Huggins v. United States, Civil Action No. 1:10–CV–00274–GHD–DAS.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtGLEN H. DAVIDSON
Citation858 F.Supp.2d 694
PartiesWillie HUGGINS, Plaintiff v. UNITED STATES of America, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:10–CV–00274–GHD–DAS.
Decision Date14 March 2012

858 F.Supp.2d 694

Willie HUGGINS, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES of America, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 1:10–CV–00274–GHD–DAS.

United States District Court,
N.D. Mississippi,
Eastern Division.

March 14, 2012.


[858 F.Supp.2d 695]


Bradley Don Tennison, Gifford & Allred, Booneville, MS, for Plaintiff.

Ava Nicola Jackson, U.S. Attorney's Office, Oxford, MS, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court are the following: a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [9] filed by the Defendant, the United States of America (the “Defendant”); and a motion for summary judgment [11] filed by the Plaintiff, Willie Huggins (the “Plaintiff”). Because the Defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [9] includes matters outside the pleadings which this Court shall not exclude,

[858 F.Supp.2d 696]

pursuant to Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the motion shall be considered a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. After due consideration of the record, rules, and authorities, the Court is ready to rule.

A. Introduction

Congress established the federal food stamp program 1 “[t]o alleviate ... hunger and malnutrition” and “permit low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation.” 7 U.S.C. § 2011. The FNS oversees the program and provides food stamps to states participating in the program, and the states then distribute the food stamps to qualified individuals and households. The FNS regional office “shall ... disqualify a firm permanently if” the firm has engaged in the trafficking of food stamps. 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(a). “Trafficking” is defined as “the buying or selling of coupons, ATP cards[,] or other benefit instruments for cash or consideration other than eligible food....” 7 C.F.R. § 271.2. Food stamp trafficking unquestionably undermines the goals of the food stamp program. See H.R. REP. NO. 271, 99th Cong. (1st Sess.), reprinted in 1985 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1103, 1260; S. REP. NO. 504, 97th Cong. (2d Sess.), reprinted in 1982 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1641, 1700–02. A firm's disqualification from participation in the program “result[s] from a finding of a violation on the basis of evidence that may include facts established through on-site investigations, inconsistent redemption data, evidence obtained through a transaction report under an electronic benefit transfer system, or the disqualification of a firm from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).” 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(a). A retail food store or wholesale food concern that is subjected to a civil money penalty may first timely seek administrative review of the validity of the determination, and upon the final administrative determination, may timely seek judicial review of the agency determination.

The Plaintiff in the case sub judice owned and operated Rienzi Discount Grocery, a retail grocery store located in Rienzi, Mississippi. Rienzi Discount Grocery was authorized to accept food stamps under the food stamp program. The FNS notified the Plaintiff that Rienzi Discount Grocery was permanently disqualified from participating in the program for trafficking in food stamps in violation of the food stamp regulations, specifically, 7 C.F.R. §§ 271.2 and 278.2(a). The FNS based this disqualification on several violations of the Food Stamp Act in which the Plaintiff had accepted food stamp EBT cards as payment in exchange for ineligible merchandise. Plaintiff never sought administrative review of the permanent disqualification decision and decided instead to close his grocery store business and lease the empty buildings to a tenant. The USDA then assessed a civil money penalty of $34,560 against the Plaintiff based on his perceived transfer of his grocery store business to the tenant in violation of the Food Stamp Act. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the FNS's final decision to uphold the penalty, contending that he merely leased the empty building that had previously housed his grocery store business and did not transfer ownership of his business in violation of food stamp regulations.

B. Issues on Review

The two issues before this Court are as follows: first, whether Plaintiff's leasing of

[858 F.Supp.2d 697]

the building that housed his former grocery store business violated the terms of Plaintiff's permanent disqualification from participation in the food stamp program per 7 U.S.C. § 2021(e)(1) and 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(f)(2); and second, whether if Plaintiff violated the terms of his permanent disqualification, the civil money penalty assessed against Plaintiff was in accordance with the guidelines of 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(g).

C. Standard of Review

A retail food store or wholesale food concern that is subjected to a civil money penalty under 7 U.S.C. § 2021 may first timely seek administrative review of the validity of the determination, and upon the final administrative determination, may timely seek judicial review of the agency determination pursuant to 7 U.S.C. § 2023(a)(13). Such suit “shall be a trial de novo by the court in which the court shall determine the validity of the questioned administrative action in issue.” 7 U.S.C. § 2023(a)(15). De novo review is broader than the review standard under the Administrative Procedure Act. Modica v. United States, 518 F.2d 374, 376 (5th Cir.1975). The Administrative Procedure Act provides in pertinent part as follows: “To the extent necessary to the decision and when presented, the reviewing court shall decide all relevant questions of law, interpret constitutional and statutory provisions, and determine the meaning or applicability of the terms of an agency action.” 5 U.S.C. § 706. De novo review of an agency decision encompasses more, “requir[ing] the district court to examine the entire range of issues raised, and not merely to determine whether the administrative findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Modica, 518 F.2d at 376. “The court must reach its owns factual and legal conclusions based on the preponderance of the evidence, and should not limit its consideration to matters previously dealt with in the administrative proceedings.” Ruhee M., Inc. v. United States, No. H–05–1547, 2006 WL 1291356, at *2 (S.D.Tex. May 5, 2006) (citing Modica, 518 F.2d at 376). The aggrieved party bears the burden of establishing the invalidity of the administrative action by a preponderance of the evidence. Redmond v. United States, 507 F.2d 1007, 1011 (5th Cir.1975). The aggrieved party “may offer any relevant evidence available to support his case, whether or not it has been previously submitted to the agency, and the agency itself may offer any evidence available to support its action, whether or not in the administrative record.” Id. at 1012. “If the court determines that such administrative action is invalid, it shall enter such judgment or order as it determines is in accordance with the law and the evidence.” 7 U.S.C. § 2023(a)(16).

