Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Pro Se Litigant Subject to Inherent Power Sanctions for Maintaining Identical Legal Position Rejected in Earlier Case without Reasonable Arguments to Justify Reiteration

Palmer v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 24293 (10th Cir. Nov. 27, 2012):

The Commissioner asks that we impose $8,000 in sanctions on Palmer for maintaining a frivolous appeal. According to the Commissioner, we have already rejected Palmer's arguments as frivolous in his prior proceeding before this court, and further sanctions are appropriate to convey to Palmer that wasteful litigation is not without cost.

"This court has the inherent power to impose sanctions that are necessary to regulate its docket, promote judicial efficiency, and deter frivolous filings." Mann, 477 F.3d at 1150 (10th Cir. 2007). See also F.R.A.P. 38 ("If a court of appeals determines that an appeal is frivolous, it may . . . award just damages and single or double costs."). The court's power to impose sanctions applies equally to pro se litigants. Kyler v. Everson, 442 F.3d 1251, 1253 (10th Cir. 2006) ("[P]ro se litigants are subject to the same minimum litigation requirements that bind all litigants and counsel before all federal courts.").

We hold that sanctions are warranted in light of our previous order denying Palmer's identical arguments and his failure to present any reasonable legal arguments before this court. Sanction awards for frivolous tax appeals "are to be determined on a case-by-case basis." Wheeler v. C.I.R., 538 F.3d 773, 783 (10th Cir. 2008). In addition to providing "an effective sanction for the bringing of a frivolous appeal," sanction awards "serve as an effective deterrent to the bringing of future frivolous appeals, and . . . recompense the government for at least the direct costs of the appeal." Id. (quoting Casper v. C.I.R., 805 F.2d 902, 906-07 (10th Cir. 1986)). In Palmer's prior proceeding before this court, we reduced the Commissioner's requested sanctions from $8,000 to $4,000, noting that the case did not "present a situation in which the court or Commissioner were 'inundated' with a 'myriad of claims.'" Palmer, 2012 WL 1949326, at *2 (quoting Stearman v. Comm'r, 436 F.3d 533, 539 (5th Cir. 2006)). However, as evidenced by this appeal, the reduced sanction award of $4,000 did not serve as an effective deterrent to Palmer from bringing subsequent frivolous appeals to this court. When a taxpayer repeatedly engages in frivolous litigation to avoid paying lawful income taxes, this court has imposed the Commissioner's requested sanction award in full, especially if the taxpayer was undeterred by prior monetary sanctions. See, e.g., Ford v. Pryor, 552 F.3d 1174, 1180 (10th Cir. 2008); Kyler, 442 F.3d 1251; Williamson v. Sena, 230 F. App'x 815, 817 (10th Cir. 2007). In light of Palmer's repeatedly frivolous appeals, we grant the Commissioner's motion for sanctions in the full amount of $8,000.

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