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Crow v. IRS, No. 20-00518, 2022 WL 1605265 (D. Idaho May 20, 2022) (Nye, C.J.)


Crow v. IRS, No. 20-00518, 2022 WL 1605265 (D. Idaho May 20, 2022) (Nye, C.J.)

Re:  Request for IRS Case Activity Record concerning plaintiff

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 3:  A court "must first analyze 'whether the statute identified by the agency is a statute of exemption within the meaning of Exemption 3.'"  "Second, a court must then determine 'whether the withheld records satisfy the criteria of the exemption statute.'"  In this case, "[b]oth the IRS and [plaintiff] agree that 26 U.S.C. § 6103 is a 'qualifying statute' under the first step of the Exemption 3 analysis."  "Therefore, the Court turns to the question of whether the IRS met the criteria in  26 U.S.C. § 6103."

    "The IRS claims that the information can be properly withheld under both § 6103(a) and § 6103(e)(7)."  "[Plaintiff], on the other hand, claims that the information can be properly released under § 6103(h)(4), particularly subparts (B) and (C)."  "The plain language of the statutory exemptions in § 6103(h)(4) requires that the disclosure occur in a 'judicial or administrative proceeding pertaining to tax administration.'"  "The tests in § 6103(h)(4)(B) and (C) that [plaintiff] rel[ies] on double down on this requirement, stating that they are for exemptions 'directly related to the resolution of an issue in the proceeding' or 'which directly affects the resolution of an issue in the proceeding.'"  The court finds that "there is no tax issue in the present case."  "While [plaintiff's] allegations in this case are cast against the backdrop of an IRS audit, this is, in reality, simply a FOIA case."  "The cause of action is the FOIA statute."  "The resolution of [plaintiff's] possible tax penalties will not occur in this case."

    "The default language of § 6103(a) states that 'Returns and return information shall be confidential.'"  "As both parties agree that the redacted information involves returns and return information, the information redacted under Exemption 3 was appropriately retained as confidential."  Further, "§ 6103(e)(7) states that 'Return information with respect to any taxpayer may be open to inspection by or disclosure to any person authorized by this subsection to inspect any return of such taxpayer if the Secretary determines that such disclosure would not seriously impair Federal tax administration.'"  "Here, the IRS has determined that disclosure would seriously impair Federal tax administration."  "The Court agrees."  "The IRS explains that disclosure of the items protected under Exemption 3 would impair federal tax administration because 'it would jeopardize the Service's ability to speak to willing third parties during an investigation.'"  "The disclosure of such third parties could lead to reluctance by third parties to speak to the IRS in the future, as those third parties would not be able to speak confidentially and could face retribution."  "Additionally, [plaintiff] would gain further insight into the ongoing investigation if given full unfettered access to these returns."  "The IRS explained that disclosing the information withheld under Exemption 3 'would reveal the examiners' strategy, theories, methods, and points of focus.'"  "'Disclosure would prematurely enable the plaintiff to craft explanations or defenses based upon this newfound information and create an unfair advantage.'"  "These insights could also be used to project the IRS's current and future actions and provide advance notice that would be useful to someone seeking to hide any incriminating evidence from the IRS."  "As such, it is reasonable to conclude that disclosure of the IRS items protected under Exemption 3 were properly redacted." 
  • Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal:  "As [plaintiff] has limited his legal challenge to entries redacted under the authority of Exemption 3 of FOIA, this MOOTS the questions regarding all redactions made under separate authority (i.e. Exemptions 5, 6, 7(A), 7(C), and 7(E))."

    "[Plaintiff's] Motion for Summary Judgment can accurately be described as a placeholder."  "The legal argument consists of one page and argues that because the IRS has 'not provided a Vaughn index or similar factual showing to justify its redactions' that summary judgment in [plaintiff's] favor is appropriate."  "Furthermore, [plaintiff] stated that if the IRS produced a Vaughn index, 'plaintiff reserves the right to challenge the underlying bases for withholding the requested information.'"  "The IRS's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on the same day, provided such an index."  "As such, the proffered index essentially moots [plaintiff's] Motion for Summary Judgment."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 3
Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal
Updated June 7, 2022