A California Tea Party group has become the first to sue the Internal Revenue Service over the targeting of conservative groups.


The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots alleges that the IRS violated the constitutional rights of the group by applying "intensive and intrusive scrutiny" when they applied for tax-exempt status. 

“NorCal and its members suffered years of delay and expense while awaiting the exemption and spending valuable time and money answering the IRS' questions. The result was a muffling and muzzling of free expression,” the group claims in their suit, according to reports.

The group is seeking unspecified damages. The suit names both current and former IRS and Treasury Department officials.

Reports said the NorCal Tea Party Patriots received tax-exempt status after a two-year process, which began in March 2010.

The lawsuit also argues for class action status for libertarian and conservative groups that also received extra questioning by the IRS.

IRS offices in Ohio, California and Washington, D.C., applied higher scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax exemption, singling out those with “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their names.  The IRS has apologized for those actions, but the White House and Congress have vowed to investigate the matter.

The lawsuit is the first legal challenge to the scandal and comes as GOP lawmakers press to discover when senior Treasury and White House officials first learned about the targeting. 

On Monday, the White House said senior officials were aware of an inspector general report into the improper targeting but decided not to tell President Obama. White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learned about the Treasury audit in April, weeks before Obama, who first heard about the scandal when it became public on May 10.

The disclosure that the president’s top lawyer knew about the scandal weeks before will likely intensify congressional scrutiny.

The Senate Finance Committee will hold hearings on the matter Tuesday, following the House Ways & Means Committee, which grilled acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller last week.