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Douglas v. O'Neal

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

January 24, 2018

PETER O'NEAL, ET AL., Defendant

          DRELL, JUDGE


          Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court are: (1) a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, filed by Defendant Michael Kramer (“Kramer”) (Doc. 13); (2) a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, filed by Defendant Catahoula Parish Sheriff's Department (“CPSD”) (Doc. 23); and (3) a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, filed by Defendant Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards (“Edwards”) (Doc. 24).[1] Pro se Plaintiffs Lonnie Douglas, Henry Douglas, MacArthur Douglas, Viola Douglas, Antionette Douglas, and Lawrence Mathis (“Plaintiffs”) filed an opposition. (Doc. 29). The motions highlight separate infirmities in Plaintiffs' claims and pleadings, each of which warrant dismissal. Accordingly, the pending motions should be granted as - and for the reasons - set forth specifically below.

         I. Background

         On July 31, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an “Original Complaint Writ of Possession and Contemporaneous Summary Judgment Pursuant to FRCP 56” (“Complaint”). (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs named as Defendants Peter O'Neal (“O'Neal”), George (“Guy”) Carroll (“Carroll”), Kramer, CPSD, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, Edwards, and the United States Department of Agriculture - Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture (“Defendants”). (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs made a number of claims against Defendants which appear to be premised on the rightful ownership of farmland. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs claim the property that is the subject of this litigation was illegally sold/foreclosed through the acts or omissions of Defendants. (Doc. 1).

         Plaintiffs assert Defendants CPSD, O'Neal, Carroll, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture committed constitutional violations and fraud, and unjustly enriched themselves through O'Neal's sale of the property. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege Defendants CPSD and O'Neal conspired to forcefully remove Lonnie Douglas from his home “in which the Agency did not have a lien or judgment against Mr. Lonnie Douglas.” (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs do not reference a date when they allegedly were forcefully removed from the property. (Doc. 1).

         Plaintiffs further allege Antionette Douglas and Lawrence Mathis purchased the “home Place, ” and paid Kramer to do a title search on the property. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege Kramer misrepresented the history of liens on the property when it came up void of any encumbrances. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs claim the homestead is owned and inhabited by Odessa Douglas and Viola Douglas, who are both TrackB Pigford Class Members. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege they have yet to receive a formal hearing and enjoy a moratorium against foreclosure. (Doc. 1). According to Plaintiffs, Kramer and O'Neal were in violation of conspiracy of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. §1983 by fraudulently inducing Plaintiffs to buy the “home place when they knew or [should have] known that the United States did not have a lien or judgment on the parcel described in the less and exception in which as encompassed the home place.” (Doc. 1).

         Plaintiffs attached a copy of Kramer's 30 Year Title Opinion on the property dated December 22, 2014. (Doc. 1-2). The title opinion showed no mortgages, judgments, or liens. (Doc. 1-2).

         Kramer, CPSD, and Edwards responded with separate motions to dismiss (Docs. 13, 23, 24), seeking dismissal of all claims against them, respectively. The motions to dismiss each argue Plaintiffs' allegations do not state a claim upon which relief can be granted warranting dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Standards governing the 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         A court may grant a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A pleading states a claim for relief when, inter alia, it contains a “short and plain statement…showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         To withstand a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when it contains sufficient factual content for the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Plausibility does not equate to possibility or probability; it lies somewhere in between. Id. Plausibility simply calls for enough factual allegations to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence to support the elements of the claim. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The court must view all well-pleaded facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Yumilicious Francise, L.L.C. v. Barrie, 819 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2016).

         Although the court must accept as true all factual allegations set forth in the complaint, the same presumption does not extend to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading comprised of labels and conclusions, a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, or naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement will not stand. Id. Similarly, where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the Court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but not “shown” - that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 679.

         In determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief, the Court draws on its judicial experience and common sense. Id. In considering a motion to dismiss, a court can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. Id.

         B. Plaintiffs fail to state a plausible claim against CPSD.

         CPSD claims that it is not a legal entity capable of being sued. (Doc. 23). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(b) provides that the “capacity to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b). Thus, Louisiana law governs whether CPSD has the capacity to be sued in this action.

         Under Louisiana law, to possess such a capacity, an entity must qualify as a “juridical person.” This term is defined by the Louisiana Civil Code as “an entity to which the law attributes personality, such as a corporation or partnership.” La. Civ. Code Art. 24. It is well settled under Louisiana law that a sheriff's department is not a legal entity capable of being sued. See Valentine v. Bonneville Ins. Co., 691 So.2d 665, 668 (La. 1997); see also Cozzo v. Tangipahoa Parish Council, 279 F.3d 273, 283 (5th Cir. 2002) (“The law of Louisiana affords no legal status to the Parish Sheriff's Department wherein said department can sue or be sued, such status being reserved for the Sheriff individually.”). Thus, the CPSD is not a juridical person capable of being sued under state or federal law. Plaintiffs' claims against the CPSD should be dismissed.

         C. Plaintiffs' claims against Kramer and Edwards under Louisiana law, 42 U.S.C ยง 1985(3), and 42 ...

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