United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROBERT O. BEAN, Plaintiff,
SONNY PERDUE, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant.
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
action involves a dispute over the standards an agency must
meet when mailing notices to regulated individuals. Plaintiff
Robert Oneal Bean sued Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of the
United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”),
claiming that USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act
(“APA”) by failing to notify him of certain key
information related to his USDA loan. More specifically, Mr.
Bean alleges that he did not receive a letter that summarized
USDA's decision not to reconsider accelerating his loan,
and that explained his rights to mediation and appeal of that
has moved for summary judgment, asserting that it was not
required by any regulation to send the letter at issue, and
that regardless of the governing regulations, the record
shows that the letter was sent. Although the Court finds that
USDA regulations and internal handbook procedures required
USDA to send the letter at issue, Mr. Bean has failed to
raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether it
complied with those regulations and procedures. Accordingly,
for the reasons stated below, the Court grants
Farm Service Agency (“FSA”) is an entity, housed
within USDA, which administers loan programs for
family-operated farms and ranches, among other activities.
FSA, Farm Loan Programs,
(last visited June 15, 2018). FSA is governed by Title 7,
Chapter VII of the Code of Federal Regulations. See
generally 7 C.F.R. §§ 700-799.
case involves USDA's administration of “Primary
Loan Servicing” for FSA farm loans, which is regulated
by 7 C.F.R. § 766. See FSA, Your FSA Farm
Loan Compass, 39-44 (2017),
Primary Loan Servicing provides more lenient loan terms to a
borrower who is financially distressed or delinquent on his
or her FSA loans, provided that the distress or delinquency
is due to circumstances beyond the borrower's control,
including illness or injury. See 7 C.F.R.
§§ 766.101, 104(a). A borrower may be considered
for loan servicing only under certain conditions.
See § 766.104(a). Under its regulatory scheme,
USDA will send loan servicing information via certified mail
to any borrower who is “90 days or more past due on
loan payments, ” or to any borrower who
“[r]equest[s] this information.”1F 7 C.F.R.
§§ 766.101(b), app. A (“FSA-2510”),
766.101(c); Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s
Mot.”) Ex. 1, ECF No. 27-2. However, if a borrower who
has received a loan servicing application form “fails
to timely respond or does not submit a complete application
within [a] 60-day timeframe, ” USDA will notify the
borrower by certified mail of its intent to accelerate the
loan, and of the borrower's right to request
reconsideration, mediation, or appeal of that decision.
C.F.R. § 766.103(b); see Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3
(“FSA-2525”). Once all requests for
reconsideration and administrative appeals are concluded,
USDA will then accelerate the borrower's loan.
See 7 C.F.R. § 766.351(b)(1); 7 C.F.R. §
regulatory framework provides certain procedural protections
for borrowers, including notice requirements and the
opportunity to request mediation or informal review of
certain USDA determinations. See, e.g., 7 C.F.R.
§§ 766.101(b), 766.103(b)(2), 780. For instance,
Section 766, Subpart C, which addresses Primary Loan
Servicing programs, includes three appended forms titled
“Notice of Availability of Loan Servicing”
(“Section 766 Notices”), stating that “[i]f
[a reconsideration] meeting does not change the Agency
decision, you will be notified and provided 30 days
to request mediation, negotiation, or appeal.” 7 C.F.R.
§ 766, subpt. C, apps. A-C(h) (emphasis added).
Similarly, form FSA-2525, notifying a borrower of USDA's
intent to accelerate the borrower's loans, informs the
borrower of a right to reconsideration and states that
“[i]f the reconsideration meeting does not change the
Agency decision, you will be notified and provided 30 days to
request mediation, or appeal as outlined.” Def.'s
Mot. Ex. 3. And 7 C.F.R. § 780 provides the process for
appeal or reconsideration of adverse USDA decisions. It
states that following the disposition of a reconsideration
request, “[t]he official decision on reconsideration
will be the decision letter that is issued.” 7
C.F.R. § 780.7(f) (emphasis added). Section 780 also
provides that “[t]o the extent practicable, no later
than 10 business days after an agency decision maker renders
an adverse decision that affects a participant, FSA will
provide the participant written notice of the adverse
decision and available appeal rights.” 7 C.F.R. §
further specifies procedures for borrowers'
reconsideration requests in its internal handbook on farm
loan servicing (“5-FLP Handbook”). See
FSA, 5-FLP, Direct Loan Servicing: Special and Inventory
Property Management (2014),
www.fsa.usda.gov/internet/FSAfile/5-flp.pdf. Paragraph 231 of
the 5-FLP Handbook states that “[t]he authorized agency
official will send the borrower a letter stating the results
of the reconsideration meeting . . . If FSA's decision
has not changed, the borrower will be provided with new
mediation and appeal rights.” The 5-FLP Handbook
procedures coincide with the USDA regulations, listed above,
requiring the agency to notify borrowers in writing of the
results of their reconsideration requests, and of their
rights to mediation and appeal. See 7 C.F.R.
