United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge
Joan Sechler-Hoar has filed a mammoth complaint against
numerous estates and relatives of her late husband and her
late mother-in-law, as well as against lawyers who were
involved in the administration of the estates. The
complaint-already twice amended-weighs in at a staggering 93
single-space pages, featuring some 532-numbered paragraphs
and 47 separate claims.
essence, plaintiff complains that she long took care of both
her late husband and her late mother-in-law but that
defendants reneged on promises to pay for her services and
also connived to cut her out from her rightful inheritance.
Page after page of the complaint recounts a classic
family/probate domestic relations drama of the type that
would ordinarily be filed in a state court that specializes
in such matters rather than in a federal court. Indeed, the
vast bulk of plaintiff's claims-45 out of 47 of
them-arise under state law for breach of contract, tortious
interference with inheritance, undue influence, elder abuse,
lack of testator capacity, breach of executor's and
lawyers' fiduciary duty, fraudulent conveyance,
conversion, infliction of emotional distress, and so on.
defendants have now moved to dismiss (Docs. #80, #82, #83). I
will grant their motions. First, I will review the two
federal law claims that plaintiff has tacked on to the end of
her complaint. After discussing why these claims lack merit,
I will address why the Court does not otherwise have subject
matter jurisdiction as plaintiff claims.
Count 42, plaintiff brings a hybrid claim under both the Fair
Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Federal
Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”). Plaintiff
believes that because she took care of her late husband in
the last years of his life, she was entitled under the FLSA
to be paid by her mother-in-law's estate and a
testamentary trust created by the estate. But back when
Congress enacted the FLSA during the New Deal, its purpose
was to regulate fair pay in the workplace and not to
encourage spouses to try to make money from taking care of
each other, much less-as plaintiff would like-to tag her
mother-in-law's estate with the bill to boot.
the FLSA applies only to actual employer-employee
relationships. See Irizarry v. Catsimatidis, 722
F.3d 99, 103-04 (2d Cir. 2013). Yes, it is true that the
existence of a family relationship does not necessarily
negate the existence of of an employer-employee relationship,
see Velez v. Sanchez, 693 F.3d 308, 328 (2d Cir.
2012), but a court must nonetheless look to the
“economic reality” of the relationship and
consider “whether the alleged employer (1) had the
power to hire and fire the employees, (2) supervised and
controlled employee work schedules or conditions of
employment, (3) determined the rate and method of payment,
and (4) maintained employment records.”
Irizarry, 722 F.3d at 104-05 (internal quotations
and citation omitted).
alleging in barren, conclusory terms that one of the family
trusts was her “employer, ” Doc. #75 at 81
(¶ 491), plaintiff has not alleged facts that plausibly
establish the elements of an employer-employee relationship
when she took care of her husband. A court is “not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation” or “to accept as true
allegations that are wholly conclusory.” Krys v.
Pigott, 749 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2014). It is beyond
implausible-and certainly not factually supported in
plaintiff's otherwise corpulent complaint-to suggest that
some estate or testamentary trust wielded the power to fire
plaintiff from her “job” of taking care of her
husband or to supervise her day-to-day activities at home.
even assuming an employment relationship existed, the alleged
services that plaintiff provided to her husband fall well
within FLSA's exemption for companionship services.
See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(15) (excluding from FLSA
coverage “any employee employed in domestic service
employment to provide companionship services for individuals
who (because of age or infirmity) are unable to care for
themselves”); Salyer v. Ohio Bureau of Workers'
Comp., 83 F.3d 784, 787 (6th Cir. 1996) (companionship
services exemption applied to plaintiff who testified
“that she helps her husband dress, gives him his
medication, helps him bathe, assists him in getting around
their home, and cleans his bedclothes when he loses control
of his bowels”).
plaintiff sustain her FICA claim for failure of any of the
defendants to comply with their purported obligations to
deduct pay and make contributions to Social Security and
Medicare as required under FICA. In light of the demanding
standard that must be satisfied for a court to imply a cause
of action from a statute like FICA that does not expressly
create a private cause of action for its violation, see,
e.g., Alaji Salahuddin v. Alaji, 232 F.3d 305,
307-12 (2d Cir. 2000), many courts have ruled with good
reason that there is no private right of action under FICA.
See, e.g., Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Servs.,
Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 66-67 (3d Cir. 2008); McDonald v.
S. Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co., 291 F.3d 718, 722-26 (11th
Cir. 2002); Ferro v. Metro. Ctr. for Mental Health,
2014 WL 1265919, at *5-6 (S.D.N.Y. 2014); Glanville v.
Dupar, Inc., 727 F.Supp.2d 596, 599-602 (S.D.
Tex. 2010). Although the Second Circuit has not decided this
issue and plaintiff cites some contrary district court
decisions that allow for a private right of action under
FICA, I agree with the two courts of appeals that have
examined this issue as well as with the reasons stated by
Judge Rosenthal for rejecting the decisions on which
plaintiff relies. See Glanville, 727 F.Supp.2d at
600-01. Accordingly, because plaintiff has failed to allege
plausible grounds for relief under the FLSA or FICA (or
both), I will dismiss Count 42 of the second amended
Revenue Code claims
Count 47, plaintiff alleges seriatim violations of multiple
provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, including 26 U.S.C.
§§ 6652, 7203, 7402, 7422, and 7434. This claim
overlooks the general rule that “[p]rivate citizens
cannot enforce the provisions of the Tax Code, ”
because “[t]hat is the duty of the Secretary of the
Treasury and the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue
Service, who are charged with the responsibility of
administering and enforcing the Tax Code, including
allegations of suspected fraud.” Seabury v. City of
New York, 2006 WL 1367396, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (no
private cause of action for violations of 26 U.S.C §
surprisingly, numerous courts have expressly rejected private
causes of action premised on the very provisions plaintiff
cites to support her claim. See Small v. Mortg. Elec.
Registration Sys., Inc., 2010 WL 3719314, at *8-9 (E.D.
Cal. 2010) (no private cause of action under § 7203);
Woods Oviatt Gilman, LLP v. United States, 2013 WL
1636042, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. 2013) (no private cause of action
under § 7402); Zito v. New York City Office of
Payroll Admin., 2011 WL 5420054, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. 2011)
(no private cause of action under § 7422),
affirmed, 514 Fed.Appx. 26 (2d Cir.
sure, one of the cited provisions-26 U.S.C. §
7434-allows for a private cause of action. Section 7434
provides that “if any person willfully files a
fraudulent information return with respect to payments
purported to be made to any other person, such other person
may bring a civil action for damages against the person so
filing such return.” 26 U.S.C. § 7434. But
plaintiff here alleges no facts to suggest that any defendant
filed such a fraudulent return (much less willfully so). The
best that ...