. The non-movant cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. See Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981). Rather, the non-movant must respond with affidavits or as otherwise provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Additionally, although pro se litigants are entitled to some leniency, they must still establish that there is a dispute as to a material fact. Osahar v. Postmaster Gen., 263 F. App'x. 753, 761 (11th Cir. 2008).

In this action, the Clerk of Court provided all parties notice of the opposing party's motion for summary judgment, the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Docs. 18, 28.) For that reason, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985), have been satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, the issues have been thoroughly briefed, and the motions are now ripe for consideration.

IV. ANALYSIS
A. Constitutionality of Section 7345

Plaintiff challenges Section 7345 on its face and argues the statute infringes on the right to international travel, which is fundamental and thus strict scrutiny must be applied, or in the alternative, the right is "important enough to warrant an intermediate scrutiny standard." (Pl.’s Br. in Opp'n & Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., at 4.) Plaintiff cites to the First Amendment, Ninth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Privileges and Immunities Clause as sources of the right. (See id. at 3-4.)

1. Ninth Amendment

First, Plaintiff turns to the Ninth Amendment for support. However, Plaintiff concedes the Ninth Amendment is "not an independent source of rights in itself." (Id. at 7.) In fact, it is well established that "the Ninth Amendment standing alone houses no constitutional guarantees of freedom." Metz v. McKinley, 583 F. Supp. 683, 688 n.4 (S.D. Ga.) (citing Charles v. Brown, 495 F. Supp. 862 (N.D. Ala. 1980) ), aff'd, 747 F.2d 709 (11th Cir. 1984) ; see also Ayton v. Owens, No. CV 313-006, 2013 WL 4077995, at *5 n.5 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 12, 2013) ("[T]he Ninth Amendment is not an independent source of constitutional rights."). Thus, the Ninth Amendment provides no basis for Plaintiff's claim.

2. Privileges & Immunities Clause

Plaintiff also points to the Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution as a source of the right to international travel. (See Pl.’s Br. in Opp'n & Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., at 22-26.) The Privileges and Immunities Clause provides that "[t]he...

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