Griffith v. United States , 174 F.3d 1222 ( 1999 )


Menu:
  •                                   IN RE: Leroy Charles GRIFFITH, Debtor.
    
                                      Leroy Charles Griffith, Plaintiff-Appellant,
    
                                                           v.
    
                                  United States of America, Defendant-Appellee.
    
                                                     No. 97-4845.
    
                                           United States Court of Appeals,
    
                                                   Eleventh Circuit.
    
                                                   March 24, 2000.
    
    Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. (No. 94-0147-CV-LCN),
    Lenore C. Nesbitt, Judge.
    
    Before ANDERSON, Chief Judge, and TJOFLAT, EDMONDSON, COX, BIRCH, DUBINA, BLACK,
    CARNES, BARKETT, HULL, MARCUS and WILSON, Circuit Judges.
    
            BIRCH, Circuit Judge:
    
            This appeal requires us to determine the scope of nondischargeability of tax debts under 11 U.S.C.
    
    § 523(a)(1)(C). Specifically, we requested the parties in this case to address the question of whether §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) renders a tax debt nondischargeable in bankruptcy where the debtor has willfully attempted in
    
    any manner to evade or defeat the payment of a tax but has not in any manner willfully attempted to evade
    
    or defeat the assessment of a tax. Because we find that § 523(a)(1)(C) does render nondischargeable tax debts
    
    where the debtor has willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat the payment of a tax and because
    
    the bankruptcy and district courts did not clearly err in finding that Debtor Leroy Charles Griffith's actions
    
    constituted a willful attempt to evade or defeat the payment of a tax, we AFFIRM the finding that Griffith's
    
    tax debts are nondischargeable.
    
                                                    I. Background
    
            We adopt and reiterate the factual background as written by the panel that originally heard this case:
    
            Plaintiff-appellant Leroy Charles Griffith ("Griffith") has long been the sole owner of several
    
    corporations primarily involved in the adult entertainment industry. These corporations included, among
    others, Gayety Theaters, Inc. ("Gayety"), Ell Gee, Inc., and Paris Follies, Inc. As subchapter S corporations,
    
    the income and deductions pass through to the shareholders, so Griffith's personal income tax returns reflect
    
    the performance of his corporations. An IRS audit revealed that Griffith had substantially underpaid his taxes
    
    for the years 1969, 1970, 1972-1976, and 1978. Griffith petitioned the Tax Court for a reconsideration of
    
    the amount owed. In a detailed opinion issued in September of 1988, the Tax Court found that Griffith had
    
    indeed underpaid his taxes, but did not impose fraud penalties because the government's evidence with respect
    
    to fraud did not satisfy the clear and convincing burden of proof. See Griffith v. Commissioner, 56 T.C.M.
    
    (CCH) 220 (1988), modified, 
    56 T.C.M. 1263
     (1989). With interest, the amount of taxes owed at the
    
    time that Griffith filed for bankruptcy in this case was close to $2,000,000. See In re Griffith, 
    161 B.R. 727
    ,
    
    730 (Bankr.S.D.Fla.1993), aff'd, 
    210 B.R. 216
     (S.D.Fla.1997), rev'd, 
    174 F.3d 1222
     (11th Cir.), vacated and
    
    reh'g en banc granted, 
    182 F.3d 1297
     (11th Cir.1999).
    
            Less than a month after the Tax Court issued its decision, on October 10, 1988, NuWave, Inc., was
    
    incorporated, with Griffith's long-time live-in girlfriend, Linda, as sole shareholder. On June 8, 1989, Linda
    
    and Griffith married, and Griffith signed an antenuptial agreement in which he transferred all of his stock in
    
    Gayety, Ell Gee, and Paris Follies to Linda and himself as tenants in the entirety, along with $390,000 in
    
    promissory notes. Assets from another corporation that he owned were transferred to NuWave, Inc. The IRS
    
    made an assessment against Griffith on September 28, 1989. However, the assets transferred pursuant to the
    
    antenuptial agreement were insulated from being levied upon because assets held by tenants in the entirety
    
    cannot be levied upon without a judgment against both owners. Additionally, Griffith no longer had any
    
    ownership interest in those assets transferred to NuWave, Inc.
    
