United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
THOA T. NGUYEN, ET AL
LOUISIANA STATE BOARD OF COSMETOLOGY, ET AL
RULING AND ORDER
BRIAN A. JACKSON, Chief District Judge.
Before the Court are Defendant Celia R. Cangelosi's Rule 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1) Motions to Dismiss and Special Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' First Amended and Supplemental Complaint (Doc. 46). Defendant Cangelosi (also, "Defendant") moves to dismiss the First Amended and Supplemental Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Damages (Doc. 44) of Plaintiffs Thoa T. Nguyen, et al., pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), moves to strike allegations against her pursuant to Rule 12(f), and makes a Special Motion to Strike under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure ("La. C.C.P.") article 971. Plaintiffs oppose Defendant Cangelosi's Motions to Dismiss and Motions to Strike. (Docs. 47, 48). The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367. Additional briefing is not required, and oral argument is not necessary. For reasons explained below, Defendant's Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss, Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike, and Special Motion to Strike Under La. C.C.P. art. 971 are all DENIED.
Plaintiffs are Vietnamese- and Asian-American nail salon owners in Louisiana who allege they have been "subjected to disproportionate and heightened inspections" by the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology ("LSBC") based on their ethnicity and race. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 19). Plaintiffs filed suit against several defendants, including Defendant Celia R. Cangelosi, who is being sued in both her individual and official capacities. Plaintiffs assert claims of (1) racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and (2) false imprisonment. Plaintiffs pray for relief in the form of, inter alia, declaratory judgment that defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights; an injunction enjoining defendants from further discriminatory practices; an injunction ordering defendants to reinstate Plaintiffs' business licenses; an injunction ordering defendants to develop and institute a training program; and costs, damages, and punitive damages for defendants' commission of false imprisonment.
On April 28, 2014, Defendant Cangelosi filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1), as well as motions to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f) and La. C.C.P. article 971. (Doc. 16). With no opposition from any defendants and with leave from the Court, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended and Supplemental Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Damages (Doc. 44) on August 13, 2014.
On August 28, 2014, Defendant Cangelosi responded with the instant Motions to Dismiss and Motions to Strike. (Doc. 46). Because Defendant's instant motions adopt the recitation of facts and the arguments contained in her earlier motions, the Court denied as moot Defendant's earlier motions. ( See Doc. 51). In its Ruling herein, the Court considers the facts and arguments asserted in Defendant's earlier motions as incorporated by reference in her instant motions.
Defendant Cangelosi argues that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring their claims against her. Further, she argues that she is entitled to absolute immunity because the claims arise from her performance of a quasi-judicial or quasi-prosecutorial function or, alternatively, that she is entitled to qualified immunity. Separately, Defendant moves to strike Plaintiffs' allegations subject to Rule 12(f) as impertinent and scandalous. She also files a Special Motion to Strike under La. C.C.P. art. 971, requesting reasonable costs and attorney's fees on the basis that Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant arise from Defendant's actions in furtherance of her right to free speech in connection with a public issue. The Court proceeds to first consider Defendant's motions to dismiss and then Defendant's motions to strike.
II. MOTIONS TO DISMISS
A. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction
1. Standard of Review
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; without jurisdiction conferred by statute, they lack the power to adjudicate claims. In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig., 668 F.3d 281, 286-87 (5th Cir. 2012) ( Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)); Stockman v. FEC, 138 F.3d 144, 151 (5th Cir. 1998)). Under Rule 12(b)(1), a claim is "properly dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate" the claim. Id. ( Home Builders Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998)). A court should consider a Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits. Id. ( Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 960 (2001)). Considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss first "prevents a court without jurisdiction from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice." Id.
In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, "the court is permitted to look at evidence in the record beyond simply those facts alleged in the complaint and its proper attachments." Ambraco, Inc. v. Bossclip B.V., 570 F.3d 233, 238 (5th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 558 U.S. 1111 (2009). See also Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161 (stating that a court ruling on a 12(b)(1) motion may evaluate "(1) the complaint alone, (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts"). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction should only be granted if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claims entitling him to relief. Wagstaff v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 509 F.3d 661, 663 (5th Cir. 2007).
However, "[t]he burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction." Celestine v. TransWood, Inc., 467 F.Appx. 317, 318 (5th Cir. 2012) ( Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161). "Accordingly, the plaintiff constantly bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Id. A pleading stating a claim for relief must contain "a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction." Id. (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1)). In federal question cases, the party must demonstrate a non-frivolous claim based on federal law. Gibbs v. Buck, 307 U.S. 66, 72 (1939).
When a district court finds it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, its determination is not on the merits of the case, and does not bar the plaintiff from pursuing the claim in a proper jurisdiction. Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977) (per curiam).
Before moving to the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' claims, the Court must resolve Defendant's challenge to Plaintiffs' standing to bring the claims in the first place. A motion to dismiss for lack of constitutional standing is properly filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). See Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 795 n.2 (5th Cir. 2011). Defendant alleges that Plaintiffs lack constitutional standing because they have not suffered an injury in fact. See id. at 795 ("The three requirements of Article III standing are familiar: the plaintiffs must allege an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling." ( Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992))). Defendant argues that Paragraph 27 of the Complaint, as amended, contains factual allegations that arose during a September 2013 LSBC board hearing concerning interactions between Defendant and one Hang T. Nguyen, an individual who has not joined as a named plaintiff in this suit.
After examining the Amended Complaint and the transcript of the September 2013, the validity or accuracy of which is not disputed,  the Court agrees with Defendant that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently demonstrated that they suffered an injury in fact from Defendant's alleged actions in the LSBC September 2013 hearing, to which no Plaintiff was a party.
Paragraph 27 of the Amended Complaint, however, goes on to allege facts beyond the scope of the September 2013 hearing. The Complaint alleges that Defendant had employed an individual to investigate and testify against salon businesses, and that individual was "only asked to target Vietnamese- and Asian-owned salons." (Doc. 44 at p. 8). According to the Complaint, that individual investigated the business of Plaintiff Mai Thi Nguyen and testified at Nguyen's Rule to Show Cause Hearing. (Id. ). Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant colluded with inspectors to target Asian- and Vietnamese-owned nail salons for alleged violations. ...