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Inc. v. Federal Emergency Management Agency

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 28, 2018

PEOPLE'S WORKSHOP, INC. ET AL.
v.
FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. deGRAVELLES, JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5) and 12(b)(2) and Alternative Rule 12(e) Motion for a More Definite Statement filed on behalf of the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury; Police Jury members Glen Kent, Chris Hall, Keith Mills, Dwight Hill, and Sean Smith; Jody Moreau; and Jim Parker (“Defendants”). (“Motion to Dismiss, ” Doc. 15). Plaintiffs People's Workshop, Inc. and the individual plaintiffs (“Plaintiffs”) have filed an Opposition. (Doc. 21). Defendants have filed a Reply in further support of the Motion. (Doc. 25).

         Defendants have also filed a Motion to Strike an affidavit offered in support of the Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (“Motion to Strike, ” Doc. 24). Plaintiffs have filed an Opposition to the Motion to Strike. (Doc. 35).

         For the reasons discussed below, the Motion to Strike is denied as moot, and the Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. PLAINTIFFS' ALLEGATIONS

         This action is brought by People's Workshop and several individuals, purportedly on their own behalf and on behalf of a class of people similarly situated. (Doc. 1 at 6-12). In August 2016, Louisiana experienced historic flooding, causing the President to declare a state of emergency. (Id. at 6). Plaintiffs allege that, upon the declaration of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) was required to provide people whose homes were rendered uninhabitable or inaccessible with various forms of disaster assistance on a non-discriminatory basis. (Id. at 14). The Complaint claims generally that a series of delays and misrepresentations by FEMA representatives, both federal and local, have failed to provide adequate flood relief to Plaintiffs. (Id. at 14-15). Plaintiffs maintain that these representatives have, inter alia, failed to provide temporary housing, failed to provide local group sites for FEMA trailers, intentionally provided Governor Edwards with erroneous information, and failed to properly assess damages. (Id. at 2-3). Plaintiffs contend that delays, misrepresentations, and denials of temporary housing assistance have resulted in irreparable harm and injury. (Id. at 3).

         Plaintiffs present four causes of action. The first is for failure to provide temporary housing assistance in violation of the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”). (Id. at 18-19). The second is for failing to provide temporary housing assistance in violation of due process because the delays and “bureaucratic red tape” that flood victims have been subject to amounts to a deprivation of a property interest without notice of due process. (Id. at 20-21).

         The third is for denials and delays of temporary housing assistance in violation of the nondiscrimination provisions of the Stafford Act. (Id.). In connection with this claim, Plaintiffs allege that the defendants have delayed providing temporary housing to eligible, low-income disaster victims; failed to provide or wrongfully denied housing assistance to eligible low-income victims; failed to provide “continuing rental assistance” to low-income disaster victims; and otherwise failed to administer this program in a manner that does not discriminate against low-income victims. (Id. at 21-22). The final cause of action is for violating due process and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiffs “by securing property sites in another Parish instead of the property located in Clinton, Louisiana . . . when [Moreau] . . . learned that the land owners [were] African Americans.” (Id. at 23).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. General Standards

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(5) allows a party to move to dismiss for insufficient service of process. The party making service has the burden of demonstrating its validity when an objection to service is made. Holly v. Metro. Transit Authority, 213 Fed.Appx. 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Carimi v. Royal Carribean Cruise Line, Inc., 959 F.2d 1344, 1346 (5th Cir. 1992)). The district court has broad discretion in determining whether to dismiss an action for ineffective service of process. George v. U.S. Dept. of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Admin., 788 F.2d 1115, 1116 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Rule 12(b)(2) allows a party to move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. “Where a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the party seeking to invoke the power of the court bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists.” Luv N'Care, Ltd. v. Insta-Mix, Inc., 438 F.3d 465, 469 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Wyatt v. Laplan, 686 F.2d 276, 280 (5th Cir. 1982)). When a court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction. Johnston v. Multidata Systems Intern. Corp., 523 F.3d 602, 609 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Buillion v. Gillepsie, 895 F.2d 213, 217 (5th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted)). “Moreover, on a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, uncontroverted allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be taken as true, and conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' affidavits must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor for purposes of determining whether a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction exists.” Id. (“Proof by preponderance of the evidence is not required.”). However, in assessing whether the plaintiff has presented a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction, the court “will not ‘credit conclusory allegations, even if uncontroverted.'” Sealed Appellant 1 v. Sealed Appellee 1, 625 Fed.Appx. 628, 631 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Panda Brandywine Corp. v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 253 F.3d 865, 869 (5th Cir. 2001)). The court may consider “affidavits, interrogatories, depositions, oral testimony, or any combination of the recognized methods of discovery.” Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467, 469 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Stuart v. Spademan, 772 F.2d 1185, 1192 (5th Cir. 1985)); cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) (listing only motions under Rule 12(b)(6) and 12(c) as requiring conversion to summary judgment if evaluated on matters outside the pleadings).

         Proper service of process is an essential part of the procedure for establishing and proving personal jurisdiction. Carimi, 959 F.2d at 1349; see also Delta S.S. Lines, Inc. v. Albano, 768 F.2d 728 (5th Cir. 1985). In the absence of valid service of process, proceedings against a party are void. Aetna Business Credit, Inc. v. Universal Décor & Interior Design, Inc., 635 F.2d 434, 435 (5th Cir. 1981).

         Rule 12(e) provides that “a party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e); see also Beanel v. Freeport-McCoran, Inc., 197 F.3d 161, 164 (5th Cir. 1999) (“If a complaint is ambiguous or does not contain sufficient information to allow a responsive pleading to be framed, the proper remedy is a motion for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e)”). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). A Rule 12(e) motion may be appropriate “if a pleading fails to specify the allegations in a manner that provides sufficient notice.” Id. at 514.

         When evaluating a motion for a more definite statement, the Court must assess the complaint in light of the minimal pleading requirements of Rule 8. Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. McGriff, Seibels & Williams, Inc., 235 F.R.D. 632, 633 (E.D. La. 2006); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) (requiring a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”). Given the liberal pleading standard set forth in Rule 8(a), Rule 12(e) motions are disfavored. Adams v. Southland Trace, 2012 WL 12986191, at *5 (M.D. La. Feb. 29, 2012). The trial judge is given considerable discretion in deciding whether to grant a Rule 12(e) motion. Id. Finally, a Rule 12(e) motion is not a substitute for the discovery process. Ford v. Cain, 2016 WL 447617, at *2 (M.D. La. Feb. 4, 2016).

         B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Defendants' Motion to Dismiss first argues that dismissal is appropriate for insufficient service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction. (Doc. 15-1 at 2-6). Defendants contend that Plaintiffs did not properly effect service within the 90 days allowed by law, have in fact never properly served the Complaint, and have not established “good cause” for their failure to serve. (Id. at 3). Preliminarily, according to Defendants, Plaintiffs' February 24, 2017 Complaint was due to be ...


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