Schlieker v. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) et al
ORDER by Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix on 2/7/19. Motion to Dismiss 33 is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's suit is therefore DISMISSED without prejudice under Rule 12(b)(1). IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall close this case. (lgale, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Civil Action No. 17-cv-01284-KLM
JOHN F. SCHLIEKER,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (TSA), and
ROBERT GRIMES, Branch Chief,
ENTERED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE KRISTEN L. MIX
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [#33]1 (the
“Motion”).2 Plaintiff, who proceeds pro se,3 filed a Response [#40], Defendant filed a Reply
[#41], and Plaintiff filed a Surreply [#42].
The Court has reviewed the Motion, the
Response, the Reply, the Surreply, the case record,4 the applicable law, and is fully advised
“[#33]” is an example of the convention the Court uses to identify the docket number
assigned to a specific paper by the Court’s case management and electronic case filing system
(CM/ECF). This convention is used throughout this Order.
This case has been referred to the undersigned for all purposes pursuant to
D.C.COLO.LCivR 40.1(c) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), on consent of the parties. See [#35, #36, #38].
The Court must construe the filings of a pro se litigant liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404
U.S. 519, 521 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The Court, however,
should not be the pro se litigant’s advocate, nor should the Court “supply additional factual
allegations to round out [the pro se litigant’s] complaint or construct a legal theory on [his or her]
behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1174 (10th Cir. 1997) (citing Hall, 935 F.2d at
1110). In addition, pro se litigants must follow the same procedural rules that govern other litigants.
Nielson v. Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10th Cir. 1994).
The Court also considered Plaintiff’s other filings in connection with its adjudication of the
present Motion [#33]. See [#4, #6, #8, #9, #10, #12, #13, #14, #15, #17, #18, #19, #21, #22, #23,
in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion [#33] is GRANTED.
In mid-February 2016, Plaintiff flew from Phoenix, Arizona to Denver, Colorado, with
“multiple [tax-related] files, folders, and paperwork” in his checked baggage. Am. Compl.
[#27] at 1-2. Upon arriving in Denver, Plaintiff opened his baggage to find the documents
missing, replaced by a Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) “Notice of Baggage
Inspection.” Id. at 1; Notice of Baggage Inspection [#1] at 10.5 The TSA’s failure to repack
the documents after inspection, Plaintiff alleges, left him “unable to completely, honestly,
and truthfully document his 2015 tax returns[,] resulting in a $5,000 loss of tax refund.” Id.
After the TSA denied Plaintiff’s $5,000 loss claim with a form letter, Plaintiff began
a fruitless five-month campaign, repeatedly calling the TSA and requesting an explanation
for the denial. Id. at 3-4. At no point, however, did Plaintiff file an administrative claim with
the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), seeking the $5,000 tax refund. See, e.g., Response
[#40] at 3. Indeed, Plaintiff states that he “is not seeking a tax refund but reparations for
the lost property that occurred.” Id. at 2.
At several points in his filings, Plaintiff also references an earlier TSA letter, which
#24, #29, #30, #31, #37, #43].
Normally, when considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must disregard facts supported
by documents other than the complaint unless the Court first converts the motion to dismiss into
a motion for summary judgment. Jackson v. Integra Inc., 952 F.2d 1260, 1261 (10th Cir. 1991).
However, the Court may consider documents outside of the complaint on a motion to dismiss in
three instances. First, the Court may consider outside documents pertinent to ruling on a motion
to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Pringle v. United States, 208 F.3d 1220, 1222 (10th
Cir. 2000). Second, the Court may consider outside documents subject to judicial notice, including
court documents and matters of public record. Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1265 n.24 (10th Cir.
