United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. # 14]
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bread for the City, Inc. ("Bread for the City" or
"plaintiff) brings this action against defendants the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture
Thomas J. Vilsack, and the Food and Nutrition Service
(collectively, "USDA" or "defendants").
In its Complaint, Bread for the City asserts that USDA
misinterpreted the clear command of 7 U.S.C. §
2036(a)(2) and, as a result, failed in fiscal year 2015 to
purchase and distribute more than $277 million worth of food
required by Congress as part of The Emergency Food Assistance
Program ("TEFAP"). Compl. [Dkt. # 1].
before the Court is USDA's Motion to Dismiss the
Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
[Dkt. #14]. For the reasons stated below, the Court rejects
Bread for the City's asserted legal theory and GRANTS
defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.
1983, Congress created The Emergency Food Assistance Program
("TEFAP") to provide free nutrition assistance to
low-income Americans. Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983,
Pub. L. 98-8, 97 Stat. 35 (1983). Under the program, USDA
purchases food with appropriated funds and distributes it to
eligible state agencies, who in turn must distribute a
portion of the food to public or non-profit "emergency
feeding organizations." 7 U.S.C. §§ 7501-02; 7
U.S.C. § 2036(a).
for the City is a non-profit organization that distributes
food to low-income residents in the Washington, D.C. area.
Compl. ¶ 5. According to its Complaint, Bread for the
City has participated in TEFAP for at least twenty years and
has in previous years received a significant portion of the
food that USDA distributed to the District of Columbia as
part of TEFAP. Id. ¶ 30.
2014, Congress passed the Agricultural Act of 2014, which
reauthorized TEFAP and established its spending levels for
future fiscal years. Agricultural Act of 2014, Pub. L.
113-79; § 4027, 128 Stat. 649, 812-13 (2014) (codified
at 7 U.S.C. § 2036(a)). Based on its interpretation of
the statute, USDA purchased and distributed $327 million
worth of TEFAP food in fiscal year 2015. Compl. ¶ 33;
Mem in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4 [Dkt. #
14-1.] Bread for the City asserts that USDA misinterpreted
the statute, and argues that the agency was required to
purchase and distribute $604 million worth of food in fiscal
year 2015. Compl. ¶ 1. Bread for the City filed its
Complaint in September 2015, seeking to compel USDA to spend
the additional $277 million and to comply with Bread for the
City's interpretation of the statute in future fiscal
moves to dismiss Bread for the City's Complaint pursuant
to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). A
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the
Court's jurisdiction over the plaintiffs claims, while a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of a
defendant files a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden
of establishing the facts that support jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence. Erby v. United
States, 424 F.Supp.2d 180, 182 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing
Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561
(1992). Furthermore, since subject matter jurisdiction is a
statutory and a constitutional Article III requirement that
cannot be waived by litigants, Akinseye v. Dist. of
Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Circ. 2003), the Court
must independently satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction to
hear the plaintiffs claims. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp.,
546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006).
deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court
must ascertain whether the complaint contains
"sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Although
the Court must read the complaint's factual allegations
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Bell
Atlantic Co v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), the
Court is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the
form of factual assertions, Browning v. Clinton, 292
F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002), and a claim that is premised
on a faulty legal theory must be dismissed, "without
regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory
or on a close but ultimately unavailing one."
Nietzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). For
the following reasons, the Court rejects defendants'
jurisdiction motion but agrees with its Rule 12(b)(6)
The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Bread for the
City's challenge to TEFAP spending in 2015.
the Court has jurisdiction over Bread for the City's
claims, at least insofar as they relate to USDA's TEFAP
spending in fiscal year 2015, is to say the least, not a
close question. Indeed, because Bread for the City is
challenging USDA's interpretation of 7 U.S.C. §
2036(a)(2) and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under
the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701, the
Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C § 1361, and the Declaratory
Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2202, this Court is explicitly
endowed with subject matter jurisdiction over this Complaint.
28 U.S.C. § 1331 (granting district courts jurisdiction
over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution,
laws, or treaties of the United States"); 28 U.S.C
§ 1361 (granting district courts jurisdiction over
federal mandamus actions).
I easily conclude that Bread for the City has alleged
sufficient facts to establish standing. See Food & Water
Watch, Inc. v. Vilsack, 808 F.3d 905, 913 (D.C. Cir.
2015) ("In order to establish jurisdiction, a party must
establish standing."). Indeed, in order to establish
standing at the motion to dismiss stage, the plaintiff need
only "state a plausible claim that [it has] suffered an
injury in fact fairly traceable to the action of the
defendant that is likely to be redressed by a favorable
decision on the merits." Id. at 913. Here,
Bread for the City alleges that it has participated in TEFAP
for at least 20 years, that it has received a significant
portion of the TEFAP food allocated to Washington, D.C. in
prior years, and that it would have likely received a higher
allocation of food if USDA had purchased the $604 million
worth of food it believes the statute required. Compl.
¶¶ 5, 30. In effect, Bread for the City alleges
that USDA's failure to distribute the correct amount of
food to states (and the District of Columbia) caused the
organization to receive less food than it likely would have,
and seeks an order directing USDA to purchase the correct
amount of food. Thus, based on these allegations alone, I
find that Bread for the City has the standing necessary to
challenge USDA's 2015 TEFAP spending. See West
Virginia Assoc. of Cmty. Health Ctrs. v. Heckler, 734
F.2d 1570, 1572 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (holding that nonprofit
entities had standing to challenge federal agency's
formula for distributing grants to state agencies, who in
turn distributed grant funds to non-profit organizations, on
the grounds that plaintiff organizations had been denied the
opportunity to compete for additional funding).
Bread for the City's Complaint raises a purely legal
question that should be resolved at the motion to
dismiss stage and in favor of the
a motion for summary judgment, rather than a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss, is the "proper [procedural] mechanism
for deciding as a matter of law, whether an agency action is
supported by the administrative record and consistent with
the APA standard of review." R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
Co. v. USDA,130 F.Supp.3d 356, 369 (D.D.C. 2015).
However, Bread for the City's Complaint raises a purely
legal question- whether the text of 7 U.S.C. §
2036(a)(2) required USDA to purchase more food than
it did in fiscal year 2015. Furthermore, USDA has declined to
file the administrative record with the Court, and its motion
relies on nothing "other than the statute and relevant
legislative history." Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot.
to Dismiss at 1 n.l. Under these circumstances, it is
procedurally permissible, and appropriate, to resolve the
merits of Bread for the City's APA challenge at this
early stage in the proceedings. Am. Bankers'Assoc, v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 271 F.3d
262, 266 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (affirming Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal
of complaint where district could resolve APA challenge
"with nothing more than the statute and its legislative
history"); Marshall Cty. Health CareAuth.
v. Shalala,988 ...