Harris v. US, No. WC 91-47-B-D.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtBIGGERS
Citation820 F. Supp. 1018
PartiesW.L. HARRIS, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. WC 91-47-B-D.
Decision Date04 December 1992

820 F. Supp. 1018

W.L. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.

No. WC 91-47-B-D.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, W.D.

December 4, 1992.


820 F. Supp. 1019

Preston D. Rideout, Jr., Greenwood, MS, for plaintiff.

Patricia D. Rogers, U.S. Attorney's Office, Oxford, MS, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BIGGERS, District Judge.

This cause comes before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss and on cross-motions for summary judgment. In this action plaintiff W.L. Harris seeks a declaratory judgment that certain conservation easements placed upon his land by the Farmers Home Administration (hereinafter FmHA) are void. After due consideration of the

820 F. Supp. 1020
pleadings and memoranda filed in this cause, the court is prepared to rule

FACTS

On August 24, 1987, the Grenada Bank of Mississippi foreclosed on 1,893 acres of land belonging to the plaintiff. To protect its lien on the property, the FmHA successfully bid at the foreclosure sale. The property at that time had an appraised value of $683,000.00 and, subsequent to the government's purchase, the plaintiff's indebtedness to the defendant was credited in that amount. The land thereupon entered the FmHA's inventory on September 1, 1987, and was assigned Advice Number 86216. Thereafter, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (hereinafter FWS) was requested to render assistance to the FmHA for the purpose of determining if there were wetlands on the property or if some or all of it qualified for wetlands assessment. After the FWS advised the FmHA that 1004.7 acres of the land were properly classified as wetlands, the defendant thereupon designated that portion so identified as "wetlands."

On June 16, 1988, the plaintiff was given notice as a former owner of FmHA inventory property of his lease-back/buy-back rights. In April of the following year, Harris exercised those rights by signing a contract to repurchase the land for $371,700.00, an amount that represented the reduced value of the property with the wetlands easements. A quitclaim deed noting the easements was prepared and signed by the parties on April 28, 1989. Shortly thereafter, Harris discovered that due to the extent of the conservation easements which now restricted his land, he was unable to farm enough of it to provide sufficient revenue to make his annual payments on his debt to the FmHA. He thereupon filed suit seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the wetlands easements placed upon his land by the FmHA are void and an unlawful cloud on his title; (2) a declaratory judgment that the land declared by the FmHA to be wetlands is not wetlands; and (3) an order directing the FmHA to issue the plaintiff a new deed without the wetlands easements and/or to cease and desist from preventing the plaintiff from farming the amount of land necessary to generate sufficient revenue to make his annual land payments. The defendant has answered the complaint and subsequently filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The plaintiff also moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, this court determines that although its motion to dismiss is not well taken, the defendant's motion for summary judgment has merit and the same will be granted in part.

DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss

The defendant moves the court to dismiss the complaint in this cause on the ground that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking insofar as the plaintiff's action should properly be before the United States Court of Claims pursuant to the Tucker Act. The plaintiff's complaint lists 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. 2409a, and 5 U.S.C. § 702 as the jurisdictional prerequisites for this action.

1. The Tucker Act

The defendant's argument in support of its motion to dismiss, simply stated, is that the plaintiff's claims are essentially contractual in nature. Furthermore, since the value of the relief sought—the difference between the property free of the wetlands easements and that of the property so encumbered—exceeds $10,000, the defendant argues that jurisdiction properly lies with the Court of Claims. Conversely, the plaintiff asserts that his claims are not contract-based and, at any rate, he is not seeking money damages but rather declaratory relief. As such, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 since what he seeks is a judicial declaration that the wetlands easements were unlawfully placed on his property by the FmHA and are void under the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987. Alternatively, the plaintiff contends that this court has jurisdiction under the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a.

To sue the United States, Congress must have waived sovereign immunity with respect to the claim being asserted and provided jurisdiction to hear the claim in the court in which the suit is brought. Bank of

820 F. Supp. 1021
Hemet v. United States, 643 F.2d 661, 664 (9th Cir.1981). Jurisdiction over contract actions against the United States where the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000 must be brought pursuant to the Little Tucker Act in the United States Court of Claims. 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(2). The Act's jurisdictional provisions may not be avoided by simply framing the complaint as a request for declaratory relief. Professional Managers Association v. United States, 761 F.2d 740 (D.C.Cir.1985).1 Title 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is not sufficient to confer jurisdiction over a contract claim seeking money damages exceeding $10,000 against the United States because § 1331 does not waive the sovereign immunity of the United States. North Side Lumber Co. v. Block, 753 F.2d 1482, 1484 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 931, 106 S.Ct. 265, 88 L.Ed.2d 271 (1985)

