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Natalie Swaney v. United States of America

December 12, 2011

NATALIE SWANEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Natalie Swaney's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 26). The Government has filed a response in opposition (Doc. No. 27). At issue is a series of penalties that the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") levied against Swaney pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6701. For the reasons stated herein, Swaney's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

I. Background

The following facts are undisputed:

A. Swaney's Work at Jackson Hewitt

Swaney is a Certified Public Accountant ("CPA") who, for approximately five years beginning in 2002, worked for two companies owned by Daniel Prewett*fn1 JH Accounting, Inc. and Simple Financial Solutions, Inc., doing business as Jackson Hewitt (collectively, "Jackson Hewitt"). While working for Prewett, Swaney prepared income tax returns, both for business entities and for individuals, and provided bookkeeping services for some clients.

B. Swaney's Interactions with the IRS

In 2007, the United States sued Prewett, Swaney, and others to enjoin them from acting as federal tax return preparers and from engaging in activity that is subject to a penalty under § 6701 (i.e., aiding or assisting in the preparation of any portion of a tax document, knowing that portion would result in an understatement of tax liability). In May 2009, Swaney consented to the injunction. In September 2009, the IRS assessed $86,000 in penalties against Swaney under § 6701, related to income tax returns that the IRS alleged Swaney prepared between 2003 and 2005. After paying 15% of the penalties, Swaney challenged the assessment by filing a refund claim with the IRS.

On March 23, 2010, the IRS informed Swaney that it had disallowed her refund claim. In its notice of disallowance, the IRS explained that if Swaney did not file suit on or before April 22, 2010, she would have to pay the additional penalties to file suit. Swaney timely filed suit, thereby initiating this action, on April 16, 2010. Meanwhile, Swaney also appealed the IRS's disallowance of her refund claims, and on June 15, 2010, the IRS denied that appeal.

C. The Present Lawsuit

In this action, Swaney seeks a judgment in the amount of the return preparer penalties assessed and collected from her for the years 2003 through 2005. Additionally, she asserts a denial of due process claim, in which she alleges that she was denied the ability to pursue an administrative appeal and file the instant lawsuit without paying the entire penalty amount. On September 23, 2010, the United States filed its answer and a counterclaim seeking a judgment for the full amount of the penalties against Swaney. (Doc. No. 8).

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The Court must draw all inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and resolve all reasonable doubts in that party's favor. Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial. Id. Summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Johnson v. Bd. of Regents, 263 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2001) (quotation omitted).

When a moving party has discharged its burden, the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affirmative evidence, designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Porter, 461 F.3d at 1320. In determining whether there is a "genuine" issue, the inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided ...


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