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Sechler-Hoar v. Trust U/W of Gladys G. Hoart

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 3, 2018

JOAN SECHLER-HOAR, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TRUST U/W OF GLADYS G. HOART, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         In 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.

         All 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.

         FLSA and FICA

         In 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.

         Indeed, 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).

         Beyond 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.

         Moreover, 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”).

         Nor can 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 complaint.

         Internal Revenue Code claims

         In 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 § 7202).

         Not 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. 2013).[1]

         To be 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 ...


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