In this case, the court concludes jurisdiction is proper. The plaintiff does not allege that the FmHA has breached its contract with him nor does he question the obligations incident to that contract. Neither is the plaintiff seeking money damages. Rather, Harris challenges the very authority of the FmHA to impose the contractual conditions at issue in this case, wetlands easements, on inventory property that is subject to lease-back/buy-back rights given by congressional enactment. Merely by pointing to the fact that if the plaintiff succeeds he will have gained something of value in excess of $10,000 is not sufficient to raise a jurisdictional question where the plaintiff does not proceed under rights stemming from a contract with the government. Harris questions the actions of the FmHA in light of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 and has proceeded under statutory-based rather than contract-based rights, a distinction which another court has found significant in this context. See Rowe v. United States, 633 F.2d 799 (9th Cir.1980) (plaintiffs' reliance on federal statute as authority for requiring Secretary of Interior to award lease prevented court from dismissing their otherwise contract-related claims against the United States), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 970, 101 S.Ct. 2047, 68 L.Ed.2d 349 (1981). In sum, the court concludes that § 1346(a)(2) does not divest this district court of jurisdiction where plaintiff challenges the actions of the government on the basis of federal statutory law and not on the basis of a contract between the parties. The inapplicability of 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2), however, raises another problem.

This action arises under federal law and, as such, jurisdiction is proper in federal district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. As stated earlier, however, § 1331 is not a waiver of sovereign immunity. Beale v. Blount, 461 F.2d 1133, 1138 (5th Cir.1972). In concluding that this cause is not founded upon a contract with the United States, the limited waiver of the defendant's sovereign immunity included in 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2) does not apply. As the government does not consent to suit, the question remains whether the plaintiff's invocation of either 5 U.S.C. § 702 or 28 U.S.C. § 2409a can provide the proper basis for the waiver of immunity necessary for the maintenance of this action.2

2. Quiet Title Act

The defendant asserts jurisdiction is proper under the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 28 U.S.C. § 2409a. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(f) vests "exclusive original jurisdiction of civil actions under section 2409a to quiet title to an estate or interest in real property in which an interest is claimed by the United States" in the district court. The QTA is a limited waiver

820 F. Supp. 1022
of the sovereign immunity of the United States where action is brought to quiet title to lands in which the United States "claims an interest, other than a security interest or water rights." 28 U.S.C. § 2409a. If the plaintiff's contention that the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 divests the FmHA of authority to impose conservation easements on land subject to the prior owner's lease-back/buy-back rights is correct, then such easements appearing on the plaintiff's deed constitute an unlawful cloud upon his title. The government's legally cognizable interest in the plaintiff's land prevents his intended use for the property (farming) and the government does not disclaim such an interest. The court agrees that jurisdictionally the QTA is the proper vehicle upon which such claims can proceed before this court. Knapp v. United States, 636 F.2d 279 (10th Cir. 1980). The plaintiff's claim (Complaint, para. 8, p. 4) that the conservation easements are an unlawful cloud on his title by virtue of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, specifically, 7 U.S.C. § 1985(e)(1)(A)(i), which he alleges renders nugatory Executive Order 11990, is properly before this court under the QTA, the exclusive remedy for resolving this dispute, Block v. North Dakota, 461 U.S. 273, 286, 103 S.Ct. 1811, 1819, 75 L.Ed.2d 840 (1983).3

In sum, § 1331 provides the jurisdictional base for the plaintiff's claims. 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(2) does not compel dismissal or transfer of this cause to the Court of Claims since this is not an...

