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United States v. Stanley

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

August 23, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff(s),
v.
MARKUS BRENT STANLEY, Defendant(s)

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID BRAMLETTE, District Judge.

On August 11, 2011, the United States of America filed the instant suit against Dr. Markus Brent Stanley to reduce to judgment his outstanding federal income tax liabilities for tax years 1998-2010. In order to obtain this relief, it asked this court to find that Dr. Stanley's 1998-2008 tax liabilities were excepted from his bankruptcy discharge granted pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 727 in In Re Markus Brent Stanley, No. 09-01727 (Bankr. S.D.Miss.). After more than a year of discovery, the United States filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that there was no disputed issue of material fact as to whether Dr. Stanley's 1998-2010 tax liabilities should be reduced to judgment. The court granted summary judgment in part and denied it in part. As to Dr. Stanley's 2009 and 2010 tax liabilities, which represent the tax liabilities assessed after bankruptcy, the court determined that they should be reduced to judgment because Dr. Stanley had not contested them. As to Dr. Stanley's 2005-2008 tax liabilities, which represent the liabilities for which his tax returns were due to be filed less than three years before his bankruptcy petition date of May 18, 2009, the court determined that they should be reduced to judgment because they were not excepted from discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §§ 507(a)(8)(A)(I) and 523(a)(1)(A).[1] But as to Dr. Stanley's 1998-2004 tax liabilities, which represent the balance of his unpaid taxes, the court determined that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Dr. Stanley's tax liabilities for those years were discharged pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C).[2] Following this decision, Dr. Stanley filed a litany of motions for relief, each of which was subsequently denied. The relief sought in those motions need not be recounted here, but one of Dr. Stanley's post-summary-judgment refrains is noteworthy. Starting first in his motion for reconsideration and continuing up until the last day of trial, Dr. Stanley asserted, at times enthusiastically, that the bankruptcy court had ruled that his 1998-2004 tax liabilities were discharged pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C), and that to have this issue determined by this court is essentially an untimely appeal of that decision. Dr. Stanley went so far as to suggest that this court had undertaken the same analysis as the bankruptcy judge but reached the opposite conclusion. Concerned by this allegation, the court carefully considered it but found that (1) Dr. Stanley waived this argument by not raising it by motion before the summary-judgment disposition and, in the alternative, (2) Dr. Stanley had not produced any evidence to support his suggestion that the bankruptcy court had considered the issue, much less decided it. See July 10, 2013, Opinion and Order. Finding neither this nor any other of the arguments raised by Dr. Stanley to be meritorious, the court determined to proceed with the scheduled trial. Therefore, this case came on for trial before the court without a jury on July 23, 2013. Each side was represented by exceedingly well prepared counsel. Because of the long period of time involved in this tax case, together with the need to present a complete record of the issues involved, the plaintiff offered 197 exhibits which were received into evidence. The core undecided issues are, first, whether the 1998-2004 tax liabilities of debtor, Dr. Marcus Brent Stanley, were discharged in bankruptcy, which involves an inquiry as to whether Dr. Stanley attempted to evade or defeat income tax liability and, if so, whether he did so willfully.[3] The court finds that these liabilities were not discharged and that there was a knowing, deliberate, and willful violation of the taxpayer's duty to pay.

JURISDICTION

As a preliminary matter, the instant suit for a judgment reducing Dr. Stanley's tax liabilities is proper in this court. The court has "original jurisdiction of any civil action arising under any Act of Congress providing for internal revenue...." 28 U.S.C. § 1340. Similarly, the court has "original jurisdiction of all civil actions, suits or proceedings commenced by the United States, or by any agency or officer thereof expressly authorized to sue by Act of Congress...." 26 U.S.C. § 1345. Finally, the court has jurisdiction "to render such judgments and decrees as may be necessary or appropriate for the enforcement of the internal revenue laws." 26 U.S.C. § 7402(a).

But as to whether this court has jurisdiction to apply 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C), a word of clarification is in order. As referenced above, Dr. Stanley continues to maintain that this court cannot render a decision regarding his 1998-2004 tax liabilities because the present suit, at least insofar as it pertains to these liabilities, is an untimely appeal of the bankruptcy court's determination that those tax liabilities were discharged. To the extent that Dr. Stanley maintained or continues to maintain that Chief Judge Ellington affirmatively made such a finding and therefore this court is barred by the doctrine of res judicata, that objection was waived because Dr. Stanley waited until fewer than thirty days before the scheduled trial to call it to the court's attention by motion for reconsideration. See L.U.Civ.R. 7(b)(2)(A); Brown v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., Inc., 480 F.Appx. 753, 754 (5th Cir. 2010); see also Lafreniere Park Found. v. Broussard , 221 F.3d 804, 808 (5th Cir. 2000) (stating that a res judicata defense should be asserted at a "pragmatically sufficient time"). Alternatively, and more importantly, this court evaluated the evidence in the record at the time this objection was raised and found that it did not support the conclusion that the United States should be estopped from pursuing a collection of his 1998-2004 tax liabilities. No new evidence or argument presented at trial altered the court's conclusion on this issue.