            On January 15, 1993, Griffith filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, as well as a complaint to
    
    determine the dischargeability of his tax debts.          The government argued that the tax debts were
    
    nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C), which prohibits discharge of taxes "with respect to which
    
    the debtor made a fraudulent return or willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat such tax." The
    
    
    
                                                          2
    bankruptcy court agreed. Although there was no evasion with respect to the assessment of the tax, the
    
    bankruptcy court, looking to the "badges of fraud," found that Griffith's conduct occurring after the Tax Court
    
    issued its decision amounted to a willful attempt to evade or defeat the payment of the tax debt. See In re
    
    Griffith, 161 B.R. at 733-34. The court specifically rejected Griffith's argument that §§ 523(a)(1)(C) applies
    
    only to conduct constituting evasion of the assessment of a tax; the court held that the phrase "in any manner"
    
    was sufficiently broad to include conduct constituting evasion of the payment of a tax. See id. at 732-33.
    
            Subsequent to the bankruptcy court's decision, we decided In re Haas, 
    48 F.3d 1153
     (11th Cir.1995).
    
    Haas had filed accurate tax returns, but had not paid the taxes due; instead, he used his income to pay
    
    business and personal debts. Upon filing for bankruptcy, he sought discharge of the tax debts, which the
    
    government opposed on the basis of § 523(a)(1)(C). Noting the "fresh start" policy underlying the bankruptcy
    
    laws, the Haas panel found that a literal reading of the statute, including the broad phrase "in any manner,"
    
    would conflict with the goals of bankruptcy. See id. at 1156. Thus, the panel looked to provisions of the
    
    Internal Revenue Code ("I.R.C.") and found that they referred to "willfully attempting in any manner to evade
    
    or defeat any tax or the payment thereof." See id. (quoting 26 U.S.C. § 6531(2)) (emphasis added); see also
    
    id. (quoting 26 U.S.C. §§ 6653, 6672, & 7201, which contain the identical language as that emphasized in
    
    the above quote). The panel relied on the absence of the phrase "or the payment thereof" from § 523(a)(1)(C)
    
    to conclude that the provision precludes discharge when the debtor "willfully attempted ... to evade or defeat"
    
    the tax at the assessment stage, but does not preclude discharge when there has been such evasion at the
    
    payment stage. See id. at 1159. Thus, Haas' debt was dischargeable.
    
            Griffith appealed the bankruptcy court's decision in the instant case to the district court, relying
    
    heavily on the intervening decision in Haas. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court's decision. See
    
    In re Griffith, 
    210 B.R. 216
    , 220 (S.D.Fla.1997), rev'd, 
    174 F.3d 1222
     (11th Cir.), vacated and reh'g en banc
    
    granted, 
    182 F.3d 1297
     (11th Cir.1999). In so doing, it distinguished Haas. The district court found that,
    
    unlike Haas, Griffith had done more than simply pay other debts before paying his back taxes; Griffith had
    
    
    
                                                          3
    engaged in a fraudulent transfer of assets in order to prevent collection of his tax debt. See id. at 219. Griffith
    
    appealed to this court.1
    
                                                     II. Discussion
    
              This case requires us to interpret § 523(a)(1)(C), which states that:
    
    (a)       A discharge under section 727, 1141, 1228(a), 1228(b), or 1328(b) of this title does not discharge an
              individual debtor from any debt—
    
    (1)       for a tax or customs duty—
    
                      ...
    
    (C)       with respect to which the debtor made a fraudulent return or willfully attempted in any manner to
              evade or defeat such tax....
    
