United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
BRENDAN M. MCHUGH, Plaintiff,
JASON CARINI, individually and in his official capacity; and DAVID WALLIS, individually, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
GREGORY K. FRIZZELL, JUDGE
the court is defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 17].
For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.
dispute arises from the assessment and collection of taxes
owed by plaintiff Brendan McHugh, and the seizure of
McHugh's vehicle to satisfy his tax debt. On January 18');">18,
2017, McHugh filed suit, alleging claims for conversion,
trespass, invasion of privacy, fraud, violations of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, and a permanent injunction. Defendants moved to
dismiss the Complaint. Shortly thereafter, McHugh filed a
First Amended Complaint as of right, mooting defendants'
motion. The Amended Complaint contains the same causes of
action as the original Complaint, except that it also seeks
relief from defendant Carini in his official capacity as
County Treasurer of Rogers County, Oklahoma. Defendants again
move to dismiss, arguing, in part, that McHugh's claims
are not cognizable under § 1983 under principles of
federalism and comity.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must determine whether the
plaintiff states a claim upon which relief can be granted. To
that end, a complaint must contain “enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). “[A] plaintiff's obligation . . . requires
more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Id. at 555 (quotation marks omitted). And while it
will draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor,
the court need not accept conclusory allegations as true.
See Thomason v. First Pryority Bank, No.
09-CV-796-GKF-TLW, 2010 WL 2079699, at *1 (N.D. Okla. May 21,
2010). The plausibility requirement helps “weed
out” claims that lack any reasonable prospect of
success. See Robbins v. Okla., 519 F.3d 1242, 1248
(10th Cir. 2008).
parties address comity and federalism under Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1). [Doc. No. 17, pp. 15-17]; [Doc. No. 18');">18, pp. 12-15].
But “the comity doctrine is nonjurisdictional.”
See Direct Marketing Ass'n v. Brohl, 135 S.Ct.
1124, 1134 (2015). Instead, that doctrine addresses itself to
statutory and claim construction-that is, a plaintiff's
ability to state tax-based claims for relief under §
1983. See Nat'l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Okla.
Tax Comm'n, 515 U.S. 582, 589 (1995) (explaining
that under precedent, “the principle of noninterference
with state taxation led us to construe §1983
narrowly”); see also Id. at 590 (explaining
that comity precedent “relied upon a background
principle in interpreting § 1983 to preclude damages
actions in tax cases brought in federal court”);
id. (“[W]e rely on the same principle in
interpreting § 1983 to provide no basis for courts to
award injunctive relief when an adequate legal remedy
exists.”). To that end, the court analyzes McHugh's
claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the proper vehicle for
dismissing non-cognizable claims.
1983 provides a cause of action against any person who
deprives another of federal rights or liberties under color
of state law. 42 U.S. § 1983. Principles of comity and
federalism, however, bar taxpayers from “asserting
§ 1983 actions against the validity of” state
taxes in federal court. Fair Assessment in Real Estate
Ass'n v. McNary, 454 U.S. 100, 116 (1981);
accord Nat'l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Okla. Tax
Comm'n, 515 U.S. 582, 587 (1995). A contrary
rule-subjecting state employees to widespread liability for
tax collections- “would in every practical sense
operate to suspend collection of [ ] state taxes.”
See Fair, 454 U.S. at 115 (quotation marks and
citation omitted). Consequently, Section 1983 does not
encompass “damages claims where the taxpayer has a
plain, adequate, and complete remedy in state court.”
Heuser v. San Juan Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 162
F. App'x 807, 809 (10th Cir. 2006). That principle
extends to declaratory and injunctive relief as well. See
Nat'l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Okla. Tax
Comm'n, 515 U.S. 582, 590-92 (1995).
Tax Collection Claim
claim undoubtedly arises from defendants' tax assessment,
collection, and enforcement efforts. [Doc. No. 14, pp. 2-7,
10-11, ¶¶ 7-31, 48-55]. And his attempt to recast
his allegations fall short. To start, McHugh admits his
§ 1983 claim stems from: (1) seizure of tax exempt
property; (2) seizure of property during a “grace
period”; and (3) seizure of property without a tax
warrant or process. [Doc. No. 18');">18, p. 2]. And the description
of his constitutional claims confirms that fact. [Doc. No.
14, p. 10, ¶ 49].
the cases McHugh cites are to the contrary. For one thing,
most pre-date the comity and federalism principles announced
in Fair Assessment in Real Estate Ass'n v.
McNary, 454 U.S. 100 (1981), and its progeny. See,
e.g., G.M. Leasing Corp. v. United States, 429
U.S. 338 (1977); Fulton Market Cold Storage Co. v.
Cullerton, 582 F.2d 1071 (7th Cir. 1978); Bormann v.
Tomlin, 461 F.Supp. 193 (S.D. Ill. 1978). For another,
those cases involved warrantless seizures of taxable
property. See, e.g., G.M. Leasing Corp.,
429 U.S. at 359 (holding warrantless entry into
claimant's office actionable); Dunn v. Marelli,
3 F. App'x 710, 715 (10th Cir. 2001) (holding claim for
conspiracy to execute warrantless searches and seizures
actionable); Tomlin, 461 F.Supp. at 194 (holding
warrantless entry to collect delinquent taxes
unconstitutional). Here, by contrast, a tax warrant issued.
[Doc. No. 14-1] (Payment Affidavit) (referencing “Tax
Warrant No. 18');">18” and noting that the “failure to
make payments . . . will result in immediate re-issuance of a
Tax Warrant”); [Doc. No. 17-1] (Tax
sure, state officials must secure a judicial warrant before
searching a taxpayer's premises for seizable assets.
See G.M. Leasing Corp., 429 U.S. at 358 (“[W]e
are unwilling to hold that the mere interest in the
collection of taxes is sufficient to justify a statute
declaring per se exempt from the warrant requirement every
intrusion into privacy made in furtherance of any tax
seizure.”); In re Carlson, 580 F.2d 1365, 1381
(10th Cir. 1978) (requiring “a neutral, disinterested
judicial officer” to determine probable cause for tax
levy search warrants); In re Stolz, 745 F.Supp. 643,
646 (D. Colo. 1990) (“[A] warrant is required before
the government may search a taxpayer's premises for
seizable assets[.]”). And any entry upon McHugh's
property likely states an actionable § 1983 claim for
unreasonable search and seizure if unsupported by a probable
cause determination by a neutral magistrate. But that was not
pled in the Amended Complaint. See JP Morgan Chase Bank,
N.A. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 16-CV-686-GKF-FHM,
2017 WL 1758066, at * (N.D. Okla. May 4, 2017) (noting that
factual allegations in a complaint “cabin[ ] the
scope” of a claim).
argue that seizure of McHugh's vehicle from his driveway
does not raise a constitutional claim. But the law is not so
clear. The Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials
from trespassing on constitutionally protected property
without a warrant. See United States v. Jones, 132
S.Ct. 949-51 (2012). And recent precedent has extended that
protection beyond the walls of a house to
“curtilage”-that is, “the area
‘immediately surrounding and associated with the
home.'” See Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct.
1409, 1414 (2013) (quoting Oliver v. United States,
466 U.S. 170, 18');">180 (1984)). Questions of law and fact exist as
to: (1) the portion of McHugh's driveway on which his
vehicle was parked; and (2) whether such portion of the
driveway qualifies as curtilage. Compare United States v.
McDowell, 713 F.3d 571, 574 (10th Cir. 2013) (explaining
that Jardines “lends some support to
[d]efendant's arugment that the area ...