Miller v. United States Department of the Interior et al

Filing 55

ORDER that the Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 48 ) is granted. FURTHER ORDERED, pursuant to the Court's order to show cause (Doc. 46 at 2), that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 41 ) is dismissed. FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff has leave until 04/29/16, to file one further amended complaint. No further leave will be granted. If Plaintiff fails to file a further amended complaint by then or if the further amended complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, this action will be dismissed with prejudice. See order for details. Signed by Judge Neil V. Wake on 4/6/16. (NKS)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 10 11 No. CV-14-08240-PCT-NVW Douglas E. Miller, Plaintiff, ORDER v. 12 13 United States Department of the Interior; et al., 14 Defendants. 15 16 17 The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff’s Complaint for failure to comply with 18 federal pleading requirements. The Complaint was not understandable. Instructions 19 were given how to comply. (Doc. 40 at 3-4.) Upon review of Plaintiff’s Amended 20 Complaint (Doc. 41), the Court entered an order to show cause why the Amended 21 Complaint should not be dismissed too. (Doc. 46 at 2.) The Federal Defendants, all 22 agencies or officers sued in their official capacity, also filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 23 48.) (The Federal Defendants will collectively be referred to as “the Government” 24 because a suit against a federal officer in his official capacity is a suit against the 25 Government. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991).) 26 1. Claims Against the Government 27 The Amended Complaint still does not contain a “short and plain statement of the 28 claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). It is 1 considerably longer than the original Complaint and contains many new allegations the 2 relevance of which is not clear. Although the Amended Complaint has the benefit of 3 mostly chronological order, it still fails to explain which of the Government’s actions 4 were illegal and why. It alleges that the Government issued certain Grazing Permits as 5 Plaintiff wished, and it never alleges that the Government revoked or limited these 6 Permits or that the Permits are different now compared to when they were first issued to 7 Plaintiff. There is no allegation that Plaintiff formally requested any change in the 8 Permits or that any such request was denied by final agency action. Indeed, there is no 9 allegation of any final agency action. Rather, the Amended Complaint alleges that the 10 Government failed to protect Plaintiff’s Permits in state court litigation. 11 Plaintiff’s theory is that the Government had a duty to take over his private lawsuit and 12 win it for him. Even so, he does not allege that he ever asked the Government to protect 13 him or that the Government knew of the state court litigation. Perhaps 14 None of this does or can state a claim against the Government. There is nothing 15 illegal about granting Plaintiff the Grazing Permits as requested and renewing them as 16 requested. The Secretary of the Interior has no duty to take over private litigation relating 17 to Permits after she has granted them. She has no duty to take sides in property litigation 18 between private parties that may affect the value of the Permits. 19 20 21 22 23 24 Plaintiff seeks two alternative forms of relief against the Government. The first involves damages: C. . . . that the Federal Defendants, specifically the BLM [Bureau of Labor Management], reassume BLM Lease #06222, Arizona State Lands Lease #05-1618 and their associated grazing preference and pay Miller damages for his loss of business assets in the amount of not less than $850,000 plus interest or an amount to be determined at trial. 25 26 (Doc. 41 at 35-36.) The second involves declaratory judgment and transfer of property: 27 Alternatively: 28 ... -2- 1 3 G. A declaratory judgment reaffirming and declaring that Miller owns, and has owned no later than 2001, all of the Grazing Permit and Grazing Preference associated with Allotment No. 06222. 4 ... 2 5 6 7 K. Order the Federal Defendants to effect and complete actual deeded transfer to Miller of all the Range Improvements, Co-operative Agreements and Water Rights pertaining to the 209 head federal grazing preference. 8 9 (Id. at 36-37.) 10 To the extent Plaintiff requests money damages against the Government, the 11 request is barred by sovereign immunity. “To sustain a claim that the Government is 12 liable for awards of money damages, the waiver of sovereign immunity must extend 13 unambiguously to such monetary claims.” Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996). 