Williamson v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Decision Date29 April 1987
Docket NumberNo. 86-4314,86-4314
Citation815 F.2d 368
PartiesClyde E. WILLIAMSON, d/b/a Triangle 44 Farms, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, et al., Defendant-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Eugene A. Booth, Baton Rouge, La., John E. Mulhearn, Jr., Natchez, Miss., for plaintiff-appellant.

Raymond W. Fullerton, Atty., Dept. of Agriculture, Office Gen. Counsel, Washington, D.C., George Phillips, U.S. Atty., Dan M. McDaniel, Jr., Danhy L. Woodyard, Asst. U.S. Attys., Jackson, Miss., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Before WILLIAMS, JOLLY and DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

JERRE S. WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Clyde Williamson appeals the dismissal of his claims against the Department of Agriculture and several federal government officials for deprivation of property without due process of law, tortious interference with contract, and misrepresentation. The district court had granted the government's motion for summary judgment. Williamson's appeal exposes the tension between the need to protect government officials from the misplaced wrath of citizens disappointed by the actions of the officials, and the need to protect those citizens whose disappointment is alleged to be a constitutional injury. We resolve that tension in this case in favor of the government and its officials, and therefore affirm the judgment of the district court dismissing Williamson's claims.

I. The Facts

Appellant Clyde Williamson was a farmer in Adams County, Mississippi. Beginning in April, 1978, appellant applied for and received eleven loans from the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) totalling $963,110.00. As of September 20, 1985, appellant owed FmHA $616,851.26, with interest accruing on his account at a daily rate of $122.00.

On March 8, 1981, appellee Joe Dockins was appointed FmHA County Supervisor in Adams County. At his first meeting with appellant, appellant told him he had sold his 1980 soybean crop and had used the proceeds to pay advance rent for 1981 on his farm. Dockins pointed out to appellant that those proceeds had been pledged to FmHA to repay his 1980 crop loans, and that appellant had been entitled to pay only his 1980 rent out of the proceeds before paying FmHA. Finally, according to appellant, Dockins said that he intended to run appellant out of business.

Appellant's 1980 soybean crop had been sold to Concordia Grain Co. in Vidalia, Louisiana, under the name of appellant's wife, Donna Williamson. Her name did not appear on Concordia's list of FmHA financed farmers, although the name "Clyde Williamson" and the name of his company, "Triangle 44 Farms," did appear on the list. Dockins subsequently asked Concordia to repay the proceeds of the sale. Appellant asserts that, as a result, Dockins caused Concordia to pay to FmHA funds to which the agency was not entitled. These funds had been earmarked by appellant for repayment of loans he had received from First Natchez Bank in Natchez, Mississippi, for his 1981 crop. Appellant asserts that Dockins' actions caused him to default on his loan from First Natchez.

Appellant also alleges that Dockins "maneuvered" him into selling Smithland Plantation at this time. Dockins testified that he simply had agreed to release an FmHA lien on the property to allow the sale to occur, and had offered appellant his opinion that the land was being sold at a good price. Appellant alleges that the sale of this property contributed to his subsequent ineligibility for FmHA loans.

Because appellant had violated the covenants of his 1980 security agreement with FmHA, the FmHA Mississippi State Office informed Dockins on May 9, 1981, that appellant's 1981 loan application would not be processed. Four days later, Dockins and appellee Kent, FmHA District Director for Southwest Mississippi, recommended to the FmHA State Office that appellant receive his 1981 loans despite his technical ineligibility. We note that this recommendation came after, according to appellant, Dockins had told him that he was going to be run out of business. Appellant filed complaints concerning his ineligibility with FmHA, and with his congressman and senators. Subsequently, appellant's loans were approved, and he borrowed $301,760.00 on June 23, 1981.

Because of this delay in his 1981 funding, and because Adams County was considered a disaster area for the 1980 crop year, appellant applied for a disaster loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Appellant claims, and appellees deny, that Dockins subsequently informed SBA that appellant "did not want" the disaster loan for which he had been approved. It appears from a review of the record that appellant never received an SBA disaster loan.

