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Seventh Circuit Denounces "Sovereign Citizen" Claims in Otherwise Routine Denial of Frivolous Suit

by Lonnie Burton

John Jones Bey sued the State of Indiana and county officials to enjoin them from taxing property he owns in Marion County, Indiana. He also sought a refund of past taxes he paid and asked to be compensated for alleged wrongs committed against him by the State. He claimed he was an "Aboriginal Indigenous Moorish American," and that as such he was a sovereign citizen immune from taxes. Bey asked an Indiana federal court to award him $11.5 billion in damages.

His case was quickly dismissed by the district court on summary judgment for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and Bey appealed. Instead of summarily affirming the dismissal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit took the unusual step of explaining the Moorish movement in order to relieve other courts of the burden of "having to delve into the history of every particular organization" making a claim under the "sovereign-citizen movement."

The court noted that even the Moorish Science Temple of America has issued a statement clarifying that its organization is neither a sovereign citizen or tax protestor movement, and was not founded for its members to become "anarchists or conspiracy theorists."

The appellate court detailed how many sovereign citizen organizations believe that whenever a person's name is spelled in capital letters on a government document, the name identifies not the individual but a "corporate shell identity," or a "straw man" controlled by the government.

The court said that Bey's argument that the government has no jurisdiction over him due to 18th century treaties and thus he has no obligation to pay taxes to be "without any basis in fact." Bey "does not explain how it entitles him to an $11.5 billion refund from the State of Indiana."

"We emphasize, in the hope of staving off future such frivolous litigation," the court wrote, that Bey "is not a sovereign citizen. He is a U.S. citizen ... and has no immunity from U.S. law. His suit is frivolous and therefore was properly dismissed; he was lucky to be spared sanctions for filing such a suit." See:Bey v. Indiana, No. 16-1589 (7th Cir. 2017).

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Related legal case

Bey v. Indiana