2006). Third, the Court may consider outside documents that are both central to the plaintiff’s
claims and to which the plaintiff refers in his complaint. GFF Corp. v. Associated Wholesale
Grocers, 130 F.3d 1381, 1384 (10th Cir. 1997).
explains that “[t]he Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) . . . establishes your rights in regard to
your claim.” See, e.g., TSA Loss Claim Receipt [#1] at 21. Among those rights, the TSA
continues, “[i]f your complaint is denied . . . you may file suit in the appropriate District
Accordingly, in May 2017, Plaintiff filed this suit. Id. at 1. To support his claim,
Plaintiff cites the FTCA’s language, Am. Compl. [#27] at 2-3, providing district courts
“exclusive jurisdiction of . . . claims against the United States, for money damages [for] loss
of property . . . caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the
Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment.” 28 U.S.C. §
To support his FTCA damages request, however, Plaintiff relies exclusively on the
$5,000 tax refund: “An example of how much monetary loss occurred is cited using the loss
from the IRS. Plaintiffs [sic] person [sic] property was worth $5,000.” Response [#40] at
2; see also Am. Compl. [#27] at 5 (“The state [sic] of Colorado returns indicate the same
percentage discrepancies as the IRS 1040, thus a total of $5,000.00 is being sought.”).
Indeed, Plaintiff does not allege that TSA failed to repack (or damaged) any property other
than the tax-related documents in his checked baggage.
The Government filed the present Motion [#33], seeking dismissal for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Therein, the Government argues that,
under the Internal Revenue Code, “no suit seeking a tax refund, or the recovery of any sum
alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected, may proceed until
an [IRS] administrative claim for such amounts has been filed.” Motion [#33] at 2.
II. Legal Standard
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) tests whether the Court possesses subject
matter jurisdiction to properly hear a case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). As “federal courts are
courts of limited jurisdiction,” the Court must have a statutory basis to exercise jurisdiction.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Montoya v. Chao, 296 F.3d 952, 955 (10th Cir. 2002). For the
same reason, statutes conferring subject matter jurisdiction on federal courts require strict
construction. F & S Const. Co. v. Jensen, 337 F.2d 160, 161 (10th Cir. 1964). “The burden
of establishing subject matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (citing
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may take two forms: a facial attack or a
factual attack. Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir. 1995). A facial attack
asserts that the complaint’s allegations do not suffice to invoke federal subject matter
jurisdiction, while a factual attack disputes the truth of the allegations supporting subject
matter jurisdiction. Id. When reviewing a facial attack, as it does today, the Court limits its
consideration to the complaint, accepting its allegations as true. Id.
Because Plaintiff sues the United States, Plaintiff’s claims raise issues of sovereign
immunity. “[S]overeign immunity shields the [federal] government and its agencies from
suit.” FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994).
jurisdictional in nature.”
Indeed, “[s]overeign immunity is
Thus, unless the Government waives its immunity by
consenting to be sued, courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate claims asserted
against the Government. United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983) (“It is
axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence
of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.”). The waiver of sovereign immunity cannot be
implied, but rather must be unequivocally expressed. Id. at 219.
The Court first considers whether the Internal Revenue Code imposes a
jurisdictional administrative claim requirement on suits seeking tax refunds, concluding that
it does, so that the Government’s sovereign immunity remains in place and deprives the
Court of subject matter jurisdiction absent the filing of an IRS administrative claim. Next,
the Court considers under what circumstances suits qualify as “seeking tax refunds,”
concluding that the IRS administrative claim requirement applies to all suits seeking tax
refunds, regardless of the source of the cause of action. Finally, the Court considers
whether Plaintiff seeks a tax refund, finding that Plaintiff does seek a tax refund and,
therefore, concluding that Plaintiff’s decision not to file an IRS administrative claim deprives
the Court of subject matter jurisdiction.
Jurisdictional Nature of Administrative Claim Requirement
Unless alleged victims first file an IRS administrative claim, the Internal Revenue
Code explicitly prohibits suits seeking tax refunds and, therefore, precludes the Court from
exercising subject matter jurisdiction in such cases, because the Government has not
waived sovereign immunity. Specifically, 26 U.S.C. § 7422(a) of the Code provides:
No suit or proceeding shall be maintained in any court for the recovery of any
internal revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed
or collected . . . or of any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any
manner wrongfully collected, until a claim for refund or credit has been duly
filed with the Secretary [of the Treasury], according to the provisions of law
in that regard, and the regulations of the Secretary established in pursuance
In United States v. Dalm, the Supreme Court held that the Government does not
waive sovereign immunity unless plaintiffs comply with the Code’s administrative claim
provisions: “For the District Court to have jurisdiction over [a] suit for refund,” the Court
explained, the plaintiff “was required to file a claim for refund of the tax.” 494 U.S. 596, 609
(1990). The plaintiff “[h]aving failed to comply with the statutory requirements for seeking
a refund,” the Court declined to “go beyond the authority Congress has given us in
permitting suits against the Government.” Id.