Latent in Dr. Stanley's objection is an undercurrent of concern as to whether a suit regarding the dischargeability of his tax liabilities can be or should be determined by a court other than the bankruptcy court. This court touched on this issue by reference to United States v. Coney , 689 F.3d 365 (5th Cir. 2012), which unfolded procedurally in the same manner as the present case. Although the Fifth Circuit was not asked to address explicitly the basis for the district court's jurisdiction over a § 523(a)(1)(C) suit, the district court's jurisdiction was certainly implied from the Fifth Circuit's decision to affirm on the merits. See also, United States v. Storey , 640 F.3d 739 (6th Cir. 2011) (unfolding, procedurally, like Coney). Further, this court also referenced the Fifth Circuit's unpublished opinion In re Range , 48 F.Appx. 103 (5th Cir. Aug. 20, 2002), which, again, did not squarely address jurisdiction but clearly held that the United States as creditor was not required to take any action in the debtor's bankruptcy proceedings to prevent the debtor's tax liabilities from being automatically discharged under § 523(a)(1)(C), indicating that a § 523(a)(1)(C) analysis could be undertaken at a later date and, presumably, in another court with jurisdiction. These cases taken together indicate that this court has concurrent jurisdiction with the bankruptcy court to determine whether Dr. Stanley's taxes were excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C).

In addition to this case law, the Ninth Circuit has directly stated that a district court has jurisdiction concurrent with the bankruptcy court to determine the dischargeability of tax liabilities pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C). In re Eber , 687 F.3d 1123, 1128 (9th Cir. 2012). It explained that there are two major categories of discharge exceptions:

[D]ebts over which the bankruptcy court has exclusive jurisdiction to determine dischargeability, and those that it does not. See 11 U.S.C. § 523(c). Bankruptcy courts have exclusive jurisdiction to determine dischargeability of debts under § 523(a)(2) (fraud or deception); (a)(4) (fiduciary fraud, embezzlement, or larceny); and (a)(6) (willful and malicious injury to person or property). With respect to all other subsections of § 523(a), bankruptcy courts have concurrent rather than exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether a debt is excepted from discharge.

Id. (internal citations and parenthetical explanations omitted). This explanation reflects the same understanding of § 523 set forth by the Fifth Circuit in In re Range. See Range , 48 F.Appx. 103, at *5 n.2. In sum, this court reiterates that Dr. Stanley's tax liabilities for the years 1998-2004 were not discharged in bankruptcy and conclusivley finds that it does have jurisdiction to determine whether these tax liabilities were excepted from discharge pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C).

FINDINGS OF FACT

At the close of trial, Dr. Stanley contended that his 1998-2004 tax liabilities were discharged in bankruptcy because the United States could not and did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his conduct with regard to his taxes was willful. With the exception of his attempt to blame his accountant for his decade long evasion of taxes, Stanley's trial defense focused exclusively on the fact that he suffered from type II bipolar disorder during the relevant tax years. The argument presented was that the effects of his bipolar disorder rendered him unable to willfully evade or defeat his taxes. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the court hereby makes findings of fact as it relates to the failure to pay his taxes for the years 1998-2004, focusing particularly on the effects of his bipolar disorder.[4]

This case represents a staggering amount of documentation which evinces an enormous effort on behalf of the plaintiff in preparation not only for this case but for the accounting difficulties encountered in dealing with an uncooperative taxpayer. The documentation, which totals more than 2000 pages chronologically arranged in four trial binders, tells the story of how, starting in 1998, and even before that date, Dr. Stanley delayed reporting his taxable income and failed to pay his taxes. The documentation also records the efforts to which the IRS went to ensure that his tax liabilities were accurately reported and the considerable time it devoted in attempting to collect payment of those liabilities. Indeed, the trial exhibits, compositely, are a testament to the enormous amount of time and effort expended by the plaintiff and its agents as they have attempted to recover Dr. Stanley's taxes.

Nevertheless, to date, Dr. Stanley has failed to pay over $1, 316, 354.66 he owes in federal taxes, penalties, and interest. In the interest of expediency, the court will not recount the dates on which Dr. Stanley filed his tax returns and the amount of his unpaid liabilities for each tax year. This information is reflected in plaintiff's exhibits US-72 (representing dates the tax returns were filed) and US-71 (representing the assessed amounts, unpaid liabilities), which were admitted into evidence without objection and were consistently referenced during the four-day trial. This evidence shows, and the court hereby finds, that Dr. Stanley filed his tax returns late for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, reported the wrong taxable income amount for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, and has not paid his tax liabilities in full for any of the eleven consecutive tax years from 1998 through 2008 in spite of the IRS's considerable efforts to collect them. The court also notes that Dr. Stanley's 1998 tax return was filed in 2004, only after the IRS had begun its audit of Dr. Stanley's 1998, 1999, and 2000 liabilities.

Turning now to Dr. Stanley's bipolar disorder, we begin with defendant's expert Dr. F. A. Steinberg, a qualified forensic psychologist who testified in detail about bipolar disorders, primarily bipolar II. Based on family history together with a study of the lifestyle and activities of Dr. Stanley, including interviews and other research tools, Dr. Steinberg reached the conclusion that this taxpayer suffers from a bipolar II disorder manifested in various depressive episodes which can cause the impairment of routine as well as occupational functioning. This expert concluded that there would be intervals when Dr. Stanley, and presumably other patients who suffer this disorder, can function normally as well as periods of irresponsible conduct, including failure to appear at ...


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