10 F.3d 915 (1st Cir. 1993), 93-1068, Adams v. Watson

Docket Nº:93-1068.
Citation:10 F.3d 915
Party Name:Kenneth ADAMS, Seth Bunker and Rodney Hudson, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. Gregory WATSON as Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:December 08, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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10 F.3d 915 (1st Cir. 1993)

Kenneth ADAMS, Seth Bunker and Rodney Hudson, et al.,

Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

Gregory WATSON as Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of

Food and Agriculture, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 93-1068.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 8, 1993

Heard May 3, 1993.

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Michael L. Altman, with whom Margaret A. Robbins and Rubin & Rudman were on brief, for appellants.

Eric A. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom Scott Harshbarger, Atty. Gen., was on brief, for Commissioner of the Massachusetts Dept. of Food and Agriculture.

Robert J. Sherer, with whom Francis A. DiLuna and Roche, Carens & DeGiacomo were on brief, for Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, Inc.

Before SELYA, Circuit Judge, CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judge, and CYR, Circuit Judge.

CYR, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs-appellants, New York and New Hampshire dairy farmers, instituted the present civil rights action against the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture (Commissioner) for declaratory and injunctive relief from an alleged unconstitutional enforcement of a Massachusetts milk pricing order. The district court dismissed their complaint for lack of standing. We now reverse.

I

BACKGROUND

On January 28, 1992, the Commissioner declared a state of emergency in the Massachusetts dairy industry, see Mass.Gen.L. ch. 94A, Sec. 12 (1992), based on findings that rising production costs and flat dairy prices were devastating the industry. 1 The Commissioner determined that a price stabilization system was necessary. The pricing order issued by the Commissioner on February 26, 1992, forms the focus of this appeal.

The pricing order established a "Dairy Equalization Fund" (Fund), into which each licensed milk distributor (dealer) in Massachusetts is required to pay monthly assessments ("differential assessments") equal to one-third of the amount by which the $15 price set by the pricing order exceeds the applicable federal minimum or "blend" price per hundredweight (cwt). 2 The differential

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assessment applies to all milk marketed in Massachusetts by licensed dealers, whether produced in Massachusetts or elsewhere. Notwithstanding the fact that dealers must pay the differential assessment calculated on all out-of-state and in-state produced milk, out-of-state producers, who supply most of the milk sold in Massachusetts, 3 are not entitled to disbursements from the Fund. The monies in the Fund are distributed monthly among Massachusetts milk producers only, in direct proportion to their respective percentage of the total Massachusetts milk production, subject to a monthly payment cap to each Massachusetts producer equal to the differential assessment on 2000 cwt. Excess monies in the Fund are remitted to dealers in direct proportion to their payments into the Fund.

Plaintiffs-appellants, out-of-state producers, sell their entire milk production to West Lynn Creamery, Inc., a licensed Massachusetts milk dealer. Their original civil rights complaint demanded (i) a declaratory judgment that the pricing order violates the Commerce Clause, 4 (ii) the refund of all amounts previously disbursed from the Fund to Massachusetts producers, and (iii) injunctive relief against further enforcement of the pricing order.

The first amended complaint 5 included allegations that the pricing order caused appellants competitive injury and economic harm. 6 On defendants' motion, the district court dismissed the first amended complaint for lack of standing, finding its "general allegations of economic harm ... unsupported by any specific, factual allegations of injury." Adams v. Watson, No. 92-11641-Z, 1992 WL 390721 at * 2, 1992 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 19306, at * 4 (D.Mass.1992). The district court noted that the first amended complaint contained no allegations that the plaintiffs had sold less milk in Massachusetts since February 26, 1992, received a lower price for their milk, or were otherwise frustrated in their attempt to "undersell" Massachusetts producers.

The district court denied plaintiffs' motion to recast their first amended complaint by adding two paragraphs for the stated purpose of alleging "with greater specificity 'injury in fact' to meet the requirement of more 'specific, factual allegations of injury.' " The district court summarily denied the ensuing motion for relief from judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60.

