Franklin v. United States, No. 21-11104 (5th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff appealed from the dismissal of his claims challenging tax penalties assessed against him, as well as the revocation of his passport pursuant to those penalties. He also appealed the denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff sought to overturn the penalties, restrain collection of them, or otherwise cast doubt on the validity of the assessment. The government has not waived its sovereign immunity for those challenges, and so the district court was correct to dismiss them for lack of jurisdiction. Further, the court explained that Congress was within its rights to provide the IRS another arrow in its quiver to support its efforts to recoup seriously delinquent tax debts. Under even intermediate scrutiny, the passport-revocation scheme is constitutional. Thus, the district court was correct to dismiss Plaintiff’s challenge.
Finally, the court explained that when considering FOIA attorneys’ fees, the court has generally looked with disfavor on cases with no public benefit. Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award fees. Plaintiff’s lawsuit is far afield from the purposes for which FOIA, and its attorneys’ fees provision, were designed. There is no public value in the information and no value for anyone other than Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiff only sought the information to aid him in his personal fight with the IRS regarding his tax penalties.