Douglas v. O'Neal, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:17-CV-00808

Decision Date23 August 2018
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:17-CV-00808
PartiesLONNIE DOUGLAS, ET AL., Plaintiffs v. PETER O'NEAL, ET AL., Defendant
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana

JUDGE DRELL

MAGISTRATE JUDGE PEREZ-MONTES

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Before the Court are: (1) a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 122), filed by Defendant George Carroll, III ("Carroll"); and (2) Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss (Doc. 107), filed by Defendants Sonny Perdue ("Perdue"), Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"),1 and Peter O'Neal ("O'Neal") (collectively "Defendants"). Pro se Plaintiffs Lonnie Douglas, Henry Douglas, MacArthur Douglas, Viola Douglas, Antionette Douglas, and Lawrence Mathis ("Plaintiffs") oppose Carroll's motion. (Doc. 127). Plaintiffs also seek leave to amend the complaint. (Docs. 67, 124).2

Because Plaintiffs' proposed amendments would be futile, Plaintiffs' motions for leave (Docs. 67, 124) should be DENIED.

Because Plaintiffs fail to state a plausible claim for relief against Carroll, Carroll's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 122) should be GRANTED.

Because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims to the extent they allege violations of the Consent Decree in Pigford v. Glickman, 185 F.R.D. 82 (D.D.C. 1999) (the "Pigford Consent Decree"), and over Plaintiffs' tort claims and civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985(3), against USDA, Perdue (in his official capacity), and O'Neal (in his official capacity), Defendants' 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 107) should be GRANTED.

Because Plaintiffs failed to state a plausible claim for relief against O'Neal in his individual capacity, because Plaintiffs' claims under Louisiana law, § 1983, and § 1985(3) are untimely, and because Plaintiffs' claims, to the extent they relate to Civil Action Number 1:96-cv-00064, are barred by res judicata, Defendants' 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 107) should be GRANTED. Plaintiffs' claims against Carroll, USDA, Perdue, and O'Neal under Louisiana law, § 1983, and § 1985(3) should be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiffs' remaining claims should be dismissed without prejudice.

Since dismissal is recommended, all remaining motions in this action should be denied as moot.

I. Background

On June 23, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an "Original Complaint Writ of Possession and Contemporaneous Summary Judgment Pursuant to FRCP 56" ("Complaint"). (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs named as Defendants Peter O'Neal ("O'Neal"), George ("Guy") Carroll ("Carroll"), Michael Kramer ("Kramer"), Catahoula Parish Sheriff'sDepartment ("CPSD"), Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards ("Edwards"), and the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") - Sonny Perdue ("Perdue"), Secretary of Agriculture (collectively "Defendants"). (Doc. 1). The remaining Defendants are Carroll, USDA, Perdue (in his official capacity only), and O'Neal (in his official and individual capacity). Plaintiffs' claims against all other Defendants have been dismissed. (Doc. 94).

Plaintiffs' Complaint, while difficult to follow and convoluted, asserts a number of claims against the remaining Defendants which appear to be premised on the rightful ownership of 172 acres of farmland. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs claim the property that is the subject of this litigation was illegally sold or foreclosed through the acts or omissions of Defendants. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege the property was obtained by the United States pursuant to a judgment in rem, Civil Action No. 96-0064. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs assert the action resulted in loss of property due to a lien that should not have attached to the property. (Doc. 1).

Citing the Pigford Consent Decree,3 Plaintiffs assert the sale of the farm property was improper and illegal. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege that even though thefarm was written off by the "agency," O'Neal colluded with Carroll to perfect and arrange a sale, and for the CPSD to remove Lonnie Douglas from the property. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs further allege Carroll, along with CPSD, and O'Neal violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, interfered with his "paid in full mortgage," committed fraud by attaching a lien to a mortgage in which it had no interest, and unjustly enriched the "agency" by allowing O'Neal to sell the property. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs claim O'Neal conspired with Carroll to purchase the farm belonging to Henry Douglas that had been written off by the "agency" in accordance with the Pigford Consent Decree. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs further allege O'Neal arranged a private sale with Carroll. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs do not reference a date when they allegedly were forcefully removed from the property. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs assert claims against O'Neal under Brown v. Nationsbank Corp., 188 F.3d 579, 590 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971)).