II

DISCUSSION

  1. Applicable Law of Standing.

    Article III of the Constitution limits federal "judicial power" to the resolution of

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    "cases" and "controversies," see U.S. Const. art. III; only if it is presented with a "case or controversy" may an Article III court entertain an action. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2205, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); United States v. AVX Corp., 962 F.2d 108, 113 (1st Cir.1992). In its constitutional formulation, the doctrine of standing is a gatekeeper of justiciability, and "serves to identify those disputes which are appropriately resolved through the judicial process." Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155, 110 S.Ct. 1717, 1722-23, 109 L.Ed.2d 135 (1990). The "irreducible constitutional minimum of standing" entails three elements:

    First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact"--an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized; and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of--the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third, it must be "likely" as opposed to merely "speculative," that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

    Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, --- U.S. ----, ----, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) (citations and some internal quotation marks omitted); see also Northeastern Fla. Chapter of Associated Gen. Contractors of Am. v. Jacksonville, --- U.S. ----, 113 S.Ct. 2297, 124 L.Ed.2d 586 (1993); AVX, 962 F.2d at 113; Munoz-Mendoza v. Pierce, 711 F.2d 421, 424 (1st Cir.1983). 7

    The injury-in-fact inquiry "serves to distinguish a person with a direct stake in the outcome of a litigation--even though small --from a person with a mere interest in the problem." United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP), 412 U.S. 669, 690 n. 14, 93 S.Ct. 2405, 2417 n. 14, 37 L.Ed.2d 254 (1973) (citing Kenneth C. Davis, Standing: Taxpayers and Others, 35 U.Chi.L.Rev. 601, 613 (1968) ("an identifiable trifle is enough for standing to fight out a question of principle")) (emphasis added); see Bowman v. Wilson, 672 F.2d 1145, 1151 (3d Cir.1982) ("The contours of the injury-in-fact requirement, while not precisely defined, are very generous," requiring only that claimant "allege[ ] some specific, 'identifiable trifle' of injury...."); Tax Analysts & Advocates v. Blumenthal, 566 F.2d 130, 138 (D.C.Cir.1977) (distinct and palpable competitive injury is injury-in-fact for standing purposes even if economic injury is slight in magnitude), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1086, 98 S.Ct. 1280, 55 L.Ed.2d 791 (1978). Courts "may reasonably expect that a person so

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    harmed will, as best he can, frame the relevant questions with specificity, contest the issues with the necessary adverseness, and pursue the litigation vigorously." Barlow v. Collins, 397 U.S. 159, 172, 90 S.Ct. 832, 841, 25 L.Ed.2d 192 (1970).

    The responsibility for "clearly and specifically set[ting] forth facts sufficient to satisfy the Article III standing requirements" rests with the claimant. Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 155-56, 110 S.Ct. at 1722-24; see also Lujan, --- U.S. at ----, 112 S.Ct. at 2136; FW/PBS, Inc. v. Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231, 110 S.Ct. 596, 607, 107 L.Ed.2d 603 (1990); Warth, 422 U.S. at 518, 95 S.Ct. at 2215; AVX, 962 F.2d at 114. Like the trial court, we "accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party." Warth, 422 U.S. at 501, 95 S.Ct. at 2206; see AVX, 962 F.2d at 114. 8 " '[E]mpirically unverifiable' conclusions, not 'logically compelled, or at least supported, by the stated facts,' deserve no deference." Id. (quoting Dartmouth Review v. Dartmouth College, 889 F.2d 13, 16 (1st Cir.1989)). Within this analytic framework, we examine appellants' claims.

  2. The District Court Decision.

    The district court found that the first amended complaint raised general allegations of "economic harm" or "competitive disadvantage" but alleged no "specific" facts which would substantiate actual injury, such as reduced out-of-state milk sales to Massachusetts dealers, or lower milk prices to out-of-state producers. The court noted:

    In complaining that the subsidy in itself injures out-of-state farmers, plaintiffs assume a perfectly competitive market in which a direct subsidy to local farmers results in their capture of a larger market share because they can offer their milk at a lower price. Such analysis ignores the fact that there is [a] federal price support in effect. Because the milk dealers must pay the federal minimum price to any dairy farmer, there is no incentive to purchase local rather than out-of-state milk.

    Adams, No. 92-11641-Z, 1992 WL 390721, at * 2 n. 4, 1992 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 19306, at * 4 n. 4.

  3. Allegations of "Competitive Injury."

    Since the proposed second amended complaint did not address the perceived deficiencies in the first amended complaint, and the district court did not elaborate on its reasons for denying the motion to amend, we assume that the court considered the proposed amendment futile. See...

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