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Puongpun Sananikone v. United States of America

December 2, 2010

PUONGPUN SANANIKONE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

AND RELATED COUNTERCLAIMS

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Plaintiff Puongpun Sananikone ("Sananikone"), a former official of American Steel Frame, Inc. ("ASFI"), has sued the government for (1) a refund of taxes that were assessed against and collected from him; and (2) the abatement of the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty under 26 U.S.C. § 6672 ("TFRP") that was imposed upon him. (ECF No. 1.) /// ///

In its Answer, Defendant/Counterclaimant United States of America ("United States" or "government") counterclaimed against Counterclaim Defendant Michael Goodman ("Goodman"), another ASFI executive, to reduce to judgment an outstanding tax assessment made against him pursuant to the TFRP for ASFI's withholding income and social security taxes ("trust fund taxes"). Goodman answered the United States' Counterclaim and counterclaimed for a refund of overpaid income taxes for the calendar year 2006. (ECF No. 22.)

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment brought by the United States against Goodman pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 56.*fn1 (ECF No. 84.) For the reasons set forth below, the United States' Motion will be denied.*fn2

BACKGROUND*fn3

ASFI was a commercial and residential light-gauge steel-truss manufacturing and installation company based in Stockton, California. On or around May 14, 2001, Jacob Intveld ("Intveld"), then-President of ASFI, hired Michael Goodman to be the Director of the Commercial Steel Truss Division.

According to the United States, on October 4, 2001, during a meeting of ASFI's Board of Directors ("Board"), Goodman was appointed President, filling the vacancy Intveld created when he resigned. Def.'s Mem. P. & A. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 7.

Goodman states that his appointment as interim president was never made official or memorialized with an employment contract. Instead he maintains simply that he was "thrust in the position if only as the titular head and assumed certain functions as interim president." Mem. P. & A. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. 4-5. Goodman admits to signing "certain documents which need[ed] the signature of an officer" but denies he was ever "involved in the company's finances." Id. at 5. To support his position that his duties did not include collecting and paying employment taxes, Goodman relies on the deposition of ASFI's former bookkeeper, Charlene Amarante. Amarante Dep. 205:12-206:7, Aug. 25, 2009. (ECF No. 88-3.) On the other hand, as proof of Goodman's financial authority at ASFI, the government cites a letter from Goodman to Board Chairman Sananikone dated October 9, 2001, in which Goodman expressed hope to work out ASFI's vendor problems, "includ[ing] the IRS." Def.'s Mem. P. & A. Supp. Mot. Summ. J.

9. (ECF No. 84-1.) Goodman counters that he did not have the authority to decide which creditors were to be paid or release payment for the checks he signed because those decisions were made exclusively by the Board.

On October 2, 2006, the United States, through its agent, the Secretary of the Treasury, made an assessment of $75,632.53 against Goodman pursuant to the TFRP for the tax period ended December 31, 2001.

The assessment was made due to Goodman's "willful failure to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over the withheld Trust Fund taxes of [ASFI]." Id. at 6. The government alleges that Goodman is liable for the tax assessment because as President of ASFI during the fourth quarter of 2001, he bore the responsibility to ensure the corporation paid its required trust fund taxes. While Goodman acknowledges that he signed documents as ASFI's President, he claims he was only a titular president and had no authority over financial matters of the corporation. Therefore, he denies being responsible for ASFI's delinquent taxes.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). /// /// /// /// ///

Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary adjudication on part of a claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ("A party seeking to recover upon a claim...may...move...for a summary judgment in the party's favor upon all or any part thereof."); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan, 889 F. Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995); France ...


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