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Inc. v. Federal Emergency Management Agency

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 12, 2019

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

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on three motions: the Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint on Behalf of the Town of Clinton, Lori Ann Bell, and Russ Hicks (Doc. 75); the Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on Behalf of the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury, Glen Kent, Chris Hall, Keith Mills, Dwight Hill, Sean Smith, Jody Moreau, and Jim Parker (Doc. 78); and the Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 85). The plaintiffs oppose the motions. (Docs. 91, 94 & 99). Two reply briefs have been filed. (Docs. 95 & 96). Oral argument is not necessary. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the facts in the record, and the applicable law, and for the following reasons, the motions to dismiss (Docs. 75, 78 & 85) are granted.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 24, 2017, Plaintiff People's Workshop, Inc., along with a number of individual residents of Clinton, Louisiana, filed suit against a host of federal, state, and local entities in connection with the provision of temporary housing in the wake of catastrophic flooding.

         A. Relevant Facts

         In August 2016, parts of the state of Louisiana experienced historic flooding, leading the President to declare a state of emergency. (Doc. 72 at 13). People's Workshop, Inc., also referred to in the amended complaint as the Feliciana Housing Authority (“People's Workshop”), is a nonprofit rural housing development corporation which advocates for affordable housing for the elderly, disabled, homeless, and low-income individuals. (Id. at 6). In the wake of the August 2016 flood, People's Workshop President George A. Turner allegedly obtained property in Clinton, Louisiana, “for the transitional shelter and a trailer park for the flood victims.” (Id.). Turner and another People's Workshop employee then met with East Feliciana Parish Emergency Operations Center director Jody Moreau who “became irate, belligerent, and prejudiced towards the notion of the flood victims having a group trailer site in their own community, ” and “sent residents out of their community to other Parishes.” (Id. at 6-7).

         People's Workshop and the individual plaintiffs, who are all residents of Clinton, 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 nondiscriminatory basis. (Id. at 14). Instead, the plaintiffs allege that FEMA and East Feliciana Parish officials either failed to provide FEMA trailers to flood victims or “caused a significant delay in flood victims receiving trailers.” (Id. at 14). Some victims were provided trailers but were told that they had to relocate to another parish despite the fact that People's Workshop had allegedly secured a temporary housing site in Clinton. (Id.). According to the plaintiffs, Moreau and John Parker, deputy emergency manager of the East Feliciana Emergency Operations Center, “opted to dislocate the residents out of their communities to another Parish, ” and told certain individuals that no property for FEMA trailers was available despite “property being available to those residents.” (Id. at 14-15). This has “resulted in many residents still being homeless and displaced when they could have been provided appropriate housing and assistance since at least September 2016.” (Id. at 15).

         Moreover, “obtaining trailer assistance from FEMA has been fraught with red tape and other bureaucratic impediments, and FEMA has been very slow to deliver the much-needed trailers.” (Doc. 72 at 15). FEMA's local representatives “intentionally made improper assessments of the flood victims' homes, downgrading the damage done to the homes so that the victims could not receive proper assistance to salvage their homes.” (Id.). Moreau, Parker, and Mayor Bell provided false information to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards “that the Town of Clinton did not need a groupsite [sic] in Clinton to place the trailers on and that all the victims had received FEMA assistance.” (Id.). “Many flood victims in Clinton have been hampered because of the misguiled [sic] of the FEMA representatives, the East Feliciana Police Jury, and the Mayor of Clinton and were subjected to further aggravation and undue hardship.” (Id. at 16).

         According to the plaintiffs, the defendants' conduct “has caused and will continue to cause” irreparable injury in that “they will be wrongfully denied, delayed, and sent away from their community essential housing assistance that is necessary for the health and welfare of the applicants and their families.” (Doc. 72 at 16). Accordingly, they are faced with the threat of homelessness and “have been forced to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions which has caused medical complications.” (Id.). The defendants' “continued failure and refusal to provide housing assistance to thousands of individuals and families is causing and will likely continue to cause, [sic] further destitution, homelessness, hunger, stress, and, as a consequence, increase the risk of illness and danger in their lives.” (Id.).

         The plaintiffs allege that “the Defendants have discriminated against all Plaintiffs and all persons similarly situated” by: (1) denying FEMA assistance to certain individuals who are disabled, (2) “[d]iscriminating against Plaintiffs by not providing FEMA trailers because Defendants did not want FEMA trailers in the victim's [sic] place of residence, Clinton, Louisiana, ” and (3) employing a “policy, pattern, and practice of denying assistance and downgrading the value of African American homes compared to Caucasian residents/victims.” (Doc. 72 at 18).

