Jeffreys v. Waterbury
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS. For the reasons set forth in the accompanying ruling, the City of Waterbury's motion to dismiss (Doc. # 12 ) is GRANTED on the ground that the Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain Jeffreys's challenge to the City's assessment and collection of municipal car taxes. It is so ordered. Signed by Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer on 10/07/2019. (Mahler-Haug, A)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
THOMAS J. JEFFREYS,
No. 3:18-cv-02009 (JAM)
TOWN OF WATERBURY,
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS
Thomas Jeffreys lives in Waterbury, Connecticut, and he owns a 1988 Mustang car. He
has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis against the City of Waterbury alleging that it
violated his rights by garnishing money from his bank account to collect amounts he allegedly
owed for municipal car taxes. 1 The City has moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that
the federal courts do not have jurisdiction over lawsuits like this one that seeks to challenge the
assessment and collection of local taxes. I agree and therefore I will dismiss this action.
The following facts as alleged in the complaint are accepted as true only for purposes of
this ruling. Doc. #1. Thomas Jeffreys lives in Waterbury, Connecticut, and he owns a 1988 Ford
Mustang. Jeffreys alleges that from 2011 to 2015 the City wrongfully assessed taxes on his car
despite the fact that the car is antique and exempt from taxes. Jeffreys further alleges that the
City wrongfully tried to collect the taxes it assessed by garnishing his bank account and by doing
so despite the fact that his bank account holds Social Security disability income which is exempt
Although Jeffreys formally names the “Town of Waterbury” as the defendant in this case, the Court takes judicial
notice that Waterbury is a city—not a town—and refers to it as a city throughout this ruling.
Jeffreys has filed this lawsuit for money damages against the City of Waterbury. He
alleges that the City violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, and the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
He also alleges that the City violated a state law against the taxation of a car that is more than 20
years old. The City has now moved to dismiss.
Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, a federal court complaint must at
minimum allege facts that give rise to plausible grounds for a court to conclude that it has federal
jurisdiction. See Lapaglia v. Transamerica Cas. Ins. Co., 155 F. Supp. 3d 153, 155 (D. Conn.
2016). The pleadings of a pro se party must be construed in a non-technical manner to raise the
strongest arguments that they suggest. See, e.g., McLeod v. Jewish Guild for the Blind, 864 F.3d
154, 156-57 (2d Cir. 2017) (per curiam). Still, a pro se complaint may not survive dismissal if its
factual allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers
Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).
The City argues that Jeffreys’s complaint should be dismissed because of the federal Tax
Injunction Act, which provides that “[t]he district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the
assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient
remedy may be had in the courts of such State.” 28 U.S.C. § 1341. The Act applies not only to
state taxes but also to local municipal taxes. See Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U.S. 88, 100 n.1 (2004).
Moreover, although the Act by its terms applies only to prevent a district court’s grant of
injunctive relief, it is well recognized that parallel principles of comity likewise preclude a
federal court from awarding money damages if there is an adequate remedy to be had in state
court. See Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc., 560 U.S. 413, 424 (2010); Marshall v. Town of
Middlefield, 360 F. App’x 227, 228 (2d Cir. 2010).
In order to determine whether the Tax Injunction Act or related principles of comity
apply to bar an action from proceeding in federal court, a court should ask two questions. First,
does the plaintiff’s action amount to a challenge to the assessment, levy, or collection of any tax
under state or local law? Second, is there an effective remedy that the plaintiff can pursue in the
state courts? See generally Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC v. Shumlin, 737 F.3d 228,
230-35 (2d Cir. 2013).
As to the first question, it is clear that Jeffreys seeks to challenge the assessment and
collection of a local government tax. He complains about the City’s assessment of taxes against
his car and its collection efforts by means of garnishment of his bank account. This is the type of
challenge that the Second Circuit has ruled may not be entertained in the federal district courts.
See Piedmont Gardens, LLC v. LeBlanc, 733 Fed. Appx. 576, 578 (2d Cir. 2018) (comity bars
challenge to “a specific tax collection procedure” involving City of Waterbury’s use of a marshal
or constable to serve tax warrants, which includes an additional service fee); Marshall v. Town of
Middlefield, 360 Fed. Appx. 227, 228-29 (2d Cir. 2010) (comity bars challenge to local motor
vehicle property tax bill).
As to the second question, the City has shown that state law provides Jeffreys with ample
opportunity to challenge the City’s assessment and collection of car taxes, as well as to pursue a
challenge to the tax-related garnishment of his bank account. See Doc. #13 at 7-8, 11-12 (citing
Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 12-118, 12-119, 12-53, 52-367b); Marshall v. Town of Middlefield, 360 F.
App’x 227, 228-29 (2d Cir. 2010) (describing Conn. Gen. Stat. § 12-119 and § 12-117a to be
“multiple methods by which a taxpayer may contest property taxes”); Baltayan v. Tito, 2011 WL
2982315, at *2 (D. Conn. 2011) (citing provisions of Connecticut law that allow state court
challenges to motor vehicle taxes in a case where a plaintiff challenged a town’s garnishment of
his bank account). Moreover, as the Second Circuit has noted, “the Connecticut state constitution
offers a remedy for deprivation of constitutional rights that is, for all relevant purposes,
coextensive with 42 U.S.C. § 1983,” and “[t]hese options satisfy comity’s requirement of a plain,
adequate, and complete remedy.” Piedmont Gardens, 733 Fed. Appx. at 579 (citing Roundhouse
Const. Corp. v. Telesco Masons Supplies Co., Inc., 170 Conn. 155, 157 (1976)).
In short, I am satisfied that the City has established grounds to conclude that there is no
federal jurisdiction in this case. It has shown that Jeffreys seeks to challenge the assessment and
collection of local taxes. And it has shown that Jeffreys has been afforded an adequate
opportunity to raise such challenges in the state courts of Connecticut. Accordingly, I will grant
the City’s motion to dismiss.
For the reasons set forth above, the City of Waterbury’s motion to dismiss (Doc. #12) is
GRANTED on the ground that the Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain Jeffreys’s
challenge to the City’s assessment and collection of municipal car taxes.
It is so ordered.
Dated at New Haven this 7th day of October 2019.
/s/Jeffrey Alker Meyer
Jeffrey Alker Meyer
United States District Judge
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