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Hinds v. United States Government

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 11, 2017

TERRY LEE HINDS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, Defendant,

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant, United States. ECF No. 82. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion, and the United States filed a reply. On November 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a sur-reply. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss of the United States will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         This case has a lengthy procedural history.[1] On February 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed a 548-page pro se complaint, in which Plaintiff contends that by virtue of the Tax Code, the Government has established an institutionalized faith and religion of taxism. Compl. at ¶ 305. Plaintiff contends that this institutionalized religion has the effect of endorsing, favoring, and promoting organized religions, which Plaintiff believes violates the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the Constitution. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, including a permanent injunction enjoining the tax code from having any legal effect, as well as nominal damages.

         On February 23, 2017, the Court ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint in conformity with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 (ECF No. 7), which provides that a pleading must contain a short and plain statement of the grounds for the Court's jurisdiction, a short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand for the relief sought.[2] The Court again ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint on March 10, 2017 (ECF No. 18), April 11, 2017 (ECF No. 29), and May 12, 2017 (ECF No. 36). Plaintiff filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Prohibition challenging the Court's May 12, 2017 Order that Plaintiff file an amended complaint. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Plaintiff's Petition. ECF No. 47.

         On June 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed a “Hybrid Pleading Making a Conscientious Effort to Comply with the Court's Orders Manifesting an Amended Complaint” (“Hybrid Pleading”). ECF No. 44. There, Plaintiff contends that requiring citizens to file an individual tax return establishes a religion centered on the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), which has burdened Plaintiff's First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. Plaintiff further alleges that the challenged government conduct and activities have no legitimate, compelling interest or clear secular purpose, but have the purpose of endorsing religion with the primary effect of advancing it.

         Although Plaintiff's Hybrid Pleading still did not comply with the Court's prior orders, because Plaintiff was proceeding pro se, the Court elected to construe Plaintiff's pleading very liberally and to not require further pleading. Thus, on July 11, 2017, the Court construed Plaintiff's Hybrid Pleading as an amended complaint. ECF No. 55. On July 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider the Court's ruling construing the Hybrid Pleading as an amended complaint (ECF No. 56), which the Court denied (ECF No. 66).

         On September 11, 2017, the United States filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 82. In its motion, the United States argues that sovereign immunity bars Plaintiff's claims, that the declaratory and injunctive relief sought is precluded by statute, and that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The United States further argues that if the Court finds that it has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's case, Plaintiff failed to state a claim for the violation of his right to free exercise of religion.

         In his response in opposition and sur-reply, Plaintiff first attempts to re-litigate his complaints with regard to the Court's interpretation of his Hybrid Pleading as an amended complaint. He then contends that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction because the lawsuit seeks declarations of Plaintiff's and the Government's rights with regard to First Amendment challenges and free exercise clause violations. Specifically, Plaintiff challenges the Government's “new priesthood for [the] religious doctrine of legalism.” ECF No. 85 at 15. Plaintiff contends that the Government waived sovereign immunity when Congress passed the First Amendment and that the federal courts always have the power to adjudicate issues of federal law. ECF No. 85 at 9, 15. He also contends that the sovereign immunity doctrine is a legal fiction and conflicts with the Constitution. ECF No. 92.

         DISCUSSION

         a. Sovereign Immunity

         “[T]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued.” Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156, 160 (1981). Federal courts generally lack jurisdiction to hear claims against the United States because of sovereign immunity. Barnes v. U.S., 448 F.3d 1065, 1066 (8th Cir. 2006). This immunity can be waived, but the waiver must be clear and unmistakable. U.S. v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980). Courts narrowly construe such waivers. U.S. v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 587-88 (1941); see also Ginter v. U.S., 815 F.Supp. 1289, 1293 (W.D. Mo. 1993) (such a waiver “must be strictly construed, unequivocally expressed, and cannot be implied”).

         Here, the Court has not found, nor has Plaintiff pointed the Court to, any case law indicating that the First Amendment is strictly construed to waive sovereign immunity. While the United States has, for instance, waived sovereign immunity for claims in suits for a tax refund, that waiver is conditioned upon the taxpayer first exhausting administrative remedies. Olson v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 243 F.Supp.3d 1037, 1054 (D.N.D. 2017). As discussed more fully below, Plaintiff has not done so here.

         Plaintiff argues that 28 U.S.C. § 1331 confers jurisdiction. However, federal courts have consistently held that this statute does not waive sovereign immunity. See Whittle v. U.S., 7 F.3d 1259, 1262 (6th Cir. 1993) (“The federal question jurisdictional statute is not a general waiver of sovereign immunity; it merely establishes a subject matter that is within the competence of federal courts to entertain.”); Toledo v. Jackson, 485 F.3d 836, 838 (6th Cir. 2007) (holding that ยง 1331 did not ...


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