    We do not conduct this enterprise against an empty slate. Several courts, including this court in Haas, have
    
    addressed the application of § 523(a)(1)(C) to persons who failed to pay their tax debts before entering
    
    bankruptcy. While most of the courts that have addressed this issue agree with our primary holding in Haas
    
    "that a debtor's failure to pay his taxes, alone, does not fall within the scope of section 523(a)(1)(C)'s
    
    exception to discharge in bankruptcy," 48 F.3d at 1158, our second holding, that "the phrase 'attempt[s] in
    
    any manner to evade or defeat such tax' does not imply attempts to evade or defeat payment thereof," id. at
    
    1159 (alteration in original), has been more controversial. See, e.g., In re Fegeley, 
    118 F.3d 979
    , 983 (3d
    
    Cir.1997) (accepting first holding from Haas but finding that nonpayment of taxes is relevant to the question
    
    of whether tax debts are nondischargeable under § 523(a)(1)(C)); In re Birkenstock, 
    87 F.3d 947
    , 951-52 (7th
    
    Cir.1996) (accepting first holding from Haas but holding that "where nonpayment is coupled with a pattern
    
    of failing to file tax returns or where a defendant takes other measures to conceal assets or income from the
    
    IRS, a court may reasonably find that the debtor sought to 'evade or defeat' his tax liabilities") (citations
    
    omitted); Dalton v. IRS, 
    77 F.3d 1297
    , 1301 (10th Cir.1996) (accepting first holding from Haas but finding
    
    
    
    
          1
        The panel rejected Griffith's contention that the bankruptcy court abused its discretion in allowing the
    government to amend to assert specifically its § 523(a)(1)(C) counterclaim. We reaffirm that holding.
    
                                                            4
    that "any statutory interpretation of 'evade and defeat' which relieves the dishonest debtor who conceals assets
    
    to avoid the payment or collection of taxes, but which penalizes the same dishonesty to avoid assessment,
    
    would be an absurd result"); see also In re Tudisco, 
    183 F.3d 133
    , 137 (2d Cir.1999) (refusing to pass on
    
    question of whether mere nonpayment is sufficient to render tax debts nondischargeable under § 523(a)(1)(C)
    
    but, instead, finding that the fact that the debtor had "engaged in more than 'mere nonpayment' " meant that
    
    he had attempted to evade or defeat his taxes). But see In re Bruner, 
    55 F.3d 195
    , 200 (5th Cir.1995)
    
    (rejecting both holdings of Haas ). Because we find that § 523(a)(1)(C) renders nondischargeable tax debts
    
    where the debtor willfully attempted to evade or defeat payment of taxes and because we find that the
    
    bankruptcy court did not err in finding that Griffith had willfully attempted to evade payment of his taxes,
    
    we affirm the district court's affirmance of the bankruptcy court's finding of nondischargeability.
    
    A.         Statutory Interpretation
    
               Interpretation of a statute begins "with the language of the statute itself." United States v. Ron Pair
    
    Enters., 
    489 U.S. 235
    , 241, 
    109 S. Ct. 1026
    , 1030, 
    103 L. Ed. 2d 290
     (1989). As a general rule, if the language
    
    of the statute is plain, then our interpretative function ceases and we should " 'enforce [the statute] according
    
    to its terms.' " Id. (quoting Caminetti v. United States, 
    242 U.S. 470
    , 485, 
    37 S. Ct. 192
    , 194, 
    61 L. Ed. 442
    
    (1917)).
    
               In interpreting the language of a statute, we generally give "the 'words used' their 'ordinary meaning.'
    
    " Moskal v. United States, 
    498 U.S. 103
    , 108, 
    111 S. Ct. 461
    , 465, 
    112 L. Ed. 2d 449
     (1990) (quoting Richards
    
    v. United States, 
    369 U.S. 1
    , 9, 
    82 S. Ct. 585
    , 591, 
    7 L. Ed. 2d 492
     (1962)). We also use interpretative tools,
    
    the "canons of construction," which "are no more than rules of thumb that help courts determine the meaning
    
    of legislation." Connecticut Nat'l Bank v. Germain, 
    503 U.S. 249
    , 253, 
    112 S. Ct. 1146
    , 1149, 
    117 L. Ed. 2d 391
     (1992). Among these canons of construction are the principles "that Congress is presumed to be aware
    
    of judicial interpretations of a statute," NLRB v. Bildisco & Bildisco, 
    465 U.S. 513
    , 524, 
    104 S. Ct. 1188
    , 1195,
    
    
    79 L. Ed. 2d 482
     (1984), superseded by statute on other grounds, 11 U.S.C. § 1113 (1984), that "courts should
    
    
    
                                                             5
    disfavor interpretations of statutes that render language superfluous," Connecticut Nat'l Bank, 503 U.S. at
    
    253, 112 S.Ct. at 1149, and that "[w]e assume that Congress is aware of existing law when it passes
    
    legislation," Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 
    498 U.S. 19
    , 32, 
    111 S. Ct. 317
    , 325, 
    112 L. Ed. 2d 275
     (1990).
    
