Via DC District Court/Civil Action No. 20-329 (JDB) :
This case has evolved out of a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request that the plaintiff, Robert McNeil, filed with the U.S. Department of State (“State”) seeking documentation substantiating State’s rejection of his passport application based on his apparent delinquent taxpayer status. After both parties moved for summary judgment on a FOIA claim that McNeil filed against State, McNeil requested and obtained several documents from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) responsive to the request at issue in his case against State. Based on those documents, McNeil then amended his complaint with leave of the Court to add the IRS as a defendant and to add claims challenging the IRS’s determination and certification to State that he had “seriously delinquent tax debt.” The Court recently resolved cross-motions for summary judgment on McNeil’s FOIA claim in State’s favor. This ruling left only his claims against the IRS. The Government has now moved to dismiss the remainder of the amended complaint. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant that motion.
This case concerns State’s denial of McNeil’s passport application pursuant to § 7345 of the Internal Revenue Code. 26 U.S.C. § 7345. That provision governs the “[r]evocation or denial of [a] passport in case of certain tax delinquencies.” Id. Subsection (a) provides that “[i]f the Secretary [of the Treasury] receives certification by the Commissioner of [the IRS] that an individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State” to deny, revoke, or limit the debtor’s passport. Id. § 7345(a). Subsection (b) defines “seriously delinquent tax debt,” and subsection (c) explains how the reversal of a certification might come about. Id. § 7345(b)–(c). Subsection (d) requires the IRS Commissioner to “contemporaneously notify an individual of any certification under subsection (a), or any reversal of certification under subsection (c).” Id. § 7345(d). Subsection (e), which provides McNeil’s cause of action, concerns judicial review of certification and reads in full:
(1)In general. After the Commissioner notifies an individual under subsection (d), the taxpayer may bring a civil action against the United States in a district court of the United States, or against the Commissioner in the Tax Court, to determine whether the certification was erroneous or whether the Commissioner has failed to reverse the certification. For purposes of the preceding sentence, the court first acquiring jurisdiction over such an action shall have sole jurisdiction.
(2) Determination. If the court determines that such certification was erroneous, then the court may order the Secretary [of the Treasury] to notify the Secretary of State that such certification was erroneous.
Even if McNeil is able to prove that he never received these Notices, though, it would not mean that the IRS’s certification was erroneous. As the Government observes, § 7345 does not say that a flawed or failed notice renders a certification erroneous. Reply at 3–4. Subsections (a) and (b) describe when the the Secretary of the Treasury must transmit certification to the Secretary of State and identify which debts qualify as “seriously delinquent tax debt.” 26 U.S.C. § 7345(a)–(b). Neither subsection says that proper notice is an element of or a prerequisite to a proper certification by the IRS of a seriously delinquent tax debt. In fact, subsection (d) says that notice to the taxpayer should be “contemporaneous” with certification to State, so it logically cannot be a prerequisite to that certification. 26 U.S.C. § 7345(d). Further, because subsection (e) includes no statute of limitations, there is no reason why improper notice under subsection (d) would prejudice a taxpayer who, like McNeil, does not learn about the certification of his debt in a sufficiently timely manner. See id. § 7345(e). The text of the statute suggests that the purpose of the notice requirement is to inform the debtor “in simple and nontechnical terms of the right to bring a civil action under subsection (e).”5 Id. Therefore, McNeil’s argument concerning the notice requirement fails because even if notice was not effected here, it would not mean that the IRS’s certification of his debt to the State Department was erroneous.
The Court finds no support in § 7345 or anywhere else in the tax code for the notion that Congress wanted § 7345(e) to become a vehicle for challenging IRS procedures and tax assessments that cannot otherwise be challenged. Because the Court finds that Congress did not
intend for McNeil’s argument about the Forms 1040 and 1040A to be the basis for a claim under § 7345(e), and because he cannot argue that the IRS’s certification was erroneous based on a flawed notice, he has failed to state a claim upon which the Court could grant him relief under § 7345(e)(2).
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