14 Plaintiff does not allege any statutory authorization for a damages action against the 15 Government. Were Plaintiff alleging a breach of contract claim, which he is not, the 16 Tucker Act could not authorize this action for damages because the exclusive forum 17 would be the Claims Court, not this District Court. See United States v. Hohri, 482 U.S. 18 64, 66 n.1 (1987). Nor could the Federal Tort Claims Act authorize this action for 19 damages, because it only covers circumstances where private actors could be liable under 20 state law. See United States v. Olson, 546 U.S. 43, 45-46 (2005). To the extent Plaintiff 21 requests an order that the Government buy back the Permits, no wrong is alleged at all, 22 much less one for which the law gives that remedy. Because there is no statutory 23 authorization of that relief, such relief would also violate sovereign immunity. No 24 declaratory judgment can be given when there is no right or case or controversy alleged 25 against the Government. 26 Therefore the Government’s Motion to Dismiss will be granted, in part for failure 27 to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and in part for sovereign immunity. The 28 Federal Defendants will be dismissed. -3- 1 2. 2 The Court originally dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Starcrest 3 because Plaintiff’s rights against Starcrest had already been adjudicated in state court and 4 the adjudication was conclusive against Plaintiff’s Complaint as pled. (Doc. 40 at 2.) 5 Nevertheless, the Court’s dismissal order and subsequent order to show cause allowed 6 Plaintiff to file an amended complaint asserting any rights he may have against Starcrest 7 consistent with the state court judgment. (Doc. 40 at 3; Doc. 46 at 2.) Plaintiff has not 8 done so. 9 judgment or that could have been raised as defenses to the judgment. Claims Against Starcrest Instead he continues to allege claims directly contrary to the state court 10 The Amended Complaint does not explain why the prior state court judgment does 11 not bar this action. It merely alleges that the judgment is contrary to federal law. Even if 12 that were true, it was Plaintiff’s obligation (1) to present those federal law defenses in 13 state court and (2) to appeal the adverse decision if it violated federal law. It does not 14 appear that he ever presented his federal defenses in the state trial court. He did appeal, 15 but apparently did not present those federal issues. Even if those federal defenses were 16 presented in the trial court and the appellate court, they were necessarily rejected, as the 17 Court of Appeals’ Memorandum Decision is silent on them. Starcrest, Inc. v. Miller, No. 18 1 CA-CV 11-0395, 2012 WL 2469967 (Ariz. Ct. App. June 21, 2012). 19 The principle of res judicata bars a later court from overturning an earlier final 20 decision. In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff seeks a judgment from this Court contrary to 21 the state court adjudication of his dispute with Starcrest. (See, e.g., Doc. 41 at 35, 36 22 (seeking damages “for all costs, expenses, and stress suffered as a result of the Superior 23 Court action”).) 24 requested judgment contrary to the state adjudication. Thus, the relief is barred by res 25 judicata. The rest of the relief sought against Starcrest is ancillary to this 26 Even if Plaintiff could indirectly attack the state court judgment, he has not 27 pleaded any error in the judgment. No violation of the Montana bankruptcy plan is 28 alleged, as it is not alleged that Starcrest was a creditor or that Plaintiff listed Starcrest as -4- 1 a creditor. Plaintiff’s muddled allegations do not establish any understandable right 2 concerning the Permits that Starcrest has violated. 3 Starcrest’s later sales of parcels to third parties violate his legal rights. 4 5 Nor does Plaintiff explain how Therefore, pursuant to this Court’s order to show cause (Doc. 46 at 2), this action will be dismissed as against Starcrest also. 6 3. 7 If the only thing wrong with the Amended Complaint were failure to comply with 8 the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), leave to amend further would be granted 9 without hesitation. But there are additional deficiencies here. It appears that no claim 10 against the Federal Defendants can be alleged. Similarly, the essence of Plaintiff’s 11 grievances against Starcrest is that he has rights against Starcrest that were wrongly 12 denied by the state court’s quiet title judgment. Thus, further amendment may be futile. Leave to Amend 13 Nevertheless, because and only because Plaintiff lacks counsel, one further 14 opportunity will be granted to amend the complaint so as to state a claim upon which 15 relief can be granted. No further amendment and no extension of time will be granted. 16 17 18 19 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Federal Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 48) is granted. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, pursuant to the Court’s order to show cause (Doc. 46 at 2), that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 41) is dismissed. 20 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff has leave until April 29, 2016, to file 21 one further amended complaint. No further leave will be granted. If Plaintiff fails to file 22 a further amended complaint by then or if the further amended complaint fails to state a 23 claim upon which relief can be granted, this action will be dismissed with prejudice. 24 Dated this 6th day of April, 2016. 25 26 Neil V. Wake United States District Judge 27 28 -5-

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