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United States v. Steele

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 17, 2019

SPENCER J. STEELE; JAY SORDEAN as the successor trustee of THE DESERT LAKE TRUST CREATED ON OCTOBER 1, 2005; and STEWART TITLE COMPANY as the successor in interest to STEWART TITLE OF DOUGLAS COUNTY, Defendants.



         I. SUMMARY

         Plaintiff United States of America (“Government”) brought this action seeking federal tax assessment judgment against Defendant Spencer J. Steele (“Steele”) and to foreclose federal tax liens against real property located at 1883 Genoa St., Gardnerville, NV 89410, Assessors Parcel No. 1022-29-201-012 (“Property”). The Court entered judgment in favor of the Government on June 7, 2019 (“Judgment”). (ECF Nos. 60, 61.) Before the Court is the Government's motion for entry of order of sale with an accompanying proposed order of sale. (ECF Nos. 67, 67-1.) Steele filed a response, which the Court deems a motion to stay the sale pending Steele's appeal of the Judgment. (ECF No. 69.)[1] The Government has not replied. The Court will deny Steele's motion to stay and grant the Government's motion for entry of order of sale. However, the Court defers signing the proposed order until the Court is assured that the order reflects the correct property address.[2]

         II. MOTION TO STAY (ECF NO. 69)

         A district court has discretionary power to stay proceedings in its own court. Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936); see also Lockyer v. Mirant Corp., 398 F.3d 1098, 1109 (9th Cir. 2005). In the context of a stay pending appeal, the Court considers “four factors: ‘(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.'” Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 434 (2009) (quoting Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 776 (1987)). “The first two factors of the traditional standard are the most critical.” Id.

         The Ninth Circuit employs a sliding scale in applying these factors whereby “the elements of the . . . test are balanced, so that a stronger showing of one element may offset a weaker showing of another.” Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1131 (9th Cir. 2011); see also Leiva-Perez v. Holder, 640 F.3d 962, 964-66 (9th Cir. 2011) (noting that the sliding scale of preliminary injunctions is “essentially the same” as the test used in the stay context and holding the approach remains applicable following Nken). Under this sliding scale approach, “the required degree of irreparable harm increases as the probability of success decreases.” Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Winter, 502 F.3d 859, 862 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Here, in the motion to stay Steele makes no contention concerning likelihood of success on the merits, aside from supposing that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could rule differently than this Court. (See generally ECF No. 69.) Nor does Steele address the public interest prong, although he contends that delaying the sale “would be in the best /// interests of all parties.” (See Id. at 3.) Steele only makes argument regarding harm/injury as to himself, the government, certificate holders of the Desert Lake Trust (“DLT”), and purchaser(s) of the Property. (Id.) Steele's arguments regarding potential harm absent a stay of the sale are therefore insufficient to meet the applicable standard to warrant a stay of the sale.


         The Court grants the motion for entry of sale (ECF No. 67) in light of its Judgment in favor of the Government which is grounded on the Court's determination that the Government is entitled to collect on Steele's tax liabilities by enforcing its tax liens against the Property. (ECF No. 60 at 20.)

         The Government's motion specifically seeks to have this Court order sale of the Property under 26 U.S.C. §§ 7402 and 7403(a). Section 7402 provides that a court may issue “writs and orders of injunction, and of ne exeat republica, orders appointing receivers, and such other orders and processes, and to render such judgments and decrees as may be necessary or appropriate for the enforcement of the internal revenue laws.” 26 U.S.C § 7402(a). Section 7403 “affords district courts limited equitable discretion in determining whether to order the sale of property to satisfy delinquent tax liabilities.” United States v. Gibson, 817 F.2d 1406, 1407 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing United States v. Rodgers, 461 U.S. 677, 680 (1983)). In exercising such limited discretion, the Court considers “both the government's interest in prompt and certain collection of delinquent taxes and the possibility that innocent third parties will be unduly harmed by that effort.” Id.

[Discretion is almost always limited to the consideration of four factors when the independent interests of third parties are involved . . . The four factors which a court may consider are: (1) the extent to which the government's financial interests would be prejudiced if it were relegated to a forced sale of the taxpayer's partial interest, (2) whether the third party with a nonliable separate interest in the property has a legally recognized expectation that his or her separate property will not be subject to a forced sale by the taxpayer's creditors, (3) the likely prejudice to the third party, both in personal dislocation costs and practical undercompensation, and (4) the relative character and value of the interests held in the property.

Id. at 1407-08.

         As indicated, Steele relevantly only argues that undue harm will result to innocent third parties -those noted above-from a sale of the Property before decision on Steele's appeal. (ECF No. 69 at 3.) The Court disagrees.

         As an initial matter, the Government assumes any likely harm to itself from moving forward with the sale, by its very election to do so. Moreover, the Government is not a third party. Steele next argues that he is an innocent “third party” that would be harmed in his capacity as the leaseholder on the Property because the leasehold would be terminated if the Property was sold. (Id.) Like the Government, Steele is not a third party. Further, while the Court acknowledges that Steele will likely be harmed, by for example being displaced from the Property, intrinsic to the Court's Judgment was the conclusion that Steele is not innocent in the considerations of this matter. In addition, certificate holders of the DLT, which the Court has concluded is a sham trust (ECF No. 60 at 17-19), would presumably be compensated should the appellate court find to the contrary and the Property was already sold to a third party. Finally, a potential buyer has no current interest in the Property of which the Court may be concerned in deciding whether to grant the Government's motion. To the extent that potential buyers could be harmed by purchasing the Property pending Steele's appeal, the ...

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