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United States v. Schipani

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 3, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff
Donna Schipani, and RBS Citizens, N.A., Defendants Opinion No. 2017 DNH 041


          Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge.

         In 2002 and 2003, Andrew Donohoe failed to pay federal income taxes. Four years later, a delegate of the Secretary of the Treasury gave Donohoe notice of delinquent tax assessments and demanded he pay approximately $305, 000. On the date those assessments were made, a federal tax lien arose in favor of the United States on all property and rights to property belonging to Donohoe. In this proceeding, the government seeks a declaration that, as a result, it holds a valid lien on a one-half interest the government says Donohoe had in his former marital home - property that was conveyed into a revocable trust several years before the government's tax liens arose, and later awarded to his former wife in a divorce proceeding. Donohoe's former wife, Donna Schipani, is the sole title-holder to that property. She objects, asserting that the government's liens against property held by her former husband never attached to the marital home.

         The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, each asserting that there are no genuinely disputed facts and each claiming that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For the reasons discussed, both motions are denied.

         Standard of Review

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must “constru[e] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolv[e] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Pierce v. Cotuit Fire Dist., 741 F.3d 295, 301 (1st Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In this context, “[a]n issue is ‘genuine' if it can be resolved in favor of either party, and a fact is ‘material' if it has the potential of affecting the outcome of the case.” Xiaoyan Tang v. Citizens Bank, N.A., 821 F.3d 206, 215 (1st Cir. 2016) (citations and internal punctuation omitted). Nevertheless, if the non-moving party's “evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, ” no genuine dispute as to a material fact has been proved, and “summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (citations omitted). In other words, “[a]s to issues on which the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, that party may not simply rely on the absence of evidence but, rather, must point to definite and competent evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Perez v. Lorraine Enters., 769 F.3d 23, 29-30 (1st Cir. 2014).


         The relevant facts are as follows. In 1987, Andrew Donohoe and his now-former wife, Donna Schipani, purchased a home at 8 Saddlepath Road, Raymond, New Hampshire (the “Residence”). Twelve years later, Donohoe and Schipani created the “Donohoe Family Revocable Trust of 1999” (the “Family Trust”) and established themselves as its trustees. Later that year, they conveyed all of their interests in the Residence to the Family Trust. That transfer is significant, as Schipani claims it shielded the Residence from the government's subsequent liens against Donohoe's interests in real property. She also claims the government failed to timely perfect its liens against Donohoe, so even if the liens could have attached to the Family Trust's real estate holdings, they did not. The government, on the other hand, claims Donohoe retained an interest in the Residence despite the transfer to the Family Trust, so, when it subsequently acquired liens against all of Donohoe's interests in real property, those liens attached to his interest in the Residence notwithstanding that it was held in trust. That those liens were not timely perfected, says the government, has no impact upon this case.

         The full factual backdrop to this proceeding can be summarized rather briefly:

- As noted above, in 1999, Donohoe and Schipani transferred the Residence into the Family Trust;
- In 2002 and 2003, Donohoe failed to pay federal income taxes;
- In June of 2006, the government erroneously recorded a Notice of Federal Tax Lien against Donohoe in the amount of $194, 314.57 (that assessment was in error and led to the “reassessment” listed below).
- On November 6, 2006, and again on January 1, 2007, the government gave Donohoe notice that it had assessed the unpaid taxes and, therefore, tax liens arose against all of Donohoe's interests in real property (the government did not, however, record that notice);
- On January 30, 2008, Schipani filed for divorce, noting that the Residence was subject to a substantial tax lien (perhaps referencing the lien the government recorded in error);
- On June 4, 2008, the government recorded another (seemingly erroneous) Notice of Federal Tax Lien, this time in the amount of $188, 468.60 and against “The Andrew J Donohoe & Donna Schipani-Donohoe Realty Trust of 1999, Nominee of Andrew J Donohoe” (the “Realty ...

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