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Lois Lerner Dismissed From Lawsuit

DALLAS (CN) - A federal judge Tuesday dismissed former IRS official Lois Lerner from a Republican-affiliated group's lawsuit accusing her of targeting conservative groups, for lack of personal jurisdiction over her.

Dallas-based Freedom Path sued the IRS and Lois G. Lerner, the former director of its Exempt Organizations Division, in April 2014. It claimed that its application for tax-exempt status was illegally targeted for "additional and unconstitutional scrutiny " because of its conservative policies.

As a 501(c)(4) "issue advocacy" group, Freedom Path can raise unlimited amounts of tax-exempt money and need not disclose its donors. It has ties to the Republican Senatorial Committee, former Nevada Senator John Ensign and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and their staff members or former staffers, according to factcheck.org.

As early as February 2010, the IRS began identifying for scrutiny tax-exempt applications from groups with names including terms such as "Tea Party" and "Patriots," the complaint stated.

Freedom Path said the criteria were expanded to target organizations with policy positions focused on government spending and constitutional education. Public outcry and congressional criticism was furious. Lerner was placed on administrative leave in May 2013.

Freedom Path claimed the IRS tried to force it to disclose donor identities and other information unnecessary to its application.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater dismissed Lerner from the lawsuit. He concluded that Freedom Path did not claim Lerner took any actions in Texas that are relevant to the lawsuit, or that she directed any actions in Texas.

"In fact, Freedom Path does not even allege that Lerner had any personal involvement with its application for tax-exempt status or was even aware of the application," the 32-page opinion states. "The fact that a federal official has supervisory responsibilities over an office in the forum state is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over that official."

Lerner had argued her dismissal from the lawsuit "is the only result" that complies with due process and Texas law. She clamed that Freedom Path failed to overcome her qualified immunity because it failed to show she violated any " clearly established " constitutional right.

"The First and Fifth Amendment claims in the complaint fail to trump Ms. Lerner's qualified immunity for at least four reasons," Lerner's September 2014 motion to dismiss stated.

"First, plaintiff has not alleged that Ms. Lerner purposely and personally infringed on plaintiff's First and Fifth Amendment rights. Second, plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege a First Amendment violation. Third, plaintiff failed to adequately allege a Fifth Amendment violation. Finally, plaintiff failed to allege conduct that a reasonable person would know clearly violated plaintiff's constitutional rights."

Fitzwater also granted the federal government's requests to dismiss several of Freedom Path's claims against the IRS' related revenue rulings, finding the group failed to plead a plausible injury that is needed to establish constitutional standing. Fitzwater refused to dismiss Freedom Path's request for an injunction, finding that it does not restrain the assessment or collection of any tax.

IRS officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Follow @davejourno
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