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Binion v. United States Department of Agriculture

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

September 28, 2017

ROBERT R. BINION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. Keith Watkins CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On September 7, 2017, the Magistrate Judge filed a Recommendation. (Doc. # 33.) On September 20, 2017, Plaintiffs filed Objections. (Doc. # 33.) Also on September 20, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a proposed second amended petition for declaratory judgment and a motion for summary judgment, which is construed as containing a motion to amend and a proposed amended complaint. (Doc. # 34.) Plaintiffs filed a second motion to amend on September 21, 2017. (Doc. # 35.) The court has conducted an independent and de novo review of those portions of the Recommendation to which objection is made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Dismissal of Pigford Claims

         Plaintiffs do not contest that this court lacks jurisdiction over their Pigford claims. In fact, Plaintiffs' proposed second amended complaint (Doc. # 34) purports not to contain Pigford claims. The Magistrate Judge correctly concluded that Plaintiffs' Pigford claims are due to be dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         B. Dismissal of Non-Pigford Claims

         The Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff Oden's non-Pigford claims are due to be dismissed without prejudice on grounds that those claims already are being litigated in the Court of Federal Claims and on grounds that Plaintiff Oden already has litigated his non-Pigford claims to a final judgment in the Southern District of Alabama. Plaintiffs do not point out any specific legal or factual error in the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiff Oden's non-Pigford claims are subject to dismissal. The court finds no error in the Recommendation with respect to dismissal Plaintiff Oden's non-Pigford claims. See United States v. Beane, 841 F.3d 1273, 1283 (11th Cir. 2016) (setting forth the elements of res judicata and collateral estoppel); Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Where two actions involving overlapping issues and parties are pending in two federal courts, there is a strong presumption across the federal circuits that favors the forum of the first-filed suit under the first-filed rule.”); Aadyn Tech., LLC v. Prof'l LED Lighting, Ltd., No. 14-CIV-61376, 2014 WL 12489975, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 10, 2014) (collecting cases in support of the conclusion that, “[b]ecause the first-filed doctrine involves a court's exercise of jurisdiction, a court may (and indeed, should) raise the issue sua sponte”).

         After noting Plaintiff Stovall's contention that he sought to present non-Pigford claims, the Magistrate Judge explained that the amended complaint does not lend itself to any reasonable construction that would include such claims. (Doc. # 32 at 9.) In their Objections, Plaintiffs present no specific legal argument or factual information that would call into question the Magistrate Judge's construction of the amended complaint, which is a reasonable construction even in light of the liberal construction due pro se litigants. GJR Invs., Inc. v. County of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998), overruled on other grounds by Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 666 (2009) (holding that the leniency shown to pro se litigants “does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party, or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         In their Objections, Plaintiffs present a conclusory argument that they all raised non-Pigford claims, and that their non-Pigford claims should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Plaintiffs present no additional information, specific factual averments, or legal argument about the circumstances or timing of any alleged violation(s) of their constitutional rights that could explain why the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding that, other than Plaintiff Oden's non-Pigford claims, all the claims raised in the complaint were Pigford claims.[1]

         C. Motions to Amend

         In their motion to amend (Doc. # 35), which purports to serve as a “second amended petition for declaratory judgment, ” Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment on their non-Pigford claims. However, Plaintiffs do not provide any factual allegations explaining which of them have non-Pigford claims (other than those non-Pigford claims discussed in the Recommendation) or explaining the factual basis of those claims. Construed liberally in the light most favorable to the pro se Plaintiffs, the proposed amended complaint for declaratory judgment (Doc. # 35), at most, is an attempt to reassert whatever non-Pigford claims they asserted in the amended complaint and that previously were the subject of the Recommendation for dismissal. Plaintiffs' attempt to reassert those claims in a second amended complaint for declaratory judgment is futile because Plaintiffs have not corrected any of the deficiencies in those claims already pointed out in the Recommendation.

         Among the claims Plaintiffs are attempting to assert in the second amended complaint is a claim that Plaintiffs were deprived of due process by an agency rule that precludes a hearing before an administrative law judge except upon the referral of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights. That claim is futile because it necessarily involves claims that are currently being litigated in another court or have previously been litigated in another court. (Doc. #34 at 7 (describing the rule and citing to “Exhibit 1, Oden Final Agency Decision” as an agency statement of the rule); Doc. # 29-1 (the Department of Agriculture's September 5, 2014 letter to Plaintiff Oden explaining the agency's rule that “authority to resolve claims against USDA pending in court rests with the DOJ” (emphasis added)). See Beane, 841 F.3d at 1283 (setting forth the elements of res judicata and collateral estoppel); Manuel, 430 F.3d at 1135 (explaining the operation of the first-filed rule).

         Because the motions to dismiss (Doc. # 34; Doc. # 35) are due to be denied as futile, they do not preclude dismissal on the grounds stated in the Recommendation. See Laborers Local 938 Joint Health & Welfare Tr. Fund v. B.R. Starnes Co. of Fla., 827 F.2d 1454, 1456 n.1 (11th Cir. 1987) (“Although, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a), leave to amend is to be freely given where justice so requires, there is no obligation to allow amendment if to do so would be futile.”).

         II. ...


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