§§ 766, 780.7(f), 780.15(a).
Mr. Bean's Loan History
Bean, a farmer from Mississippi, borrowed $50, 000 from USDA
in early 2001 to purchase farm land. Declaration of Michael
Palmer (“Palmer Decl.”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 27-1;
Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute
(“Def.'s SUMF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 26-1. Mr.
Bean made timely payments to USDA until 2011, when he began
to fall behind on the loan. See Palmer Decl. ¶
3. He was never able to catch back up. Id.
in the spring of 2014, USDA sent Mr. Bean a series of
certified mailings related to his flagging loan payments.
Id. ¶ 4. Mr. Bean does not contest receipt of
those mailings, save one. Pl.'s Opp'n Def.'s Mot.
(“Pl.'s Opp'n”) at 4-5, ECF No. 30. On
April 17, 2014, Michael Palmer, a USDA Farm Loan Officer,
sent Mr. Bean a loan servicing application, form FSA-2510.
Palmer Decl. ¶ 4; Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1
(“FSA-2510”). As explained above, this
application contained information on loan servicing options,
and it explained that Mr. Bean must apply for loan servicing
within 60 days of receiving the application or else risk loan
acceleration. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 (“FSA-2510”);
Def.'s Mot. at 3, ECF No. 26-2. On May 19, 2014, Officer
Palmer sent Mr. Bean, by First Class regular mail, form
FSA-2516, titled “30 Day Reminder of the Notice of
Availability of Loan Servicing” (“30 Day
Reminder”). Palmer Decl. ¶ 5; see
Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2 (“FSA-2516”), ECF No. 27-2.
On June 18, 2014, having received no response from Mr. Bean
within the 60 day period mandated by form FSA-2510, Officer
Palmer sent Mr. Bean form FSA-2525, titled “Intent to
Accelerate.” Palmer Decl. ¶ 6; see
Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3 (“FSA-2525”). This form
notified Mr. Bean of USDA's decision to accelerate his
loan, and it demanded that he pay the full loan balance to
avoid foreclosure, or that he pursue reconsideration,
mediation, or appeal. See Def.'s Mot. Ex. 3
(“FSA-2525”). On June 23, 2014, Mr. Bean
requested reconsideration of USDA's decision to
accelerate his loan. See Palmer Decl. ¶ 7;
Def.'s Mot. Ex. 4 (“FSA-2526”), ECF No. 27-2;
Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.
26, 2014, Officer Palmer and Mr. Bean met to discuss Mr.
Bean's request for reconsideration. Palmer Decl. ¶
8; Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. Based on that meeting, Officer
Palmer determined that Mr. Bean failed to provide evidence
that the Intent to Accelerate notice was sent in error, and
therefore declined to halt the loan acceleration. Palmer
Decl. ¶ 8; see Def.'s Mot. Ex. 5, ECF No.
27-2. On June 27, 2014, Officer Palmer sent Mr. Bean
“Notice of the Farm Service Agency's Response to
Plaintiff's Request for Reconsideration”
(“Response Letter”), affirming USDA's
previous decision to accelerate his loan and noting that Mr.
Bean had 30 days to request mediation or appeal the
determination. See Def.'s Mot. Ex. 5. Officer
Palmer initially sent the letter by certified mail, but it
was returned unclaimed on July 17, 2014, so he immediately
re-sent it via First Class regular mail. Palmer Decl. ¶
9; see Def.'s Mot. Ex. 5. Mr. Bean claims that
he never received this First Class mailing. Decl. of Robert
Bean (“Bean Decl.”) ¶ 3, ECF No. 30-2;
Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts in Dispute
(“Pl.'s SMF”) ¶ 5, ECF No. 30-1. On
August 4, ...