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Bread for City, Inc. v. United States Department of Agriculture

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 30, 2016

BREAD FOR THE CITY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE et aL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. # 14]

          RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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].

         Currently 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.

         BACKGROUND

         In 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).

         Bread 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.

         In 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 years.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         USDA 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 complaint.

         When 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).

         When 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) argument.

         ANALYSIS

         I. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Bread for the City's challenge to TEFAP spending in 2015.

         Whether 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.[1] 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).

         Furthermore, 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).

         II. 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 defendants.

         Ordinarily, 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)[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 ...


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