Plaintiffs claim Henry Douglas and MacArthur Douglas farmed the "Douglas Place" and were responsible for the farm ownership loan and farm operating loan. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs further allege Henry Douglas and MacArthur Douglas were never served with the action that resulted in a 1996 in rem judgment. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs claim the homestead is owned and inhabited by Odessa Douglas and Viola Douglas, who are both "Track B Pigford Class Members." (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs further claimthey have yet to receive a formal hearing, and enjoy a moratorium against foreclosure. (Doc. 1).

Plaintiffs allege a breach of the United States's fiduciary duty concerning the settlement agreement with Henry Douglas under the Pigford Consent Decree, "negligent retainment" of O'Neal after violating the stipulations of the Pigford Consent Decree, and "constitutional and state violations." (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege state law torts of fraud, fraudulent inducement, unjust enrichment, express or tacit confirmation of contract, and moratorium against foreclosure under § 14012 of the Food Energy and Conservation Act. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs seek damages in the amount of $10,000,000 for punitive damages, compensatory damages, treble damages, and reliance damages. Plaintiffs also seek return of the homestead to Lonnie Douglas and 172 acres of farmland to Henry Douglas. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs have filed numerous variations of pleadings and motions, including voluminous exhibits, all seeking essentially that same relief.

Carroll seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs' Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 122).4 Carroll alleges Plaintiffs have shown no set of facts that would entitle them to relief. (Doc. 122). Plaintiffs oppose Carroll's motion. (Doc. 127).

USDA, Perdue, and O'Neal also seek dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc.107). USDA, Perdue, and O'Neal assert they are entitled to a dismissal of all claims against them. (Doc. 107). Plaintiffs did not file any document labeled as an opposition. However, Plaintiffs filed "Plaintiff's Memorandum Claim and Exhibit Timeline in Support of Report and Recommendation in Favor of the Plaintiffs." (Doc. 115). To the extent Plaintiffs' memorandum addresses USDA's, Perdue's, and O'Neal's arguments, this Court will consider Plaintiffs' memorandum as an opposition. (Doc. 115).

Plaintiffs seek leave to amend the Complaint. (Docs. 67, 124). Plaintiffs allege they seek to add additional facts and claims, and to join additional parties. (Docs. 67, 124).

II. Law and Analysis
A. Standards governing the Motion to Amend

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1) provides that:

a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within (A) 21 days after serving it, or (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, the party may amend within 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). The court should freely give leave when justice so requires. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).

Ordinarily, "a pro se litigant should be offered an opportunity to amend his complaint before it is dismissed." Brewster v. Dretke, 587 F.3d 764, 767-68 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Granting leave to amend, however, is not required if theplaintiff has already pleaded her "best case." Brewster, 587 F.3d at 768 (citing Bazrowx v. Scott, 136 F.3d 1053, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998)). A district court "acts within its discretion in denying leave to amend where the proposed amendment would be futile because it could not survive a motion to dismiss." Rio Grande Royalty Co. v. Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., 620 F.3d 465, 468 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Briggs v. Mississippi, 331 F.3d 499, 508 (5th Cir. 2003)).

Generally, a court should not dismiss an action for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) without giving plaintiff "at least one chance to amend." Hernandez v. Ikon Ofc. Solutions, Inc., 306 Fed.Appx. 180, 182 (5th Cir. 2009); accord Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 329 (5th Cir. 2002). However, that general rule does not apply if an amendment would be futile. Townsend v. BAC Home Loans Serv'g, L.P., 461 Fed.App'x. 367, 372 (5th Cir. 2011); Jaso v. The Coca Cola Co., 435 Fed.App'x. 346, 351-52 (5th Cir. 2011). Futility in this context means "that the amended complaint would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted . . . [Thus,] to determine futility, we will apply the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6)." Stripling v. Jordan Prod. Co., 234 F.3d 863, 873 (5th Cir. 2000) (quotations and citations omitted); accord Fenghui Fan v. Brewer, 377 Fed.App'x. 366, 367 (5th Cir. 2010).

B. Standards governing the 12(b)(1) Motion to...

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