WATTLETON v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
OPINION AND ORDER granting 40 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. on 02/08/2021. (bdb)
Case 1:20-cv-03450-TWT Document 53 Filed 02/16/21 Page 1 of 7
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
DAVID EARL WATTLETON,
CIVIL ACTION FILE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
OPINION AND ORDER
This is a pro se action seeking an income tax refund. It is before the
Court on the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 40]. For the
reasons set forth below, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc.
40] is GRANTED.
The Plaintiff, David Earl Wattleton, was indicted in May 1999 for
making bomb threats. (Def.’s Br. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., at 4 ¶ 1.)1
He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and since that time, he has been
The Defendant has included its Statement of Undisputed Material
Facts within its supporting brief. Local Rule 56.1(B)(1) makes clear that this
Statement should be “separate” from the motion and the brief. However, given
its compliance with all other Rules and the lack of opposition from the Plaintiff,
this Court will deem each fact admitted. N.D. Ga. Local R. 56.1(B)(2)(a)(2); see
also N.D. Ga. Local R. 7.1(F) (granting the Court discretion in managing
noncompliant motions and briefs).
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in the Attorney General’s custody most recently at the Federal Medical Center
in Rochester, Minnesota. (Id.) In May 2019, the Plaintiff sent a letter to the
Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) seeking a tax refund for overpayments he
allegedly made between 1993 and 1999. (Id. at 4 ¶ 3.) In support of his claim,
the Plaintiff stated that he “was financially disabled” between 1993 and 1999
and that proof of that disability “can and will be submitted to the IRS as
required by 28 U.S.C. § 6511.” (Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B.) The IRS has
articulated multiple defects with the Plaintiff’s claim: the Plaintiff failed to
attach to his letter a physician’s statement indicating he did not have the
ability to manage his finances; he did not attach documentation that no one
else was authorized to manage his finances; he did not timely file a refund
claim for the year 1993–1999; and he did not file a tax refund in 1996 or 1999.
(Def.’s Br. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., at 4–5 ¶¶ 5–8.) After receiving
this denial, the Plaintiff filed suit in the United States District Court of the
District of Columbia, seeking to enjoin then-Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the
United States to provide his claimed refund. (Compl. at 1.) After motion
practice, the D.C. District Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims against thenSecretary Mnuchin, and the remaining claims were transferred to this Court.
(July 30, 2020 Order, at 1.)
depositions, and affidavits submitted by the parties show no genuine issue of
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material fact exists and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court should view the evidence and draw any
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Adickes v. S.H. Kress
& Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158–59 (1970). The party seeking summary judgment
must first identify grounds that show the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The burden then
shifts to the nonmovant, who must go beyond the pleadings and present
affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986).
In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendant makes two broad
arguments. First, the Defendant argues this Court lacks jurisdiction over the
matter, as the Plaintiff has failed to “present a complete claim to the IRS.”
(Def.’s Br. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., at 5.) Without a timely and
complete claim, the Defendant argues that the Plaintiff has failed to show a
waiver of sovereign immunity. (Id.) Second, assuming this Court has
jurisdiction, the Defendant argues that regardless of whether the Plaintiff has
a genuine financial disability, that finding would only toll the claim deadline,
not provide a substantive basis for the claim. (Id. at 6.) In response, the
Plaintiff claims that his letters claiming a refund included “an inadequate
formal but satisfactorily informal statement by a physician, . . . and any failure
on the part of plaintiff to submit a statement made by a physician that strictly
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complies with [the relevant Revenue Procedure subsections] is a mere
technical deficiency and not a fatal error.” (Pl.’s Br. in Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. for
Summ. J., at 3.) Because the Plaintiff has failed to comply with the relevant
laws and regulations that would allow him to toll the statute of limitations, his
claim is untimely and this Court lacks jurisdiction over the matter.
Under federal law, a taxpayer seeking a refund for tax overpayments
must file the claim “within 3 years from the time the return was filed or 2 years
from the time the tax was paid.” 26 U.S.C. § 6511(a). However, these deadlines
are tolled if the taxpayer is “financially disabled,” or “unable to manage his
financial affairs by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment of the individual which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 26 U.S.C. §§ 6511(h)(1)–
(2). However, the statute notes that taxpayers “shall not be considered to have
such an impairment unless proof of the existence thereof is furnished in such
form and manner as the Secretary may require.” 26 U.S.C. § 6511(h)(2)(A).