    "Legislative history can be a legitimate guide to a statutory purpose obscured by ambiguity." Burlington N.
    
    R.R. Co. v. Oklahoma Tax Comm., 
    481 U.S. 454
    , 461, 
    107 S. Ct. 1855
    , 1860, 
    95 L. Ed. 2d 404
     (1987).
    
             The Government, focusing on the clause "in any manner," argues that the plain language of §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) renders nondischargeable tax debts where the debtor willfully attempts to avoid either
    
    assessment or collection of a tax. We "generally construe the statutory exceptions to discharge in bankruptcy
    
    'liberally in favor of the debtor' " in order to "ensure[ ] that the 'honest but unfortunate debtor' is afforded a
    
    fresh start." In re Miller, 
    39 F.3d 301
    , 304 (11th Cir.1994) (quoting, respectively, In re Tully, 
    818 F.2d 106
    ,
    
    110 (1st Cir.1987) and Birmingham Trust Nat'l Bank v. Case, 
    755 F.2d 1474
    , 1477 (11th Cir.1985),
    
    superseded on other grounds by Pub L. No. 98-353, 98 Stat. 333 (1984)). As we discussed in Haas, however,
    
    the broadest possible reading of § 523(a)(1)(C), i.e., that a tax debt is nondischargeable whenever "a debtor
    
    had both an awareness of his duty to pay his taxes and the present ability to pay them but nonetheless failed
    
    to satisfy that duty," would render virtually all tax debts nondischargeable. 48 F.3d at 1155. To read §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) to render tax debts nondischargeable in cases, like Haas, where the debtor merely failed to pay
    
    his taxes would extinguish the general rule in favor of dischargeability of tax debts. Thus, we reaffirm our
    
    first holding from Haas that mere nonpayment of taxes is insufficient to establish the exception found in §
    
    523(a)(1)(C). See id. at 1158.
    
             We turn to the question of whether § 523(a)(1)(C) applies to a willful attempt to evade or defeat
    
    collection of taxes where the debtor engaged in affirmative acts other than mere nonpayment of the taxes.
    
    Our conclusion in Haas that § 523(a)(1)(C) does not apply to attempts to evade or defeat collection of taxes
    
    was premised, in part, on the phrasing of § 523(a)(1)(C) as compared with four provisions of the Internal
    
    Revenue Code. Unlike § 523(a)(1)(C), which never mentions either "collection" or "payment," these four
    
    
    
                                                            6
    provisions each address willful attempts "in any manner to evade or defeat any tax or the payment thereof."
    
    I.R.C. § 6531(2) (emphasis added); see also I.R.C. §§ 6653(2), 6672(a), 7201. Applying the canons of
    
    interpretation that Congress is presumed to know the content of existing, relevant law, Haas, 48 F.3d at 1157,
    
    and that, "[w]here Congress knows how to say something but chooses not to, its silence is controlling," id.
    
    at 1156, we held that Congress must have consciously chosen not to include the language "or the payment
    
    thereof" in § 523(a)(1)(C), id. at 1157. In reaching this conclusion, we acknowledged that, because §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) is part of a separate statute and title than the I.R.C., where these other provisions are found, these
    
    canons of construction are somewhat weaker, but we found that, in light of the prominence of I.R.C. § 7201,
    
    we could presume that Congress was aware of the language in § 7201 but consciously chose not to mirror it.
    
