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Port Marigny, LLC v. City of Mandeville

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 12, 2018

PORT MARIGNY, LLC, ET AL.
v.
CITY OF MANDEVILLE, ET AL.

         SECTION: “J” (1)

          ORDER & REASONS NATURE OF MOTION AND RELIEF REQUESTED

          CARL J. BARBIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 6) filed by David Ellis, John Keller, Clay Madden, Michael Pulaski, and Lauré Sica, in their official capacities as members of Mandeville City Council (collectively, the “Councilpersons”). Port Marigny, LLC and Pittman Assets, LLC (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) filed an opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 12) and Councilpersons filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 15). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This litigation involves a Mandeville City Council decision to deny Plaintiffs' plan to develop a 76-acre tract of land (the “Site”)[1] into a neighborhood in Mandeville, Louisiana (commonly known as the “Port Marigny project”). (Rec. Doc. 1-1.) In short, Plaintiffs allege that they provided the City with a “tailor-made” proposal for the Site that complied with the Comprehensive Land Use Regulations Ordinance (“CLURO”)[2] as well as “multiple other demands made by the City.” Despite Plaintiffs' alleged compliance with the requisite local laws, on March 9, 2017, four out of five Councilpersons voted to terminate consideration of the Port Marigny project. Plaintiffs allege that the “decision to terminate the Port Marigny project after nearly two years of deliberation and expense was arbitrary and capricious.”

         On April 7, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a verified petition in the 22nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Tammany. Plaintiffs named the City of Mandeville and all five Councilpersons in their official capacities as Defendants. Specifically, Plaintiffs seek: judicial review of the Councilpersons' votes along with a judgment that renders the votes null and void and approves of Plaintiffs' proposal; a declaration that the Plaintiffs' proposal satisfied all requirements of the CLURO; a declaration that the CLURO is unconstitutionally vague and ambiguous; damages for violations of federal rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, namely, unconstitutional taking, due process violations for arbitrary and capricious actions, procedural due process violations, and equal protection violations; damages for unconstitutional taking under state law; and attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The City of Mandeville answered the complaint and Councilpersons filed the instant motion to dismiss (Rec. Doc. 6). The motion is now before the Court without oral argument.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         In their motion to dismiss, Councilpersons present four arguments. First, Councilpersons argue that all claims against them in their official capacities are essentially claims against the City Council. Because the City Council lacks the procedural capacity to sue or be sued, Councilpersons argue that they, in their official capacities, also lack procedural capacity to sue or be sued. Second, Councilpersons argue that they are entitled to absolute immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity. With regards to absolute immunity, Councilpersons claim that Plaintiffs are unable to sue them for any actions that constitute “legislative duties.” As for qualified immunity, Councilpersons state that they are immune from liability for performing what they consider were discretionary functions. Councilpersons' third argument is that Louisiana Revised Statute § 9:2798.1[3] shields them from Plaintiffs' state law claim because they were performing a discretionary act related to a legitimate government interest. Finally, Councilpersons argue that Plaintiffs failed to plead enough facts to survive a 12(b)(6) motion.

         Plaintiffs contend that Councilpersons possess the procedural capacity to be sued in their official capacity even if the City Council itself does not have such capacity. Second, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants are not entitled to either absolute or qualified immunity because they have been named in their official, rather than individual, capacities. Third, Plaintiffs contend that Louisiana Revised Statute § 9:2798.1 is inapplicable because Defendants failed to justify the purposes of the multiple delays and procedural hurdles, which hindered development of the Port Marigny project. Finally, Plaintiffs contend that they have plead enough facts to survive a 12(b)(6) motion.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005) (internal citations omitted). The allegations “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).

         “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed when a plaintiff fails to allege any set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 561 (5th Cir. 1998)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). The court is not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.” Taylor, 296 F.3d at 378.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Procedural Capacity

         Rule 12(b) does not specifically authorize a motion to dismiss based on a lack of capacity to be sued. However, “[f]ederal courts . . . traditionally have entertained certain pre-answer motions that are not expressly provided for by the rules or by statutes” including motions raising a lack of capacity to sue or be sued. 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1360 (3d ed. 2004). Furthermore, “[t]he Fifth Circuit has implicitly approved 12(b) motions arguing the lack of capacity to be sued.” Angers ex rel. Angers v. Lafayette Consol. Gov't, 07-0949, 2007 WL 2908805, at *1 (W.D. La. Oct. 3, 2007) (citing Darby v. Pasadena Police Dep't, 939 F.2d 311 (5th Cir. 1991) (affirming that Pasadena Police Department had no jural existence and therefore was properly dismissed from suit)). Therefore, the Court will consider Councilpersons' Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on a lack of capacity to be sued.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(b)(3) provides, in pertinent part, that the “capacity to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held.” Under the Louisiana Civil Code, there are two kinds of persons that are capable of being sued: natural persons and juridical persons. See La. Civ. Code art. 24.[4] Article 24 defines a natural person as “a human being” and a juridical person as “an entity to which the law attributes personality, such as a corporation or partnership.” Id. Natural persons enjoy general legal capacity to have rights and duties, but juridical persons are “creature[s] of the law and by definition, [have] no more legal capacity than the law allows.” Angers ex rel. Angers v. Lafayette Consol. Gov't., 2007 WL 2908805, at *2 ...


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