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Rosenbluth Trading Inc. v. United States

June 1, 1984

ROSENBLUTH TRADING, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Lloyd F. MacMahon, Judge) dismissing for lack of a timely administrative claim an employer's suit for return of social security tax payments filed after an administrative determination of ineligibility of an alleged employee for retirement benefits. Affirmed.

Timbers, Newman, and Kearse, Circuit Judges.

Author: Newman

JON O. NEWMAN, Circuit Judge:

This is an action by an employer to recover employer and employee social security tax payments following a determination by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that the person on whose account the payments were made was not a bona fide employee entitled to retirement benefits. Plaintiff Rosenbluth Trading, Inc. appeals from the judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Lloyd F. MacMahon, Judge) granting summary judgment for the Government. The District Court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this tax refund claim because Rosenbluth Trading, Inc. had not filed a timely administrative refund claim as required by 26 U.S.C. §§ 6511(a) and 7422(a) (1982). We agree and affirm the judgment of the District Court.

Facts

Kalman Rosenbluth was allegedly employed from March 1968 until June 1976 by Rosenbluth Trading, Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a family textile import and export business. Kalman's brother, George, was the president of the firm. During that period, Rosenbluth Trading made employer and employee social security tax payments on behalf of Kalman.

On January 5, 1976, Kalman Rosenbluth filed an application for retirement insurance benefits under section 202(a) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(a) (Supp. V 1981). Based upon a record that included denials by persons Kalman alleged were his customers and conflicting statements in Kalman's own representations, the SSA ruled on May 4, 1977, that Kalman had not been a bona fide employee of Rosenbluth Trading for the period in question and consequently was not entitled to social security benefits. Kalman took an administrative appeal and was accorded a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge on April 7, 1978.

On August 31, 1978, the Administrative Law Judge affirmed the prior determination that Kalman had not been a bona fide employee. He also found that Kalman had not been without fault in receiving overpayment of retirement benefits before SSA's determination and ordered Kalman to return such payments. See 42 U.S.C. § 404(b) (1976).

On May 24, 1978, during the pendency of the administrative appeal, the Internal Revenue Service sent a letter to Rosenbluth Trading advising it that any excess employee and employer social security tax payments would be returned if an enclosed Form 5071 were sent to the IRS. The IRS instructed the employer to return the form "as soon as possible." Rosenbluth Trading did not send the form to the IRS until February 1980, and on January 21, 1981, the application for a refund was denied on the ground that it was untimely.

On November 30, 1982, Rosenbluth Trading commenced this action to recover the social security tax payments. In its answer, the Government asserted the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The District Court dismissed the action on the ground that the claim was barred by 26 U.S.C. §§ 6511(a) and 7422(a) since Rosenbluth Trading did not file an administrative claim until February 1980, which, as the Court noted, was "over three years after the last return concerning [Kalman] was filed and the last tax payment on behalf of [Kalman] was made."

Discussion

Section 7422(a) of the Code, 26 U.S.C. § 7422(a) (1982), provides that no suit shall be maintained in any court for the recovery of "any internal revenue tax" alleged to have been wrongfully collected "until a claim for refund or credit has been duly filed with the Secretary, according to the provisions of law in that regard." Section 6511(a) of the Code, 26 U.S.C. § 6511(a) (1982), provides that a claim for refund of an overpayment "of any tax imposed by this title" for which a return is required shall be filed within three years from the time the return was filed or two years from the time the tax was paid, whichever is later.*fn1 If these provisions apply to social security tax payments in the circumstances of this case, there is no doubt that the District Court could not entertain Rosenbluth Trading's refund suit. The last tax return was filed and the last tax payment was made in April 1976. The administrative refund claim was made in February 1980, after the time periods specified in section 6511(a). The applicability of these provisions to social security tax payments, however, merits at least brief consideration.

The express terms of the provisions include social security tax payments. These taxes are imposed by chapter 21 of the Code, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), 26 U.S.C. §§ 3101-3126 (1982). Section 3101(a) of the Code, 26 U.S.C. § 3101(a), specifically labels a FICA payment a "tax," and FICA is included in the Internal Revenue Code, all of which is designated as the "Internal Revenue Title." 26 U.S.C. p. 23, preceding § 1 (1982). Thus, FICA payments are an "internal revenue tax" within the meaning of section 7422(a) and a "tax imposed by this title" within the meaning of section 6511(a).

The doubt as to whether these provisions, despite their literal coverage, were intended to apply to the circumstances of this case arises from the partial, but by no means complete, resemblance of social security to insurance. If a traditional contract of insurance were involved, there would normally be no doubt that a determination of ineligibility for insurance coverage would result in a refund of premiums. See Bituminous Casualty Exchange v. Ford Elkhorn Coal Co., 243 Ky. 456, 48 S.W.2d 1057 (1932) (mistaken belief that certain employees covered by policy); 6 Couch on Insurance 2d, § 34:64 at 804 (Anderson ed. 1961) (same); see also Interstate Life & Accident Co. v. Cook, 19 Tenn. App. 290, 86 S.W.2d 887 (1935) (lack of insurable interest); 15 J. Appelman, Insurance Law and Practice § 8360 (1944) (same). Principles of unjust enrichment would apply, and the cause of action would normally accrue when ineligibility for insurance coverage was determined, not when the premiums were paid. See Supreme Council Catholic Knights of America v. Gambati, 29 Tex. Civ. App. 80, 69 S.W. 114 (1902) (action for return of premiums accrues at time of wrongful expulsion from beneficial association); 15 J. Appleman, Insurance Law and Practice, supra, § 8362, at 183 (action accrues when insurer denies liability for lack of insurable interest); see also Interstate Life & Accident Co. v. Cook, supra (implicit). Though claims against the United States for return of unearned premiums ...


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