This “form and manner” is specified by Revenue Procedure 99-21, which details
the two statements that “are to be submitted with a claim for credit of refund
of tax to claim financial disability for purposes of § 6511(h).” Rev. Proc. 99-21
§ 4. The first statement must be prepared by a physician, and the physician
must set forth:
(a) the name and a description of the taxpayer's physical or
(b) the physician's medical opinion that the physical or mental
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impairment prevented the taxpayer from managing the
taxpayer's financial affairs;
(c) the physician's medical opinion that the physical or mental
impairment was or can be expected to result in death, or that it
has lasted (or can be expected to last) for a continuous period of
not less than 12 months;
(d) to the best of the physician's knowledge, the specific time
period during which the taxpayer was prevented by such physical
or mental impairment from managing the taxpayer's financial
(e) the following certification, signed by the physician:
I hereby certify that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the
above representations are true, correct, and complete.
Rev. Proc. 99-21 § 4(1). The second statement must be written by the taxpayer
seeking the refund, and it must state that “that no person, including the
taxpayer's spouse, was authorized to act on behalf of the taxpayer in financial
matters” during the relevant time period. Rev. Proc. 99-21 § (4)(2).
The Plaintiff’s failure to submit this documentation alongside his refund
claim is no “mere technical deficiency,” as the Plaintiff claims. (Pl.’s Br. in
Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., at 3.) Federal law prohibits civil suits
seeking refunds for overpayments “until a claim for refund or credit has been
duly filed with the Secretary, according to the provisions of law in that regard,
and the regulations of the Secretary established in pursuance thereof.” 26
U.S.C. § 7422(a). “If the requirements of § 7422(a) are not met, a court has no
subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim for refund.” Wachovia Bank, N.A.
v. United States, 455 F.3d 1261, 1264 (11th Cir. 2006). Here, the requirements
of § 7422(a) are not met, and the Court is therefore without jurisdiction to hear
the Plaintiff’s claims. Section 7422(a) requires compliance with the relevant
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laws and regulations before the Court may hear the merits of the dispute. The
regulations required the Plaintiff to submit the two statements described in
Revenue Procedure 99-21 alongside his claim for a refund. See Rev. Proc. 9921 § 4 (“Unless otherwise provided in IRS forms and instructions, the following
statements are to be submitted with a claim for credit or refund of tax to claim
financial disability for purposes of § 6511(h).”). Because the Plaintiff’s refund
claim was not “duly filed with the Secretary, according to the . . . regulations
of the Secretary,” the Court has no authority to hear the Plaintiff’s claims.
To circumvent this requirement, the Plaintiff argues that this Court
should apply the “informal claim doctrine.” (Pl.’s Br. in Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. for
Summ. J., at 3–5.) In support of this argument, the Plaintiff claims that he
submitted a Mental Health Evaluation from the Bureau of Prisons alongside
his claim. (Id. at 3.) As such, he argues his substantial compliance contains
“easily corrected” “technical deficiencies,” and that such documentation allows
a tolling of the statute of limitations. (Id. at 3.) However, the Plaintiff
misunderstands the application of the informal claim doctrine. The doctrine
permits “a timely claim with purely formal defects . . . if it fairly apprises the
IRS of the basis for the claim within the limitations period.” Computervision
Corp. v. United States, 445 F.3d 1355, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2006). Crucially, the
doctrine applies to claims where “formal defects and lack of specificity have
been remedied by amendment filed after the lapse of the statutory period.”
United States v. Kales, 314 U.S. 186, 194 (1941). Thus, a condition precedent
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of the informal claim doctrine is the timely filing of a claim with the IRS
containing defects that can be cured with untimely amendments. A contrary
finding would substantially weaken the tolling requirements of § 6511(h), its
accompanying regulations, and the statute of limitations itself. Without an
initial timely filing, a taxpayer cannot seek shelter underneath the informal
claim doctrine, and the Plaintiff’s argument fails.
The Plaintiff cannot overcome his failure to comply with the relevant
requirements to toll the statute of limitations. As such, the result is the same
regardless of whether § 6511(a)’s two-year or three-year statute of limitations
applies: the Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred. See 26 U.S.C. § 6511(a). Because
the Plaintiff’s refund claim is untimely, this Court lacks jurisdiction here, and
the Court grants the Defendant summary judgment in this matter.
For the reasons set forth above, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. 40] is GRANTED.
SO ORDERED, this 8 day of February, 2021.
/s/Thomas W. Thrash
THOMAS W. THRASH, JR.
United States District Judge
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