Ireland v. IRS, No. 16-02855, 2017 WL 1731679 (C.D. Cal. May 1, 2017) (Snyder, J.)
Re: Request for certain records concerning trust fund recovery penalties assessed against plaintiff
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for partial summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: First, "[t]he Court finds that a reasonable trier of fact could not conclude that the IRS's search for records responsive to [two portions of plaintiff's request] was inadequate." The court finds that defendant "searched 'the most logical place for the records'" and that "the fact '[t]hat some documents were not discovered until a second, more exhaustive, search does not warrant' a finding that the original search was inadequate." Second, regarding another portion of plaintiff's request, the court finds that "plaintiff does not dispute that the relevant IRS policies and procedures[, which is what plaintiff requested,] are set forth in the Internal Revenue Manual . . ., which is publicly available." Third, "the Court concludes that the IRS was under no obligation to search for records sought under [another portion of plaintiff's request]" because "plaintiff has not perfected [this] request."
- Exemption 3: "[T]he Court finds that as a matter of law the IRS has demonstrated that that any information not disclosed to the plaintiff under Exemption 3 was properly withheld." The court relates that at issue is "Section 6103(a) of the Internal Revenue Code." The court relates that "[t]he IRS withheld [certain] records under Exemption 3 because they contained the names and other return information (including social security numbers) of third parties, interview forms and recommendations regarding trust fund recovery penalty assessments containing the names of third parties, an index page containing the name of a third-party taxpayer, communications to a third-party taxpayer, and a letter pertaining a summons to a third party." The court relates that "Plaintiff does not dispute that this content is exempt from disclosure under Exemption 3" and, regarding his "argu[ment] that 'it appears as though this exception has been used too broadly by the government[,]'" "the Court concludes that plaintiff is not entitled to in camera review of such records."
- Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege: The court relates that "[p]laintiff does not dispute that [one] Memorandum is predecisional or deliberative, nor does he offer any argument regarding the Memorandum in his opposition." "The Court concludes that a rational trier of fact could only conclude that the Memorandum was predecisional and deliberative." The court relates that the "memorandum [was] from a Revenue Officer to an Appeals Officer providing the Revenue Officer's proposed rebuttal to a protest filed by plaintiff in connection with the investigation into his potential trust fund recovery penalty liability."
- Exemption 6: "The Court . . . concludes the IRS has established that the documents withheld under Exemption 6 contain information about particular individuals and its release would constitute an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy." The court relates that "[t]he IRS withheld seven pages of records full and seven pages in part that contain names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and employment information of individuals involved in the civil investigation into unpaid employment taxes underlying the trust fund recovery penalties assessed against plaintiff." "The Court . . . concludes that there is more than a de minimis personal privacy interest at stake" and notes that "[p]laintiff does not assert that there is any public interest in the disclosure of the records withheld under Exemption 6."
- Exemption 7(C): "The Court . . . concludes the IRS has established that the documents withheld under Exemption 7 contain information about particular individuals and its release could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy." "Plaintiff has not pointed to any facts that controvert the IRS's showing or raise a triable issue regarding the public interest value of these documents." The court relates that "the IRS has withheld seven pages of records in full and six pages in part because the documents contain the names, addresses, and employment information of third parties that were interviewed or otherwise involved with the ongoing investigation and collections action against plaintiff." "For the reasons set forth in relation to Exemption 6, the Court concludes that there are non-trivial personal privacy interests at stake in the records withheld under Exemption 7(C)." The court also finds that "Plaintiff fails to satisfy his burden as he does not assert that there is any public interest in the disclosure of the records withheld under Exemption 7."