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Dahlia M. Jimenez v. United States of America

December 19, 2011

DAHLIA M. JIMENEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge

NO JS-6

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Docket No. 30]

Defendant and Counterclaim-Plaintiff United States of America ("Defendant") brings this Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") against Plaintiff and Counterclaim-Defendant Dahlia M. Jimenez ("Dahlia Jimenez"). Having reviewed the parties' moving papers and heard oral argument, the court grants the Motion and adopts the following Order.

I. BACKGROUND

There are no genuine disputes as to the following facts. Pleasant Care Corporation and its four related subsidiaries ("Pleasant Care") operated approximately thirty skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities, and had approximately 3,000 employees. During the 2006 and 2007 payroll tax periods at issue, Pleasant Care failed to pay to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") all of the federal income and social security taxes it had withheld from its employees' wages (collectively, "payroll" or "trust fund" taxes). (Opp'n at 5.) Emmanuel Bernabe was the President of Pleasant Care. Pleasant Care also had an Executive Vice President, a Secretary and Treasurer, and a Compliance Officer. Dahlia Jimenez was the Vice President of Finance and a named board of director. (Id. at 6-12, 20.)

Dahlia Jimenez's total salary and deferred compensation were $93,021 in 2006 and $109,864 in 2007. As part of her duties, Dahlia Jimenez managed billing and collections for Pleasant Care. (Mot. at 2-3.*fn1 ) Dahlia also received and signed batches of checks prepared by Accounts Payable. The checks were grouped by expense priority. Before August 2006, the first priority was payroll, including payroll taxes. In August 2006, the procedure changed, and payroll taxes were no longer first priority. (Id. at 4-5.) Pleasant Care's relevant checking account required two signatures from the three authorized signatories - Emmanuel Bernabe, Dahlia Jimenez, and the Secretary and Treasurer. Dahlia Jimenez typically reviewed the checks, provided the first signature, and then gave the checks to the Secretary and Treasurer for her signature. Dahlia Jimenez also had a signature stamp for Emmanuel Bernabe, which she sometimes used to release checks for payment without further review. She signed and stamped at least one check for more than $15,000. (Id. at 5-7.) She also signed checks paying creditors other than the United States, knowing that the payroll taxes had not been paid. (Id. at 8.)

In addition, Dahlia Jimenez opened at least 100 corporate bank accounts for Pleasant Care, and signed leases involving thousands of dollars. (Id. at 3-4.) Her duties also included transferring funds from Pleasant Care's general account to its payroll account, to ensure there were sufficient funds to cover payroll, when the Secretary and Treasurer was not in the office. Dahlia Jimenez was significantly involved in the hiring and firing of employees as well. (Id. at 7.)

On the other hand, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Dahlia Jimenez, Emmanuel Bernabe made the major financial and management decisions for Pleasant Care, and had the final say on all decisions. (Opp'n at 6-10.) Dahlia Jimenez also alleges that Emmanuel Bernabe required her to follow his specific creditor payment instructions at all times, and that her official job title therefore overstates her actual authority. (Id. at 10-16.) During the relevant tax periods, Pleasant Care was also legally required to follow state regulatory laws for patient care, as set forth in a Corporate Integrity Agreement and Permanent Injunction. Pleasant Care's finances were further restricted starting in 2007, after a lender found out about the unpaid payroll taxes. (Id. at 11-12.) Notwithstanding these limitations, Dahlia Jimenez wanted to pay the taxes and was frustrated that they were not being paid. (Id. at 16.)

On September 30, 2009, the IRS sent notice of intent to assess against Dahlia Jimenez the trust fund recovery penalty ("TFRP") provided by 26 U.S.C. § 6672 ("Section 6672"). On October 13, 2009, the IRS assessed the TFRP against Dahlia Jimenez. (Mot. at 8-9.) After meeting the relevant procedural requirements, Dahlia Jimenez filed this action against Defendant on February 9, 2010, alleging that the TFRP assessment was improper. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-18.)

Defendant now seeks summary judgment that Dahlia Jimenez is liable for the TFRP under Section 6672. Defendant argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because the undisputed facts demonstrate that Dahlia Jimenez was 1) a "responsible person," who 2) willfully failed to pay the required payroll taxes. Dahlia Jimenez contends, to the contrary, that there are genuine issues of material fact as to these two elements.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, with all justifiable inferences drawn in its favor. Id. at 255.

It is not enough, however, for the nonmoving party to rest on the "mere allegations or denials of his pleadings." Id. at 259. Instead, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of the nonmoving party's claim is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

In a TFRP case, "the government bears the initial burden of proof." Oliver v. United States, 921 F.2d 916, 919 (9th Cir. 1990). The government may normally satisfy this burden "by introducing into evidence its assessment of taxes due." Id. "[T]he taxpayer then has the burden of proof with respect to both his own claim and the government's counterclaim." Id. Here, there is no dispute that the government satisfied its initial burden by introducing its relevant tax assessments into evidence. (Mot. at 10.) Dahlia ...


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