    Id. at 1157.2
    
              While we believe that the application of the canons of construction produced a plausible
    
    interpretation of § 523(a)(1)(C) in Haas, we now conclude that the more reasonable interpretation of §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) is that it renders nondischargeable tax debts where the debtor engaged in affirmative acts
    
    
          2
            One possibility not addressed by either party is that the language in I.R.C. § 7201 reflects the
    relationship between I.R.C. § 7201, which makes it a felony for "[a]ny person [to] willfully attempt[ ] in any
    manner to evade or defeat any tax imposed by this title or the payment thereof," and I.R.C. § 7203, which
    makes it a misdemeanor for "[a]ny person required under this title to pay any estimated tax or tax ... [to]
    willfully fail[ ] to pay such estimated tax or tax...." The Supreme Court, addressing the predecessor statutes
    to §§ 7201 and 7203, noted that there was not a bright line between the conduct covered by the two statutory
    provisions. See Spies v. United States, 
    317 U.S. 492
    , 497, 
    63 S. Ct. 364
    , 367, 
    87 L. Ed. 418
     (1943) ("The
    difference between willful failure to pay a tax when due, which is made a misdemeanor, and willful attempt
    to defeat and evade one, which is made a felony, is not easy to detect or define."). By including the language
    "or the payment thereof" in § 7201, Congress ensured that courts would not incorrectly create a sharp
    demarcation between the conduct covered by § 7201 (i.e., failure to pay a tax) and the conduct covered by
    § 7203 (i.e., evasion of a tax, whether by evasion of assessment or collection), but, instead, would use a more
    subtle distinction to determine whether failure to pay constituted a misdemeanor, a felony, or neither. See
    id. at 499, 
    63 S. Ct. 364
     ("Willful but passive neglect of the statutory duty may constitute the lesser offense,
    but to combine with it a willful and positive attempt to evade tax in any manner or to defeat it by any means
    lifts the offense to the degree of felony."); see also Sansone v. United States, 
    380 U.S. 343
    , 351, 
    85 S. Ct. 1004
    , 1010, 
    13 L. Ed. 2d 882
     (1965) (applying Spies to §§ 7201 and 7203). In contrast to the I.R.C., there is
    no provision like § 7203 in the bankruptcy code and, thus, Congress may have deemed it less necessary to
    include the language "or the payment thereof" in § 523(a)(1)(C). See also In re Toti, 
    24 F.3d 806
    , 808-09
    (6th Cir.1994) (rejecting claim that § 523(a)(1)(C) only applies to behavior covered by § 7201 and finding
    that § 523(a)(1)(C) renders nondischargeable tax debts where debtor was convicted under § 7203).
    
                                                            7
    seeking to evade or defeat collection of taxes. This interpretation accords well with the interests that
    
    Congress was attempting to balance in enacting the predecessor statute to § 523(a)(1)(C): to permit "an
    
    honest but financially unfortunate debtor [to make] a fresh start unburdened by what may be an overwhelming
    
    liability for accumulated taxes," while avoiding the creation of "a tax evasion device." S.Rep. No. 89-1158
    
    (1966), reprinted at 1966 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2468. As the Tenth Circuit recognized, an interpretation of §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) that permits a debtor to engage in affirmative behavior in order to evade collection of taxes
    
    serves neither of those purposes, but, instead, advantages dishonest debtors. See Dalton, 77 F.3d at 1301.
    
            Principles of statutory interpretation also support our conclusion that § 523(a)(1)(C) renders
    
    nondischargeable tax debts where the debtor engaged in affirmative acts seeking to evade payment of taxes.
    
    As other courts have noted, interpreting § 523(a)(1)(C) so that it does not apply to attempts to evade payment
    
    of taxes would mean that the phrase "willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat taxes" would only
    
    apply to persons who filed a fraudulent return. See id. at 1301 & n. 4; In re Jones, 
    116 B.R. 810
    , 815 & n.
    
    1 (Bankr.D.Kan.1990) (noting that, because nondischargeability of tax debts due to failure to file a tax return
    
    is covered by § 523(a)(1)(B)(i), "this court is hard-pressed to conceive how a debtor might willfully attempt
    
    to evade or defeat a tax without also filing a fraudulent return"). Such an interpretation, however, would
    
    render the phrase "willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat taxes" superfluous because §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) expressly renders nondischargeable tax debts where the debtor filed a fraudulent tax return. See
    
    Dalton, 77 F.3d at 1301;       Jones, 116 B.R. at 815.      Thus, concluding that § 523(a)(1)(C) renders
    
    nondischargeable willful attempts to evade or defeat payment of taxes conforms with the principle that we
    
