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Bauer v. Foley

decided: December 18, 1968.


Kaufman and Anderson, Circuit Judges, and Tenney, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Anderson

ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

This is an action by Stephanie Bauer, the taxpayer, to enjoin the Government from seizing and selling her property, to have the tax assessment against her declared void, and to secure the release of federal tax liens. She appeals an order and decision which denied her motion for an injunction and granted the Government's motion to dismiss.*fn1 We reverse and remand.

The Government charged the taxpayer with liability for income tax deficiencies for the years 1950 through 1957, with penalties, on the income of her husband, Stanley J. Bauer, based upon the receipt by the District Director of tax returns for those years bearing the signatures "Stanley J. Bauer and Stephanie Bauer." Later, when it was discovered that there was no signature purporting to be that of the taxpayer on the 1950 and 1951 returns, the claims against her for those years were withdrawn.

On October 2, 1963 a single joint notice of claimed deficiencies, totalling $135,425.89, with interest and penalties, for the years 1950-1957, inclusive, was sent by certified mail to Stanley J. Bauer and Stephanie Bauer to their last known address, 105 St. Mary's Road, Buffalo, New York, where they still resided prior to their separation in 1965. The stated deficiencies were assessed against both Stanley J. and Stephanie Bauer and a single joint notice of assessment and demand for payment was mailed to them at the same address on January 24, 1964. Early in March 1964 the Government filed a lien in the Erie County Clerk's Office for $135,425.89 on the taxpayer's home and took her insurance policy which had a value of $1064. A notice of seizure was placed on her home on March 17, 1966, reciting liability in the amount of $148,545.75; and a notice of sale of the property was published in a newspaper on April 4, 1966. The taxpayer alleges that she had no notice or knowledge of any of these proceedings against her until March 17, 1964, that she never filed a joint return with her husband, and any signature purporting to be hers on such a return was placed there through forgery or duress.

The district court granted the Government's motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. However, beside her verified complaint, the taxpayer filed an affidavit to which the Government filed an answering affidavit, in reply to which the taxpayer filed an additional affidavit. There were also exhibits and pre-trial depositions. All of these were considered by the district court in ruling on the motion to dismiss which, therefore, must be treated as one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).

From the pleadings and evidentiary material filed by the taxpayer, it appears that she and her husband lived together at 105 St. Mary's Road in Buffalo, New York for many years prior to 1965; that the taxpayer at no time after 1949 earned or received any taxable income; that she did not for the years 1950 through 1957 make, sign, or file a joint return with her husband or authorize or consent to the filing of a joint return by her husband with herself; that if any return for any of those years shows her name as a co-signer, the signature was forged by her husband, or, if her signature appears, it was placed on the return under duress imposed by her husband. The Government was aware that it had prosecuted and convicted the taxpayer's husband in the same court for having filed false and fraudulent tax returns for 1954 through 1957. It also on pre-trial deposition examined Stanley J. Bauer and Stephanie Bauer under oath prior to the final submission of the case to the trial judge.*fn2 It further appears that neither the notice of deficiency nor the notice of assessment was received by the taxpayer nor did she have any actual knowledge of either until she was advised of them by an Internal Revenue Agent when he called at her home on March 17, 1964; and that said notices were received and taken by Stanley J. Bauer.

The taxpayer has at no time had funds with which to pay the claimed deficiency and sue for a refund. Moreover, she received no notice and had no actual knowledge of any fixing of tax deficiency against her prior to the expiration of 90 days from the mailing of the single joint notice of deficiency under Title 26 U.S.C.A., 1964 ed., § 6212(b) (2),*fn3 so that she was never afforded an opportunity to petition the Tax Court under § 6213(a).*fn4 She claims that because of these circumstances she has no adequate remedy at law. The District Director's answering affidavit for the Government says, "Joint federal income tax returns for the years 1952 through 1957, inclusive, were filed bearing the signatures 'Stanley J. Bauer and Stephanie Bauer.'" It recited the mailing of the notices of deficiency and of assessment and the tax years and amounts involved in each year. It nowhere states or offers evidence to show, however, that Stephanie Bauer filed a joint return or participated in or consented to having one filed; it does not deny or set forth evidence to prove that her signatures were not forged or obtained under duress nor does it declare that the assessment is valid.

The taxpayer claims that she was not subject to joint liability for tax on her husband's income because she never executed or filed a joint return with him; that for this reason the claim against her and the placing of a lien upon, and the seizure and attempted sale of her property were unlawful and that the lien was also illegal because she was never individually notified of the assessment of any deficiency; and that she is entitled to equitable relief.

The Government asserts that it satisfied the statutory requirements of § 6212(b) (2), that the taxpayer did not petition the Tax Court for a redetermination of the deficiency under § 6213, or pay the deficiency and sue for refund under § 7422, and that her claim does not come within any court created or other exception to § 7421 which prohibits suits to restrain the assessment or collection of any tax. Enochs v. Williams Packing & Nav. Co., 370 U.S. 1, 82 S. Ct. 1125, 8 L. Ed. 2d 292 (1962); Miller v. Standard Nut Margarine Co., 284 U.S. 498, 52 S. Ct. 260, 76 L. Ed. 422 (1932); Botta v. Scanlon, 314 F.2d 392, 394 (2 Cir. 1963).

The district court agreed with the Government's contention and held that, inasmuch as the Government had given the notice of deficiency in compliance with § 6212(b) (2), the taxpayer was not entitled either to a hearing or to relief.*fn5 With regard to the taxpayer's claims the trial court said,

"Plaintiff submits that this [the single joint notice] was improper since there was no joint return because the wife's signature on the return was forged and/or coerced. This argument of the plaintiff, if sound, would require the government in advance to anticipate that the issues of forgery and/or coercion would be raised."

But the basic issue is not whether the Government had a right to compute and send out a notice of deficiency before it had examined into and discovered whether or not the signatures on the returns were genuine and that the filing was not the result of duress -- a procedure which would impose an intolerable burden on the collection of taxes -- but was, rather, whether or not the taxpayer wife, after gaining actual knowledge of the assessment, long after the only statutory remedy which she could invoke had expired, had a right to be heard and an opportunity to show that her signatures had been forged or obtained by duress.

The consequence of the Government's and the lower court's interpretation of the applicable statutes to the facts of this case is that, so long as a § 6212(b) (2) notice is mailed, a taxpayer wife is irrevocably bound by the forgery and duress of her husband and is subject to having all of her property confiscated by the Government, though she never had any taxable income of her own, and never became party to a joint return. This is to say that, even if the taxpayer can conclusively prove that her signature was forged or a joint return containing her signature was signed and filed under duress, she still, as a matter of law, is liable for the tax on her husband's income. But a single joint notice of deficiency is effective in imposing liability only "in the case of a joint income tax return filed by husband and wife. * * *" (Emphasis added.) We think that this language means that the return contains the genuine signatures of both, unless signed by a duly authorized agent, and that neither was made under duress and that both intended that it be filed as the law requires. Moreover, it seems unreasonable to hold that Congress had in mind that the mailing of a single joint notice would operate, in the case of a forged or coerced joint return, to bar the party having no knowledge of it during the period for petitions for ...

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