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Inc. v. Federal Emergency Management Agency

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 28, 2018





         This case is before the Court on two Motions to Dismiss. The first Motion to Dismiss was filed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) and John F. Kelly, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). (Doc. 13). Plaintiffs People's Workshop, Inc., and the individually named Plaintiffs oppose this Motion. (Doc. 20).

         The second Motion to Dismiss was filed by FEMA and DHS as an entity. (Doc. 58). Plaintiffs oppose this Motion, (Doc. 63), and FEMA and DHS have replied in further support of it, (Doc. 64).

         For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motions are granted, and Plaintiffs' claims against them are dismissed. Dismissal is with leave to amend and an extension of time to perfect service.


         In August 2016, the town of Clinton, Louisiana, which is located in East Feliciana Parish, was devastated by historic flooding. (Doc. 1 at 2). As a result, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Louisiana. (Id. at 6). According to Plaintiffs, under the Stafford Act (the “Act”), victims of a disaster who are displaced from their homes are eligible for housing assistance from FEMA in one of two forms, either financial or “direct” (i.e., in the form of an actual unit of temporary housing). (Id. at 5 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 5174)). Plaintiffs argue that the Act requires FEMA to provide this relief to eligible persons on a non-discriminatory basis. (Id. at 14).

         Despite their alleged statutory right to assistance, Plaintiffs argue that many victims, themselves included, have requested housing assistance but have not received it, have unlawfully been denied it, have not been properly notified of both the scope and conditions of available assistance, or have been relocated to other parishes despite the presence of available land in Clinton. (Id. at 7-9). Plaintiffs also contend that People's Workshop met with local FEMA representatives after acquiring land that could have been used as a trailer park in Clinton, but that the representatives “became irate, belligerent, and prejudiced towards the notion of the flood victims having a group trailer site in their own community.” (Id. at 6-7). Plaintiffs appear to contend that this occurred after the local FEMA representatives learned that the flood victims are African Americans. (Id. at 24). Some representatives from FEMA have also allegedly failed to properly assess flooding damage to Plaintiffs' property. (Id. at 8).

         Plaintiffs filed this suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring FEMA to, inter alia, provide all eligible applicants with temporary housing assistance within a reasonable period of time and to prevent Defendants from establishing a “trailer group site” outside of Clinton. (Id. at 25). As grounds for this relief, Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants have violated provisions of the Stafford Act and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. (Id. at 18-24).


         A. General Standards

         The instant Motions seek relief under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rules”) 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(5) and 12(b)(6). The Court addresses each standard in turn.

         1. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Concerning the standard for Rule 12(b)(1) motions, the Fifth Circuit has explained:

Motions filed under Rule 12(b)(1) . . . allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found in any one of three instances: (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. Barrera-Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996).
The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction. McDaniel v. United States, 899 F.Supp. 305, 307 (E.D. Tex. 1995). Accordingly, the plaintiff constantly bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist. Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980).
When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits. Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977) (per curiam). . . .
In examining a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the district court is empowered to consider matters of fact which may be in dispute. Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981). Ultimately, a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction should be granted only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle plaintiff to relief. Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir.1998).

Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).

         2. Rule 12(b)(2)

         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 v. Royal Carribean Cruise Line, Inc., 959 F.2d 1344, 1347 (5th Cir. 1992); 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).

         3. Rule 12(b)(5)

         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, 959 F.2d at 1346). 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).

         4. ...

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