    "disfavor interpretations of statutes that render language superfluous," Connecticut Nat'l Bank, 503 U.S. at
    
    253, 112 S.Ct. at 1149; see also In re Gilder, 
    122 B.R. 593
    , 595 (Bankr.M.D.Fla.1990) (noting that prongs
    
    of § 523(a)(1)(C) should be "read in the disjunctive"). Finally, we note that courts have traditionally been
    
    reluctant to limit the means by which a taxpayer may "willfully attempt in any manner to evade or defeat"
    
    taxes. See Spies, 317 U.S. at 499, 63 S.Ct. at 368 ("Congress did not define or limit the methods by which
    
    
    
                                                          8
    a willful attempt to defeat and evade might be accomplished and perhaps did not define lest its effort to do
    
    so result in some unexplained limitation. Nor would we by definition constrict the scope of the Congressional
    
    provision that it may be accomplished 'in any manner'."); see also Dalton, 77 F.3d at 1301 (applying Spies
    
    to interpretation of § 523(a)(1)(C)); Toti, 24 F.3d at 809 (finding that "willfully attempted to evade" taxes
    
    includes "voluntary, conscious, and intentional evasions of tax liabilities," including conscious failure to file
    
    a return and to pay taxes).
    
             Accordingly, while we reaffirm the primary holding of Haas that mere nonpayment of taxes, without
    
    more, does not constitute a willful attempt to evade or defeat taxes under § 523(a)(1)(C), we hold that §
    
    523(a)(1)(C) does render nondischargeable tax debts where the debtor engaged in affirmative acts constituting
    
    a willful attempt to evade or defeat payment of taxes.
    
    B.       Application
    
             In light of our conclusion that § 523(a)(1)(C) does apply to debtors who willfully attempt to evade
    
    or defeat payment of taxes, we must address the question of whether Griffith's actions constitute a willful
    
    attempt to evade or defeat his taxes. The Government bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the
    
    evidence, that a particular claim is nondischargeable under § 523(a). See Grogan v. Garner, 
    498 U.S. 279
    ,
    
    287-88, 
    111 S. Ct. 654
    , 659-60, 
    112 L. Ed. 2d 755
     (1991). The willful attempt to evade prong of 523(a)(1)(C)
    
    includes "both a conduct requirement (that the debtor sought 'in any manner to evade or defeat' his tax
    
    liability) and a mental state requirement (that the debtor did so 'willfully')." Birkenstock, 87 F.3d at 951
    
    (quoting § 523(a)(1)(C)). It is undisputed that Griffith engaged in intra-family transfers of property for little
    
    to no consideration.3 In light of our holding in this case, we find that the district court did not err in affirming
    
    the bankruptcy court's finding that Griffith had engaged in conduct covered by § 523(a)(1)(C). See id. at 952
    
    (affirming bankruptcy court's finding of an attempt to evade taxes where debtors transferred property into
    
    
    
    
         3
       The bankruptcy court also noted that Griffith engaged in "personal-corporate commingling of funds" but
    considered that only as evidence of Griffith's intent to evade his tax liability. Griffith, 161 B.R. at 733.
    
                                                             9
    trust for no consideration while still maintaining control over the property); Dalton, 77 F.3d at 1303 (finding
    
    that transfer of property to betrothed for insufficient consideration with knowledge of tax investigation
    
    supported finding of willful attempt to evade or defeat taxes); In re Sternberg, 
    229 B.R. 238
    , 248
    
    (S.D.Fla.1998) (finding that transfer of property to wife for little consideration while maintaining control over
    
    the property constituted a willful attempt to evade or defeat taxes); Jones, 116 B.R. at 815 (finding that
    
    transfer of property to others constituted an attempt to evade or defeat taxes).
    