A retail food store or wholesale food concern that is subjected to a civil money penalty under 7 U.S.C. § 2021 may similarly first seek timely administrative review and then judicial review of whether the civil money penalty was in accordance with the applicable regulations promulgated under the Food Stamp Act. Judicial review of a sanction imposed under the Food Stamp Act is limited to the determination of whether the sanction is valid; a sanction is valid as long as it is not “arbitrary and capricious,” that is, “unwarranted in law or without justification in fact.” See Butz v. Glover Livestock Comm'n Co., 411 U.S. 182, 185–89, 93 S.Ct. 1455, 36 L.Ed.2d 142 (1973); Goodman v. United States, 518 F.2d 505, 511–12 (5th Cir., 1975). See also Estremera v. United States, 442 F.3d 580, 585 (7th Cir.2006); Woodard v. United States, 725 F.2d 1072, 1077 (6th Cir.1984) (citing Kulkin v. Bergland, 626 F.2d 181, 184 (1st Cir.1980)); Cross v. United States, 512 F.2d 1212, 1218 (4th Cir.1975) (en banc).2 The district

[858 F.Supp.2d 698]

court decides only whether the agency's interpretation was plainly erroneous or inconsistent with its own regulations; otherwise, the agency's construction of its own regulations is controlling. Silwany–Rodriguez v. INS, 975 F.2d 1157, 1160 (5th Cir.1992).

“Cases arising under the Food Stamp Act, 7 U.S.C. §§ 2011 et seq., may be resolved in the district court by summary judgment where there are no genuine issues of material fact.” Cullen Drive–In Grocery v. Block, 778 F.2d 1141, 1142 (5th Cir.1985) (citing Modica, 518 F.2d at 376). Summary judgment “should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir.2008). The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the Record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings and by ... affidavits, or by the ‘depositions,...

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • November 4, 2013
    ...food stamp program pursuant to 7 U.S.C. § 2021(e)(1) and 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(f)(2). The FNS cites the case of Huggins v. United States, 858 F. Supp.2d 694, 699 (N.D. Miss. 2012), which defendant asserts is inapposite to the present case in pertinent respects, to argue that the FNS validly impo......
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    ...7 C.F.R. § 271.2. Food stamp trafficking unquestionably undermines the goals of the food stamp program. Huggins v. United States, 858 F. Supp. 2d 694, 696 (N.D. Miss. 2012); see H.R. REP. NO. 271, 99th Cong. (1st Sess.), reprinted in 1985 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1103, 1260; S. REP. NO. 504, 97th Cong.......
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    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
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    ...was in fact transferred to Wolverine. (Id.) In support of their position, Plaintiffs rely principally on Huggins v. United States, 858 F.Supp.2d 694, 705 (N.D. Miss. 2012) (finding that no transfer of ownership had occurred where various documents indicated the plaintiff had dissolved his b......
  • Nassr Abdullah Saleh & Nassr's Deli & Grocery, Inc. v. United States, 13-CV-4095 (ERK) (RLM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2014
    ...she only leased space and had not purchased the inventory, fixtures, or goodwill from the previous owners); Huggins v. United States, 858 F. Supp. 2d 694, 705 (N.D. Miss. 2012) (finding that no transfer had occurred where various documents indicated the plaintiff had dissolved his business ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Moksin v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., Case No. 1:12-cv-597
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • November 4, 2013
    ...food stamp program pursuant to 7 U.S.C. § 2021(e)(1) and 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(f)(2). The FNS cites the case of Huggins v. United States, 858 F. Supp.2d 694, 699 (N.D. Miss. 2012), which defendant asserts is inapposite to the present case in pertinent respects, to argue that the FNS validly impo......
  • Sharif v. United States, CIVIL ACTION NO.: 4:16-cv-67-JMV
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • January 5, 2017
    ...7 C.F.R. § 271.2. Food stamp trafficking unquestionably undermines the goals of the food stamp program. Huggins v. United States, 858 F. Supp. 2d 694, 696 (N.D. Miss. 2012); see H.R. REP. NO. 271, 99th Cong. (1st Sess.), reprinted in 1985 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1103, 1260; S. REP. NO. 504, 97th Cong.......
  • Sana Energy Mgmt. v. United States, Case No. 19-11072
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • May 26, 2021
    ...was in fact transferred to Wolverine. (Id.) In support of their position, Plaintiffs rely principally on Huggins v. United States, 858 F.Supp.2d 694, 705 (N.D. Miss. 2012) (finding that no transfer of ownership had occurred where various documents indicated the plaintiff had dissolved his b......
  • Nassr Abdullah Saleh & Nassr's Deli & Grocery, Inc. v. United States, 13-CV-4095 (ERK) (RLM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2014
    ...she only leased space and had not purchased the inventory, fixtures, or goodwill from the previous owners); Huggins v. United States, 858 F. Supp. 2d 694, 705 (N.D. Miss. 2012) (finding that no transfer had occurred where various documents indicated the plaintiff had dissolved his business ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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