In late 1981, Dockins and appellant prepared an FmHA plan for use by appellant in applying for his 1982 loans. At this time, appellant signed over to FmHA a check for the proceeds of his 1981 crop. FmHA had a lien on those proceeds, obtained as security for the 1981 loans. Appellant claims that he signed over the check in reliance on Dockins' promise that he would receive his 1982 loans. Dockins denies having ever made such a promise. After preparing the plan, Dockins determined that appellant was not eligible for 1982 FmHA loans. Under the then-applicable agency guidelines, appellant's history of past production and expenses demonstrated a lack of repayment ability. Appellant requested and got a meeting with Dockins' supervisor, appellee Kent, who reached the same conclusion.

Subsequently, FmHA changed its guidelines for loan eligibility, removing various restrictions that had previously rendered appellant ineligible. After the change, appellant was tentatively approved for a 1982 loan in the amount of $225,000.00. Before the loan was to be closed on March 23, 1982, however, a lien search by FmHA revealed that Mississippi Federated Cooperative (MFC) had filed a judgment against appellant on March 22 for $60,000.00. Dockins and Kent testified that they had asked MFC to wait until appellant's loan was closed before it filed the judgment, but that MFC refused to cooperate. Once the lien was discovered, appellant was once again ineligible for his FmHA loan. Several months later, MFC still refused to subordinate its lien so as to allow FmHA to close its loan with appellant.

On April 2, 1982, one of appellant's landlords called Dockins to inquire about the status of appellant's 1982 loans, explaining that appellant owed her $32,000.00 rent. Dockins refused to release any information to the landlord, and had no other contact with her. Appellant claims that Dockins told the landlord that appellant would not be able to work the farm in question, at which point the landlord obtained an injunction keeping appellant off the farm. As a result, appellant claims, he was unable to recover his crops, seed, chemicals, fuels, and trucks that remained on the farm.

In early 1983, appellant applied for FmHA loan assistance once again. On February 10, 1983, the Mississippi State Office turned down his application because he could not demonstrate sufficient cash flow. On February 23, the State Office decided to "accelerate" appellant's account because of the number of his loans which were past due. At that point, the full amount of all of appellant's FmHA loans became due and payable immediately. Appellant was given notice of his right to appeal the acceleration, and he did so. On August 15, 1983, a hearing officer upheld the State Director's decisions, whereupon appellant requested a review by the Deputy Administrator of FmHA in Washington. On October 26, 1983, the FmHA National Office found no basis for overturning the decisions of the State Office to deny appellant's 1983 loan request and to accelerate his account.

Appellant also claims that during the period described above, Dockins falsified crop yield reports to indicate that appellant's fields would yield more than they actually yielded. Further, appellant claims that Dockins accused him of failing to account for his crop insurance proceeds, when Dockins knew that those proceeds had been paid to First Natchez Bank.

On March 1, 1983, appellant filed a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. On May 17, 1983, FmHA filed a proof of claim in the Bankruptcy Court in the amount of $506,130.88 against Clyde Williamson, d/b/a Triangle 44 Farms. Appellant asserts that this proof of claim lists loans he never received and fails to credit his account for hundreds of thousands of dollars actually paid to FmHA.

Appellant subsequently filed suit on December 17, 1984, against appellees United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); FmHA; John Block, the Secretary of Agriculture; James Perry, Don Barrett, and John Author, individually and as past and present FmHA Mississippi State Directors; Dan Mattox, individually and as Assistant FmHA Mississippi State Director; Henry Magnum, individually and as Mississippi Chief of FmHA Programs; Wesley Kent, individually and as FmHA District Director for Southwest Mississippi; and Joe Dockins, individually and as Adams County FmHA Supervisor. Appellant claimed that these officials were amenable to suit under the Federal Torts Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Secs. 2671-80, and were liable for committing common-law torts against him: interfering with his contracts with third parties, misrepresenting to him and to others the probability of his receiving federal loans, and, generally, committing a series of negligent and intentional acts designed to force appellant into bankruptcy. Further, appellant requested relief for violation of his constitutional rights, claiming that appellees had committed a series of constitutional torts by depriving him of his property without due process of law.

Appellant's suit was filed as an adversary...

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