             Several other courts use a three-prong test to determine whether a debtor's failure to pay his tax
    
    liability was willful under § 523(a)(1)(C): whether "(1) the debtor had a duty under the law, (2) the debtor
    
    knew he had that duty, and (3) the debtor voluntarily and intentionally violated that duty." Bruner, 55 F.3d
    
    at 197; see also Birkenstock, 87 F.3d at 952 (stating same test as two prongs).4 Applying this test, we find
    
    that the district court did not err in affirming the bankruptcy court's finding of willfulness. It is undisputed
    
    that Griffith had a duty under the law to pay taxes and that Griffith knew that he had that duty. On the issue
    
    of whether Griffith voluntarily and intentionally violated that duty, the bankruptcy court, in addition to noting
    
    that both Griffith and his wife Linda were "evasive and lacked that ring of forthrightness reflective of an open
    
    and credible witness," Griffith, 161 B.R. at 734, looked to the traditional "badges of fraud" to determine that
    
    Griffith's conduct constituted a willful attempt to evade his tax obligations, id. at 733. The bankruptcy court's
    
    finding that Griffith's transfer of property to Linda implicated several badges of fraud, including being "an
    
    exchange to a family member, during a period of serious financial difficulty, for inadequate consideration,"
    
    id. at 734, is not clearly erroneous. These findings are sufficient to justify a finding of fraud and, thus, to
    
    support the finding that Griffith's conduct was willful. See Sternberg, 229 B.R. at 246 ("While a single badge
    
    
       4
         We note that the fact that Tax Court found that the Government had not proved that Griffith had engaged
    in fraud, see Griffith v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 
    56 T.C.M. 220
    , modified, 56 T.C.M.
    (CCH) 1263 (1989), does not bar the bankruptcy court's finding of willfulness in this case. Unlike in the
    bankruptcy case, where the Government's burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence, the Government's
    burden of proof as to the fraud claims in the Tax Court was the clear and convincing evidence standard. See
    id. Additionally, the Tax Court's analysis does not address Griffith's transfers of property to Linda or other
    actions taken by Griffith post-assessment of the taxes at issue in this case. See id.
    
                                                           10
    of fraud may amount to only a suspicious circumstance, a combination of them will justify a finding of
    
    fraud.").
    
                                                 III. Conclusion
    
            We AFFIRM the district court's order affirming the bankruptcy court's determination that Griffith's
    
    tax debts are nondischargeable under § 523(a)(1)(C).
    
    
    
    
                                                       11
    

Document Info

DocketNumber: 97-4845

Citation Numbers: 174 F.3d 1222

Filed Date: 5/11/1999

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 3/3/2016

Authorities (28)

Matter of Bruner , 55 F.3d 195 ( 1995 )

Griffith v. United States , 174 F.3d 1222 ( 1999 )

Caminetti v. United States , 242 U.S. 470 ( 1917 )

Spies v. United States , 317 U.S. 492 ( 1943 )

Richards v. United States , 369 U.S. 1 ( 1962 )

Sansone v. United States , 380 U.S. 343 ( 1965 )

NLRB v. Bildisco & Bildisco , 465 U.S. 513 ( 1984 )

Burlington No. R. Co. v. Okla. Tax Comm'n , 481 U.S. 454 ( 1987 )

United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc. , 489 U.S. 235 ( 1989 )

Miles v. Apex Marine Corp. , 498 U.S. 19 ( 1990 )

Moskal v. United States , 498 U.S. 103 ( 1990 )

Grogan v. Garner , 498 U.S. 279 ( 1991 )

Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain , 503 U.S. 249 ( 1992 )

12 Collier bankr.cas.2d 630, Bankr. L. Rep. P 70,339 ... , 755 F.2d 1474 ( 1985 )

Bankr. L. Rep. P 71,787 in Re John E. Tully, Debtor. Henry ... , 818 F.2d 106 ( 1987 )

In Re Edward W. Toti, Debtor. Edward W. Toti v. United ... , 24 F.3d 806 ( 1994 )

In Re Arthur R. Miller and Janet E. Miller, Debtors. ... , 39 F.3d 301 ( 1994 )

in-re-bernice-elizabeth-haas-thomas-milton-haas-debtors-thomas-milton , 48 F.3d 1153 ( 1995 )

Eugene Dalton v. Internal Revenue Service , 77 F.3d 1297 ( 1996 )

In the Matter of Joseph J. Birkenstock and Generose M. ... , 87 F.3d 947 ( 1996 )

View All Authorities »