Decisions in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals follow Dalm’s reasoning, including
Chan v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, where the court affirmed dismissal for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, since the plaintiff “did not file a timely refund claim with the IRS,
which is a jurisdictional prerequisite to a refund suit.” 693 F. App’x 752, 753 (10th Cir.
2017). In Goodwin v. United States, this Court held that the plaintiff’s failure to “file a
properly-executed refund claim” deprived the Court of jurisdiction under § 7422(a) and
dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). No. 17-cv02616-CMA-MEH, 2018 WL 1566836, at *3 (D. Colo. Mar. 30, 2018).
In suits seeking tax refunds, therefore, the Court may not exercise subject matter
jurisdiction absent an IRS administrative claim, because the Government’s sovereign
immunity remains in place. Because Plaintiff has not filed an IRS administrative claim, the
Court next considers under what circumstances suits qualify as “seeking tax refunds” and
whether Plaintiff seeks a tax refund, himself.
Broad Applicability of Administrative Claim Requirement
The IRS administrative claim provisions in 26 U.S.C. § 7422(a) apply broadly to suits
seeking tax refunds whatever the source of the cause of action, weighing substance over
form. United States v. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining Co., 553 U.S. 1, 9 (2008).
The Supreme Court examined § 7422(a) in Clintwood Elkhorn Mining, with Chief
Justice Roberts writing that “[f]ive ‘any’s’ in one sentence and it begins to seem that
Congress meant the statute to have expansive reach.”
553 U.S. at 7.
concerned the Tucker Act, which provides the Court of Federal Claims with jurisdiction over
certain claims for money damages against the Government. 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1). The
plaintiffs’ argument that they could sue “directly under the Tucker Act” for refund of certain
taxes on coal exports, the Court said, “does not matter. If the [plaintiffs’] claims are subject
to [Internal Revenue] Code provisions, those claims are barred whatever the source of the
cause of action,” without an IRS administrative claim. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining, 553 U.S.
at 9 (emphasis added).
Subsequent decisions of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and Court of Federal
Claims, of which Defendants’ Motion cites several, support Clintwood’s broad application.
See [#33] at 7. In Strategic Housing Finance Corporation of Travis County v. United
States, the Federal Circuit explained that “the plain meaning of . . . § 7422(a) demonstrated
that Congress required a party seeking a tax refund for any reason [to] fil[e] a refund claim
with the IRS.” 608 F.3d 1317, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original). The lower
court in the same case—the Court of Federal Claims—similarly determined that Clintwood
“unequivocally concludes that the jurisdictional bar contained in section 7422(a) applies
regardless of the underlying characterization of the claim.” Strategic Hous. Fin. Corp. v.
United States, 86 Fed. Cl. 518, 544 (Fed. Cl. 2009), vacated in part on other grounds, 608
F.3d 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (emphasis added).
Although outside the Tenth Circuit, Defendant also cites cases holding that §
7422(a) applies even when the negligence of a third party causes a tax overpayment. In
Chalfin v. St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, the plaintiffs sued their former employer,
alleging the employer withheld too much tax from paychecks and failed to submit certain
IRS paperwork. No. 2:14-1883 (WJM), 2014 WL 5512286, at *1 (D.N.J. Oct. 31, 2014),
aff’d, 629 F. App’x 367 (3d Cir. 2015). There, the court held that § 7422(a) “applies to any
suit seeking taxes that were erroneously collected, regardless of who is responsible for the
erroneous collection.” Id. at *3. Even though the plaintiffs traced their predicament to the
employer, therefore, the court determined that “this is still a tax refund case subject to §
As the Chalfin opinion indicates, the Third, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits have reached
similar conclusions, notably in cases where the plaintiffs sued private airline companies for
erroneously charging a ten-percent “excise tax” on ticket sales. Id.; see also, e.g., Sigmon
v. Sw. Airlines Co., 110 F.3d 1200 (5th Cir. 1998); Kaucky v. Sw. Airlines Co., 109 F.3d 349
(7th Cir. 1997); Brennan v. Sw. Airlines Co. 134 F.3d 1405 (9th Cir. 1998). Even with
private defendants, then, § 7422(a)’s IRS administrative claim provisions apply.