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8 practice notes
  • List of Case Citations
    • United States
    • Wetlands deskbook. 4th edition Appendices
    • April 11, 2015
    ...................................................................................................... 140, 179 Harris v. United States, 820 F. Supp. 1018 (N.D. Miss. 1992), 23 ELR 21434, aff ’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994) ..........................................................................
  • Agricultural Wetlands Programs
    • United States
    • Wetlands Deskbook Part II. Other Wetland Laws and Programs
    • November 11, 2009
    ...1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. (110 Stat.) 888, 1102 (codiied at 7 U.S.C. §2002). 141. Id. 142. Id . §639. 143. See 7 C.F.R. §1955.137(b). 144. 820 F. Supp. 1018, 23 ELR 21434 (N.D. Miss. 1992), af’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994). his loans. Initially, Harris attacked the authority of the government to......
  • Other Federal Wetlands Laws and Programs
    • United States
    • Wetlands deskbook. 4th edition -
    • April 11, 2015
    ...to, in efect, regulate wetlands even if they do not otherwise have a state wetland program.. No 130. See 7 C.F.R. §1955.137(b). 131. 820 F. Supp. 1018, 23 ELR 21434 (N.D. Miss. 1992), af’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994). 132. Harris , 820 F. Supp. at 1025. 133. Id. at 1026. 134. Id. at 1029......
  • List of Case Citations
    • United States
    • Wetlands Deskbook Appendices
    • November 11, 2009
    ...109, 135 Harris v. United States, 820 F. Supp. 1018 (N.D. Miss. 1992), 23 ELR 21434, aff ’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994) .........................................................................................................................182 Hartford Associates v. United States, 792 F......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 cases
  • Sierra Club v. US Army Corps of Engineers, Civil Action No. 96-0672-CB-M.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • August 27, 1996
    ...Co. v. F.E.R.C., 983 F.2d 1095, 1099 (D.C.Cir. 1993); McKinley v. United States, 828 F.Supp. 888 (D.N.M.1993); Harris v. United States, 820 F.Supp. 1018 (N.D.Miss.1992). 935 F. Supp. 1566 Accordingly, the plaintiffs in this action bear the burden of demonstrating to the Court that the Corps......
  • Larson v. U.S., No. Civ. 97-1210(RHK/RLE).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • December 12, 1997
    ...result from that reached in the analysis we detail, in the text of this Report, as to Section 2201. See, e.g., Harris v. United States, 820 F.Supp. 1018, 1021 n. 2 (N.D.Miss. 1992) ("Neither the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S .C. § 2201, nor the `Further Relief' statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2202,......
  • Kllm Emp. Health Protect. Plan v. Ontario Com. Hosp., Civil Action No. 3:96CV387 (L) (N).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • October 28, 1996
    ...but rather, "provide[s] additional remedies where jurisdiction independently already exists," Harris v. United States of America, 820 F.Supp. 1018, 1021 n. 2 (N.D.Miss.1992), aff'd, 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir.1994), the court rejects the Plan's argument that the Act, in and of itself, confers su......
  • Estrada v. Harris, Civil Action No. 5:14-cv-00939-XR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • June 30, 2015
    ...[a federal court] but, rather, provide additional remedies where jurisdiction independently already exists." Harris v. United States, 820 F. Supp. 1018, 1021 n.2. (N.D. Miss. 1992) aff'd, 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Smith v. Lehman, 533 F.Supp. 1015, 1018 (E.D.N.Y.1982), cert. deni......
4 books & journal articles
  • List of Case Citations
    • United States
    • Wetlands Deskbook Appendices
    • November 11, 2009
    ...109, 135 Harris v. United States, 820 F. Supp. 1018 (N.D. Miss. 1992), 23 ELR 21434, aff ’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994) .........................................................................................................................182 Hartford Associates v. United States, 792 F......
  • List of Case Citations
    • United States
    • Wetlands deskbook. 4th edition Appendices
    • April 11, 2015
    ...................................................................................................... 140, 179 Harris v. United States, 820 F. Supp. 1018 (N.D. Miss. 1992), 23 ELR 21434, aff ’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994) ..........................................................................
  • Agricultural Wetlands Programs
    • United States
    • Wetlands Deskbook Part II. Other Wetland Laws and Programs
    • November 11, 2009
    ...1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. (110 Stat.) 888, 1102 (codiied at 7 U.S.C. §2002). 141. Id. 142. Id . §639. 143. See 7 C.F.R. §1955.137(b). 144. 820 F. Supp. 1018, 23 ELR 21434 (N.D. Miss. 1992), af’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994). his loans. Initially, Harris attacked the authority of the government to......
  • Other Federal Wetlands Laws and Programs
    • United States
    • Wetlands deskbook. 4th edition -
    • April 11, 2015
    ...to, in efect, regulate wetlands even if they do not otherwise have a state wetland program.. No 130. See 7 C.F.R. §1955.137(b). 131. 820 F. Supp. 1018, 23 ELR 21434 (N.D. Miss. 1992), af’d , 19 F.3d 1090 (5th Cir. 1994). 132. Harris , 820 F. Supp. at 1025. 133. Id. at 1026. 134. Id. at 1029......

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