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United States v. Steele

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

March 26, 2018

JOHN K. STEELE, et al., Defendants.


          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge

         The United States of America sued Defendant John Steele on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service over Mr. Steele's failure to pay federal income taxes. In the complaint, the Government seeks a judgment as to Mr. Steele's indebtedness and a tax lien on a farm in Bagdad, Kentucky. Mr. Steele has since filed a number of motions in attempt to dismiss this lawsuit, as has the United States and the Court addresses the most recent of these here.[1] For the following reasons, Mr. Steele's motions are DENIED and the motion of the United States is GRANTED.


         Mr. John K. Steele, a sovereign citizen, believes that he has no duty to pay federal income taxes. [R. 12.] Because of this, he also maintains that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case. Id. As a result of his failure to pay taxes, the United States brought this action seeking judgment that Mr. Steele is indebted to the Government as well as a tax lien on Mr. Steele's property.


         First, Mr. Steele has filed a Motion to Strike Ex Parte Conference for Joint Report of Rule 26(f) Report held on March 2, 2017, because he believes the conference violated a court order. [R. 32.] Mr. Steele claims this Court “ordered that the initial attorneys conference would be stayed until March 3, 2017, ” and thus, by holding the conference on March 2, the parties violated this order. [R. 32 at 2.]

         However, the Rule 26(f) conference was not stayed; this Court granted a stay for the deadline of the conference, pushing the deadline from February 17, 2017 to March 3, 2017. [R. 26.] Therefore, the March 2, 2017, Rule 26(f) conference was timely: it was not held in violation of a court order. Mr. Steele received notice of the deadline by receipt of the Court's Order [R. 26], and while a pro se litigant is afforded more leniency than litigants represented by legal counsel, such leniency has limits: “Where . . . a pro se litigant fails to comply with easily understood court-imposed deadlines, there is no basis for treating that party more generously than a represented litigant.” Pilgram v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996).

         Next, Mr. Steele claims he was not provided notice of the conference.[2] [R. 32 at 2.] In the Joint Rule 26(f) Report, the other parties indicated they had attempted to contact Mr. Steele, but were unable to do so because he had not provided a working e-mail address or telephone number. [R. 30 at 1.] The Eastern District of Kentucky requires all pleadings to include the “name, address, and telephone number of the filing party's attorney(s) of record or, if the party is not represented by counsel, of the filing party.” LR 5.1(a). In addition to these requirements, all pro se litigants must include a current telephone number, residential address, and mailing address in their first filing. LR 5.2(d). Failure to provide the required information can result in dismissal (when the pro se litigant is the plaintiff) or sanctions. Id. Mr. Steele provided his mailing address in his first filing to this Court, however, he did not provide a phone number or e-mail address. [R. 12.] Nor did he offer an explanation for such deficiencies. Prior to this meeting, the United States already requested a fourteen-day extension of the deadline, in part, because they were still attempting to reach Mr. Steele to schedule the conference. [R. 24.] The Order granting that extension was mailed to Mr. Steele, demonstrating to him that the other parties had attempted to contact him. Because the United States did provide its e-mail address, telephone number, and address [R. 24 at 2], Mr. Steele could have then responded to the Government's motion to this Court or contacted the Government to schedule the conference. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 26 requires parties to confer “as soon as practicable” to plan for discovery. While Mr. Steele may not have had actual notice of the date of the conference, as opposing counsel had been unable to reach him, he had adequate constructive notice of the pending requirement to convene and should have known that other parties would attempt to schedule the required meeting. Mr. Steele's absence at the meeting is a product of his own failure to provide adequate contact information and failure to proceed in this action according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of the Eastern District of Kentucky, not because of any malice or negligence of another party. Accordingly, Defendant's Motion to Strike the Rule 26(f) Report [R. 32] is DENIED.


         In his next motion, Mr. Steele filed a Mandatory Judicial Notice and Motion for Sanctions, requesting this Court to sanction the United States' Attorney, Mr. Kyle Bishop, for his “disregard for due process.” [R. 46.] On May 1, 2017, the United States filed a motion electronically for Partial Summary Judgment against Mr. Steele. [R. 41.] This motion was served on Mr. Steele via United States Postal Service, but was returned to Mr. Bishop undelivered. [R. 46 at 1.] Mr. Bishop immediately contacted Mr. Steele on June 7, 2017, when he received the returned motion. Id. Mr. Steele received an e-mailed copy of the motion on June 7, 2017, the same day as Mr. Bishop's phone call. Id. Though Mr. Steele did not receive the motion until five weeks after it was filed, this Court has not yet entered a scheduling order for this matter to set deadlines for dispositive motions, nor has this Court ruled on the Government's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Though the five week delay did not permit Mr. Steele to answer within twenty-one (21) days, as required by Local Rule 7.1, the Court will afford Mr. Steele more leniency as a pro se litigant.[3] Mr. Steele's Response was filed on June 19, 2017, within twenty-one days of receiving the United States' motion via email, thus, this Court will permit an extension of the deadline in this case to consider Mr. Steele's Response [R. 47] timely. Therefore, any delay in Mr. Steele receiving the Motion has not caused any undue hardship or prejudice for him.

         The Court finds no basis to sanction Mr. Bishop. The record does not reflect any dishonesty or malicious behavior on behalf of Mr. Bishop. Accordingly, Mr. Steele's Motion for Sanctions against Mr. Bishop [R. 46] is DENIED.


         Additionally, Mr. Steele has filed a counterclaim against the United States, citing a failure to adequately “establish and disclose clear explanations of the [tax] laws” as a defense to this lawsuit. [R. 44.] The United States filed their complaint against Mr. Steele on December 2, 2016, and Mr. Steele was personally served on December 10, 2016, at his residence in Cincinnati, Ohio. [R. 1; R. 4.] Rather than file an Answer within 21 days, as required by Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(a)(1)(A), Mr. Steele sent the United States a letter on December 27, 2017, stating his response would be filed within the next thirty (30) days. [R. 6.] On January 30, 2017, Mr. Steele filed his Answer, without stating any counterclaims or cross-claims. On May 30, 2017, Mr. Steele filed a counterclaim against the United States, claiming a failure to adequately “establish and disclose clear explanations of the [tax] laws.” [R. 44.] The United States moved to dismiss this Counterclaim on July 6, 2017. [R. 53]. Mr. Steele filed an Opposition to R. 53 Motion to Dismiss ...

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