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Boyd v. Farrin

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 6, 2013

JOHN W. BOYD, JR. and NATIONAL BLACK FARMERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
JAMES SCOTT FARRIN and ANDREW H. MARKS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION Augusta 2, 2013 [## 10, 13]

RICHARD J. LEON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs are a farm advocacy organization, the National Black Farmers Association ("NBFA"), and its president, John W. Boyd. Over more than two decades, Boyd and the NBFA have fought tirelessly to remedy years of discrimination against black farmers. Their work culminated in two pieces of legislation and two class-action lawsuits known as Pigford I and Pigford II. Together, these legislative and legal victories produced over $1 billion that was distributed among thousands of class members.

Defendants are two members of the team of lawyers that advocated on behalf of NBFA and class members in Pigford II. Plaintiffs allege that defendants promised to compensate them for their advocacy work during Pigford II but failed to follow through on their promise. Plaintiffs' complaint brings three claims: breach of fiduciary duty, quantum meruit, and breach of contract. Defendants have moved separately to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.[1] Upon consideration of defendants' motions to dismiss and the entire record herein, the Court GRANTS defendants' motions to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Nearly sixteen years ago, black farmers brought a class action lawsuit challenging decades of racial discrimination in the allocation of federal farm assistance. See Pigford v. Glickman, No. 97-1978 (D.D.C. filed Aug. 28, 1997) ("Pigford I"). [2] Following a 1999 settlement, the Pigford I Court approved claim packages for farmers who filed claims by September 12, 1999. Compl. [Dkt. # 1] ¶ 9. Alternatively, farmers who filed claims by September 15, 2000 could recover if they demonstrated "extraordinary circumstances" for their delayed filing. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff John Boyd, a Virginia farmer, recovered as a plaintiff under Pigford I, along with 20, 000 other successful filers. Id. ¶ 9; see also Matrix of Objector Procedural Deficiencies, Ex. 28 to Pls.' Response to Objections to the Settlement, In Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, No. 08-mc-511 (D.D.C. Aug. 25, 2011), at 6. However, about 65, 000 farmers (the "late filers") were denied relief under Pigford I because they either 1) missed both deadlines or 2) filed before the September 15, 2000 deadline but could not demonstrate the requisite "extraordinary circumstances." Compl. ¶ 9.

Boyd is the president of the National Black Farmers Association. Id. ¶ 1. For decades, Boyd and NBFA have fought relentlessly on behalf of American black farmers. Id. ¶ 10. After the late filers were denied relief under Pigford I, Boyd and NBFA undertook an aggressive campaign to secure compensation for the late filers. Id. ¶¶ 10-59. Over the next eight years, Boyd testified before Congress, worked closely with Congressional leaders, drafted legislation, and organized large protests against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Id. His work culminated in the passage of Section 14012 of the 2008 Farm Bill, which earmarked $100 million for the late filers. Id. ¶¶ 59-60; see Pub. Law No. 110-234, § 14012 ("2008 Farm Bill").

In order to avail themselves of the earmarked funds, the late filers needed to initiate a lawsuit under the 2008 Farm Bill. Id. ¶ 61. To represent NBFA and its members in the lawsuit, Boyd hired defendant Farrin, along with defendant Marks. Id. ¶ 62.[3] On June 2, 2008, the attorneys filed National Black Farmers Association v. Schaffer, No. 08-cv-940 (D.D.C. filed June 2, 2008), which was consolidated into In Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, No. 08-mc-511 (D.D.C. filed Aug. 8, 2008) ("Pigford II"). Compl. ¶ 62; see also Order, NBFA v. Schaffer, No. 08-cv-940, Aug. 8, 2008. While the attorneys worked on the Pigford II lawsuit, Boyd and NBFA continued their political advocacy. Compl. ¶¶ 62-106. Specifically, Boyd and NBFA sought an additional $1.15 billion for the late filers, on top of the $100 million already set aside for them. Id. ¶¶ 75, 82. Once again, Boyd and NBFA held rallies, met with senior government officials, reached out to other farm groups, and generated media attention for the cause. Id. ¶¶ 62-106.

On February 10, 2010, the Pigford II parties entered into a settlement to resolve the claims of the late filers. Id. ¶ 86. However, the settlement was contingent upon the appropriation of the additional $1.15 billion that Boyd and NBFA were attempting to secure. Id. Throughout 2010, Boyd and NBFA worked with lawmakers to push appropriation legislation through Congress and to the President's desk. Id. ¶¶ 87-106. After years of hard work, Boyd and NBFA witnessed the passage of the Claims Resolution Act on December 8, 2010, which appropriated the additional $1.15 billion for the late filers. Id. ¶ 106; see also Claims Resolution Act, H.R. 4783, Pub. Law No. 111-291, § 201 (2010).

Under the Pigford II settlement, the parties agreed to award attorneys' fees to class counsel of an amount between 4.1% and 7.4% of an adjusted sum of the settlement funds. Id. ¶ 108, 109. According to Boyd, Farrin made payments to Boyd for some of the work he performed and promised him that he would be fully compensated for his years of advocacy that helped generate the Pigford II settlement. Id. ¶¶ 72, 111-12, 115. But when class counsel filed their motion for attorneys' fees, Boyd was dismayed to learn that the attorneys did not mention him or seek any payment on his behalf. Id. ¶ 119. In response, Boyd filed a motion for leave to respond to the attorneys' fees motion. Mot. of John W. Boyd and the NBFA for 1) Leave to File Response to Class Counsel's Updated and Original Mots. for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Expenses and 2) for Evidentiary Hearing, Pigford II, Oct. 5, 2012. He argued that defendants unjustly sought compensation for themselves for the advocacy work that Boyd had performed. Id. The Court denied Boyd's motion, finding that Boyd "ha[d] no legal interest in this case and thus no standing to participate in the Court's resolution of the attorneys' fee motion, or in any of the other determinations made by the Court in these proceedings." Opinion and Order, Pigford II, Jan. 29, 2013, at 4. The Court also recognized that Boyd "appear[ed] to have received a determination on the merits of his Pigford [I] claim... and he [was] therefore ineligible to participate as a plaintiff in [Pigford II]." Id. at 4 n.3. The Court also observed that NBFA, as an organization, could not be a member of the settlement class and, therefore, had no right to object to the motion for attorneys' fees. Id. at 5.

After having been denied compensation for their advocacy work from both the defendants and the Pigford II Court, Boyd and NBFA now seek such compensation in the instant case.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). For a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), "the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the factual predicates of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Erby v. United States, 424 F.Supp.2d 180, 182 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing, inter alia, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). "[Plaintiffs'] factual allegations in the complaint... will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." U.S. ex rel. Digital Healthcare, Inc. v. Affiliated Computer Servs., 778 F.Supp.2d 37, 43 (D.D.C. 2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the plaintiff has pleaded facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " assuming that the facts alleged are true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "While a complaint should not be dismissed unless the court determines that the allegations do not support relief on any legal theory, the complaint nonetheless must set forth sufficient information to suggest that there is some recognized legal theory upon which relief may be granted." District of Columbia v. Air Fla., Inc., 750 F.2d 1077, 1078 (D.C. Cir. 1984). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

In considering motions under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the complaint in a light favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true plaintiff's reasonable factual inferences. See Howard v. Fenty, 580 F.Supp.2d 86, 89-90 (D.D.C. 2008); Smith v. United States, 475 F.Supp.2d 1, 7 (D.D.C. 2006) ...


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