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King v. Louisiana Tax Commission

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

March 6, 2017

CARYKING, ETAL
v.
LOUISIANA TAX COMMISSION, ET AL

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          JAMES T.TRIMBLE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is a "Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant John Aron Johnson" (R. #62) wherein defendant, Mr. Johnson seeks to dismiss with prejudice all claims by plaintiffs, Cary King, Jr. and Melba Ireland King, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As noted by Mr. Johnson, the undersigned dismissed without prejudice plaintiffs' claims that Mr. Johnson's actions were undertaken for the purpose of, or resulted in the imposition of "excessive" ad valorem tax by the LaSalle Parish Tax Assessor or the Tax Commission, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)".[1] The instant motion seeks to dismiss with prejudice all claims against this Defendant.

         FACTUAL STATEMENT

         At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Mr. Johnson was the LaSalle Parish Tax Assessor.[2]Plaintiffs' claims against Mr. Johnson arise out of an ad valorem tax reassessment of two (2) of Plaintiffs' properties in LaSalle Parish.[3] The reassessment of the two properties resulted in a 59% and 44% increase, respectively.[4] Plaintiffs appealed the reassessment which resulted in a decrease, but Mr. Johnson appealed the decision to the Louisiana Tax Commission which reinstated the increase[5] and resulted in the instant lawsuit. Mr. Johnson is the sole remaining defendant.

         Plaintiffs' claims against Mr. Johnson include "public and private ridicule" and embarrassment in retaliation for Plaintiffs' political stance intended to harm plaintiffs' reputation and wealth."[6] Plaintiffs also assert that Mr. Johnson "arbitrarily or intentionally" selected Plaintiffs' property for reassessment and excessive taxation, allegedly a due process violation.[7]

         On June 15, 2016, Mr. Johnson served Plaintiffs with Defendant's First Set of Interrogatories, Requests for Production and Requests for Admissions.[8] Plaintiffs failed to answer the discovery requests, so they are deemed admitted by operation of law.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[9] A fact is "material" if its existence or nonexistence "might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law."[10] A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.[11] As to issues which the non-moving party has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy this burden by demonstrating the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claim."[12] Once the movant makes this showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.[13] The burden requires more than mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings. The non-moving party must demonstrate by way of affidavit or other admissible evidence that there are genuine issues of material fact or law.[14] There is no genuine issue of material fact if, viewing the evidence in the light more favorable to the non-moving party, no reasonable trier of fact could find for the non-moving party.[15] If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.[16]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Mr. Johnson reminds the court that we ruled that defendant, Lloyd Handorf, was entitled to qualified immunity; likewise, Mr. Johnson maintains that he is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate any of Plaintiffs' statutory or constitutional rights under either the United States or Louisiana Constitution; moreover, his actions were reasonably taken as part of his position as Tax Assessor, also noting that all claims relating to the excessiveness of Mr. Johnson's reassessment of Plaintiffs' properties is barred by res judicata.[17] Finally, Mr. Johnson seeks to dismiss with prejudice any claims of defamation for lack of evidence to support the claim.

         Qualified Immunity

         Mr. Johnson asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate any of Plaintiffs' statutory or constitutional rights under either the Louisiana or United States Constitution; furthermore, his actions were reasonably taken as part of his position as Tax Assessor.

         "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal."[18] Once the affirmative defense is properly raised by the defendant, the "plaintiff has the burden to negate the assertion of qualified immunity."[19] To establish that qualified immunity does not apply, the Kings must prove Johnson "(1) violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was 'clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct."

         The touchstone of this inquiry is whether a reasonable official would have believed that his conduct conformed to the constitutional standard in light of clearly established law and the information available to him.[20] In other words, Mr. Johnson is entitled to qualified immunity, unless all reasonable officials in his circumstances would have known that the conduct violated the Constitution.[21]

         The court concludes that Mr. Johnson is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate any of Plaintiffs' statutory or constitutional rights under either the Louisiana or United States Constitution and his actions were reasonable as part of his position as Tax Assessor.[22]

         Alleged Ridicule and ...


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