The Court, therefore, applies § 7422(a)’s IRS administrative claim provisions to all
suits seeking tax refunds, whatever the source of the cause of action, weighing substance
over form. Although Plaintiff cites the FTCA and makes an FTCA damages request, the
Court next considers whether Plaintiff, in fact, seeks a tax refund.
Plaintiff Seeks Tax Refund
Despite Plaintiff’s adamant insistence that the factual circumstances of his FTCA suit
do not implicate the Code and IRS, Plaintiff, essentially, seeks the $5,000 tax refund. See,
e.g., Surreply [#42] at 4 (“This case is about missing property not about the IRS.”). To hold
otherwise, the Court would weigh form over substance.
First, the amount of Plaintiff’s FTCA damages request—$5,000—exactly matches
Plaintiff’s estimate of the unobtained tax refund. Response [#40] at 2. Indeed, Plaintiff
admits to requesting damages based on the estimate. See, e.g., Am. Compl. [#27] at 5
(“The state [sic] of Colorado returns indicate the same percentage discrepancies as the IRS
1040, thus a total of $5,000.00 is being sought.”).
Second, Plaintiff does not allege that the tax-related documents in his checked
baggage had any value beyond supporting his claim to the tax refund. Plaintiff, in other
words, does not seek compensation for the value of the documents themselves, including
the value of the folders, paper, and ink; Plaintiff seeks only the tax refund, which the
documents might have helped secure. It is highly unlikely that the value of the documents,
themselves, would amount to anything resembling Plaintiff’s $5,000 damages request.
Finally, Plaintiff does not allege that the TSA failed to repack (or damaged) any
property other than the documents. If Plaintiff’s $5,000 damages request also covered
missing and/or damaged clothing, for example, Plaintiff might convincingly argue that he
does not seek the tax refund.
Considering the plain allegations of Plaintiff’s FTCA suit, however, the Court
concludes that Plaintiff seeks the $5,000 tax refund. The Court next considers the
implications of Plaintiff’s decision not to file an IRS administrative claim, § 7422(a)’s
jurisdictional nature, § 7422(a)’s applicability to all suits seeking tax refunds, and the
consequences to Plaintiff’s suit seeking a tax refund.
The Court Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Plaintiff correctly argues that the FTCA provides district courts “exclusive jurisdiction
of . . . claims against the United States, for money damages [for] loss of property . . .
caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government
while acting within the scope of his office or employment” and, thereby, waives sovereign
immunity for such claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). The Internal Revenue Code, however,
explicitly prohibits suits seeking tax refunds unless the plaintiff first files an IRS
administrative claim. 28 U.S.C. § 7422(a); see also Dalm, 494 U.S. at 609. Indeed, the
IRS administrative claim requirement applies broadly to all suits seeking tax refunds,
“whatever the source of the cause of action.” Clintwood Elkhorn Mining, 553 U.S. at 9
(emphasis added). Here, Plaintiff—in substance, if not in form—seeks the $5,000 tax
refund. In other words, although Plaintiff cites the FTCA as the statutory basis for his claim,
the amount and nature of Plaintiff’s damages request indicate that Plaintiff seeks the
$5,000 tax refund. Given Plaintiff’s decision not to file the required IRS administrative
claim, however, the Government’s sovereign immunity remains in place and deprives the
Court of subject matter jurisdiction.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion [#33] is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s suit is therefore DISMISSED without
prejudice under Rule 12(b)(1). See Brereton v. Bountiful City Corp., 434 F.3d 1213, 1216
(10th Cir. 2006) (“[W]here the district court dismisses an action for lack of jurisdiction . . .
the dismissal must be without prejudice.”).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall close this case.
Dated: February 7, 2019
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