         B. Parties

         In addition to People's Workshop, there are eight Clinton residents named as Plaintiffs. Dora O'Connor applied for but did not receive temporary housing from FEMA and “made two appeals . . . to no avail.” (Doc. 72 at 7). Pamela R. Miller applied for but did not receive temporary housing from FEMA and was told that she needed to apply for a Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loan. (Id.). She appealed the decision once. (Id.). Linda Keller's home was “uninhabitable” because of the flood and was “erroneously assessed with the damage to her home being downgraded by FEMA representative Jody Moreau and Russ Hicks.” (Id.). Hazel Harrell, [1]whose home was uninhabitable, received temporary housing but was forced to relocate to another parish despite “property being available in Clinton, Louisiana to place the trailer which was ignored by FEMA representatives.” (Id. at 8). Sheila Flowers' home was “rendered uninhabitable due to the flood.” (Id.). The flood waters in her neighborhood were exacerbated by a new road built by the Town of Clinton (the “Town”) which “closed up the drainage ditches in the neighborhood.” (Id.). Eugene Matthews applied for but has not received temporary housing and “has been given the run around by FEMA every time he inquires about the status of a trailer, ” but has been informed that FEMA will not be placing any temporary housing in Clinton. (Id.). Beulah Bennet applied for temporary housing but was denied after being “informed she needed her own property to place [a FEMA trailer] on.” (Id.). Finally, Walter E. Chapman applied for FEMA temporary housing but “was denied because FEMA and local officials did not want trailers in Clinton, Louisiana.” (Id. at 9).

         Named as Defendants are FEMA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (the “Federal Defendants”); Lori Ann Bell, Mayor of the Town of Clinton, Russ Hicks, East Feliciana Parish and Town of Clinton Flood Plain Administrator, and the “Town Alderman” (the “Town Defendants”); and Moeau, Parker, the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury, and five individual Police Jury members: Glen Kent, Chris Hall, Keith Mills, Dwight Hill, and Sean Smith (together, the “Parish Defendants”).

         C. Claims

         The plaintiffs purport to bring four causes of action: (1) “Unlawful Discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983”; (2) “Failure to Provide Temporary Housing Assistance - Due Process Violation”; (3) “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”; and (4) “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Due Process Violations.” (Doc. 72 at 18-23). All claims against the individual defendants are brought in their official capacities. (Doc. 72 at 2). Despite being warned previously by the Court of their failure to “precisely delineate the scope of the claims against each Defendant, ” (Docs. 68 at 15 & 70 at 7), the plaintiffs have once again brought overlapping claims against “Defendants” without (1) specifying which cause of action is asserted against each named Defendant, and (2) clearly differentiating between the acts and omissions of each Defendant. Moreover, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is referenced in three of the four causes of action, while “due process violations” appears twice. This inartful method of pleading significantly complicates the Court's duty to precisely define the scope of each cause of action to determine which, if any, state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         The amended complaint also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, the plaintiffs ask the Court to issue an injunction preventing the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury from “setting up a private long-term Recovery Committee under the local Chamber of Commerce that does not include a representative from the local agencies and citizen(s) representative on the committee that represent an accurate depiction of the community residents affected by the flood.” (Doc. 72 at 22). All told, the plaintiffs request the Court to:

1. Declare that the actions of Defendants described above constitutes discrimination on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the American Disabilities Act 42 U.S.C. § 12101.
2. Enter a preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendants from engaging in the illegal discriminatory conduct described herein, requiring all Defendants to take all steps necessary to remedy the effects of such conduct, and prevent similar occurrences in the future, and ordering FEMA to provide the person who submitted applications for Temporary Housing Assistance but have been subsequently denied Temporary Housing Assistance.
3. For a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction restraining DEFENDANTS from having a trailer groupsite outside of the Town of Clinton.
4. For a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction restraining the East Feliciana Police Jury from forming a Private Task Recovery Committee with public funds which does not include a representative from local agencies and residents of the community which represent a fair and adequate depiction of the Town of Clinton.
5. For a Preliminary and Permanent Injunction prohibiting the East Feliciana Chamber of Commerce from receiving and overseeing FEMA funds (resources);
6. FURTHER PRAY THAT FEMA will set up trailer sites in the Town of Clinton and utilize the property available and provided by Feliciana Housing Authority as a FEMA property groupsite;
7. Award Plaintiffs compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at Trial, to fully compensate them for injuries including, but not limited to, monetary loss, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, the deprivation of statutory and constitutional rights, and other damages that ...

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