United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
PT NGUYEN, INC. D/B/A JASMIN FOOD MART
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
RULING AND ORDER
W. deGRAVELLES JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendant United States of
America’s (“Defendant” or “United
States”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 17).
Plaintiff, PT Nguyen, Inc. d/b/a Jasmin Food Mart
(“Plaintiff” or “Jasmin Food Mart”),
opposed the motion. (Doc. 20). Defendant replied. (Doc. 21).
The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the
record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and
is prepared to rule. For the following reasons,
Defendant’s motion for summary judgement is granted.
Relevant Factual and Procedural Background
Food Mart, under the ownership of Peter Q. Nguyen, Nhung N.
Tu, Thinh Q. Nguyen, and Kim Thoa Nguyen, is a Louisiana
corporation that operates a retail convenience store and food
market on North Sherwood Forest Drive in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 1, 7). Plaintiff alleges
that “at all times relevant hereto”, Jasmin Food
Mart was an authorized participant retailer in the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(“SNAP”). (Id.). SNAP is administered by
the United States Department of Agriculture
(“USDA”), Food and Nutrition Service
(“FNS”). (Doc. 1, ¶ 1).
October 17, 2016, Plaintiff alleges that the FNS issued a
letter to Jasmin Food Mart, alleging that records of
Electronic Benefit Transfer (“EBT”) transactions
at Jasmin Food Mart between the months of April 2016 and
November 2016 showed “clear and repetitive
patterns of unusual, irregular, and inexplicable activity for
[Jasmin’s] type of firm.” (Doc. 1, ¶ 8).
SNAP benefits are issued to households through an EBT system.
SNAP benefits are stored in a central computer database and
electronically accessed by households at the point of sale
via reusable plastic cards. SNAP benefits may also be issued
through an off-line EBT system in which benefit allotments
can be stored on a card or in a card access device and used
to purchase authorized items at a point-of sale terminal. FNS
monitors retailer transaction data through EBT system
reporting. (Doc. 1, ¶ 6).
letter to Plaintiff, the FNS alleged that the EBT records
showed (1) multiple transactions were made from individual
benefit accounts in unusually short time frames; and (2)
excessively large purchase transactions were made from
recipient accounts. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8). Based on this
information, the FNS charged Jasmin Food Mart with
“trafficking” as defined by 7 C.F.R. §
October 24, 2016, Jasmin Food Mart alleges that it responded
to the charges and provided a written explanation regarding
the EBT records. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). Plaintiff asserted that
many of its customers shopped daily, if not multiple times
per day. Plaintiff noted that its fresh seafood sales
accounted for the higher priced transactions. Plaintiff
asserted that there was a higher volume of SNAP recipients
following the flooding in Baton Rouge in August 2016. Also,
during this time, SNAP participants were permitted to
purchase hot food items not ordinarily eligible for purchase
with SNAP benefits, which increased the volume of purchases
with SNAP benefits at the store. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10).
alleges that it provided FNS with additional information and
supporting documentation in response to the charges,
including inventory invoices from seafood and meat
distributors, between October 24, 2016 and November 3, 2016.
(Doc. 1, ¶ 11).
5, 2017, FNS issued a letter to Jasmin Food Mart, advising
that it had reviewed the available information and found that
the violations had occurred as cited. FNS then permanently
disqualified Jasmin Food Mart from SNAP pursuant to 7 C.F.R.
§§ 278.6(c), 278.6(e)(1). (Doc. 1, ¶ 12).
response, Jasmin Food Mart made a written request on July 14,
2017, for a review of the FNS decision. Plaintiff alleges
that it reiterated its previous contentions and provided
additional documentation for transactions between April 2016
and October 2016. Plaintiff also requested the results of the
FNS investigation. (Doc. 1, ¶ 13).
issued its final agency decision dated December 28, 2017,
upholding the permanent disqualification of Jasmin Food Mart.
(Doc. 1, ¶ 15). Plaintiff alleges that FNS improperly
relied “solely on analysis of EBT records and
disregarded or gave insufficient consideration to facts
presented by Jasmin Food Mart and/or information that was
otherwise available to the FNS, concerning the nature of
Jasmin Food Mart’s business, its purchases and sales,
its customers’ typical transactions, and the
extenuating circumstances surrounding the time period of the
investigation”. (Doc. 1, ¶ 16). Plaintiff alleges
that FNS “failed to consider the nature and scope of
the alleged violations”, failed to warn Jasmin Food
Mart about the possibility of violations, and failed to
evidence Jasmin Food Mart’s intent to violate SNAP
regulations. (Doc. 1, ¶ 17).
instituted suit pursuant to 7 U.S.C. § 2023 for de novo
judicial review of the final agency decision by the FNS,
which permanently disqualified Jasmin Food Mart from
participation as an authorized retailer in SNAP. (Doc. 1,
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If the mover bears his burden of showing
that there is no genuine issue of fact, “its opponent
must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts … [T]he nonmoving party
must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.’” See
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)
(internal citations omitted). The non-mover’s burden is
not satisfied by “conclusory allegations, by
unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a
‘scintilla’ of evidence.” Little v.
Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.
1994)(citations and internal quotations omitted). The party
opposing the motion for summary judgment may not sit on his
hands, complacently relying on the pleadings. Weyant v.
Acceptance Ins. Co., 917 F.2d 209 (5th Cir. 1990).
“Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party,
there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. General
allegations that fail to reveal detailed and precise facts
will not prevent the award of summary judgment. Walton v.
Alexander, 20 F.3d 1350, 1352 (5th Cir. 1994). Further:
In resolving the motion, the court may not undertake to
evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the
evidence, or resolve factual disputes; so long as the
evidence in the record is such that a reasonable jury drawing
all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party could arrive
at a verdict in that party’s favor, the court must deny
Int’l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally’s Inc.,
939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).
Defendant’s Memorandum in Support (Doc. 17-1)
explains that the FNS utilized the Anti-Fraud Locator Using
Electronic Benefit Transfer Retailer Transactions
(“ALERT”) System to monitor and identify
suspicious patterns of EBT card usage that may suggest SNAP
benefits are being trafficked. (Doc. 17-1, p. 4 (citing Doc.
17-3, p. 3; Rockland Convenience Store v. United States,
Civ. A. No. 10-260, 2011 WL 5120410, *3 (D.N.H. Oct. 27,
2011)). In 2016, the ALERT System “flagged”
Plaintiff’s EBT transaction data as having met patterns
consistent with possible SNAP trafficking violations. (Doc.
17-1, p. 6 (citing A.R. 104)). As a result, FNS opened an
investigation and analyzed data covering a six-month period
from April 2016 through September 2016. (Doc. 17-1, p. 6
(citing A.R. 103-121)). A “Charge Letter” was
issued on October 17, 2016, by FNS to Plaintiff, notifying
Jasmin Food Mart of a charge of trafficking in SNAP benefits.
(Doc. 17-1, p. 7 (citing A.R. 122-141)). The Charge Letter
identified instances of multiple transactions from individual
SNAP accounts in a short time frame. (Doc. 17-1, p. 7 (citing
A.R. 122; 125)). Defendant provides examples of the
“flagged” transactions. (Doc. 17-1, p. 7).
submitted a written response to the Charge Letter on October
24, 2016. (Doc. 17-1, p. 8 (citing A.R. 144-145)). Defendant
admits that Plaintiff explained the effects of the flood of
August 2016, as well as its seafood business and customer
purchasing habits. (Id.).
issued a “Determination Letter” on July 5, 2017,
informing Plaintiff that the charged trafficking violations
had occurred and permanently disqualified Jasmin Food Mart
from SNAP. (Doc. 17-1, p. 8 (citing A.R. 223-226)). On July
14, 2017, Plaintiff requested administrative review with the
Administrative Review Branch of the FNS. (Doc. 17-1, p. 9
(citing A.R. 229-231)). Plaintiff claimed that the charge of
trafficking and resulting disqualification of Jasmin Food
Mart from SNAP was “arbitrary, without cause, and in
violation of Plaintiff’s due process rights”.
(Id.). The Administrative Review Officer requested
additional information on July 19, 2017, and Plaintiff
submitted same on August 1, 2017. (Doc. 17-1, p. 9 (citing
A.R. 265-266, 270-1463)). Plaintiff reiterated that it
provided documentation to justify the high volume of sales of
higher priced items and of SNAP benefits transactions; that
high dollar transactions and increased frequency of SNAP
benefits was attributed to the August 2016 flood, later
implemented by FNS as the “Special Disaster
Rules”; that FNS authorized SNAP benefits for
purchasing hot foods through October 17, 2016; that FNS did
not conduct an on-site investigation; and FNS did not charge
Plaintiff with a violation of SNAP prior to this time. (Doc.
17-1, pp. 9-10).
“Final Agency Decision” was issued December 28,
2017, supporting the trafficking determination and permanent
disqualification of Plaintiff from ...