Brown v. Williams et al
ORDER & REASONS granting 6 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; granting 13 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Party Jimmie Thorns, Jr, Erroll G. Williams, Lawrence E. Chehardy and Robert D Hoffman, Jr dismissed. Signed by Judge Sarah S. Vance on 1/12/2017. (mmm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
ERROLL G. WILLIAMS, ET AL
SECTION “R” (1)
ORDER AND REASONS
Defendants Erroll G. Williams, Lawrence E. Chehardy, Jimmie Thorns,
Jr., and Robert D. Hoffman, Jr. move 1 the Court to dismiss plaintiff Howard
Brown’s complaint. 2
Because the Court does not have jurisdiction to
entertain plaintiff’s complaint, the motions to dismiss are GRANTED.
This case arises out of a tax dispute.
Plaintiff believes that the
application of Louisiana’s ad valorem tax scheme to plaintiff’s property is
unconstitutional under both the United States and Louisiana constitutions.
On October 5, 2016, Plaintiff Howard Brown filed this pro se lawsuit alleging
that defendants conspired to deprive plaintiff of his rights. At the time the
complaint was filed, defendant Williams was the Assessor of Orleans Parish,
R. Doc. 6; R. Doc. 13.
R. Doc. 1.
Chehardy and Thorns were members of the Louisiana Tax Commission, and
Hoffman was special counsel for the Commission. Plaintiff’s complaint
alleges that, in imposing an ad valorem tax on Brown’s property, the
defendants conspired to violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Plaintiff
seeks $20,800,000 and costs for his suit. 3
On October 13, 2016, defendant Williams filed a motion to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On October 31, the
remaining defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6) as well as a motion to strike under Rule 12(f).4 Plaintiff filed a
response on November 15, 2016, 5 and defendants replied three days later. 6
Defendants’ motions to dismiss argue that the Court lacks jurisdiction to
hear this case pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, and possibly under the
Eleventh Amendment. The motions also argue that even if this Court had
jurisdiction, plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be
R. Doc. 1 at 16.
R. Doc. 13-1 at 2.
R. Doc. 14.
R. Doc. 17.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) requires dismissal of an action if the court lacks
jurisdiction over the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claim. Motions
submitted under that rule allow a party to challenge the court’s subject
matter jurisdiction based upon the allegations on the face of the complaint.
Barrera-Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996); see
also Lopez v. City of Dallas, No. 03-2223, 2006 WL 1450420, at *2 (N.D.
Tex. May 24, 2006).
If the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a
claim, the claim must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Home Builders Ass’n of Mississippi, Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d
1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). A court has federal question jurisdiction when
the plaintiff’s claim arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A claim arises under federal law when
federal law creates the cause of action. Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v.
Darue Eng’g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005). When “a private citizen relies
on a federal statute as the basis of federal question jurisdiction, that statute
must provide a private cause of action, or else a federal court will not have
subject matter jurisdiction to hear the dispute.” Lowe v. ViewPoint Bank,
972 F. Supp. 2d 947, 954 (N.D. Tex. 2013) (citing Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 817 (1986)).
In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court may rely on
(1) the complaint alone, presuming the allegations to be true, (2) the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts, or (3) the complaint
supplemented by undisputed facts and by the court’s resolution of disputed
facts. Den Norske Stats Oljeselskap As v. HeereMac Vof, 241 F.3d 420, 424
(5th Cir. 2001); see also Barrera-Montenegro, 74 F.3d at 659. A court’s
dismissal of a case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction is not a decision on
the merits, and the dismissal does not necessarily prevent the plaintiff from
pursuing the claim in another forum. See Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d
606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977).
When a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a
legally cognizable claim, Rule 12(b)(6) provides the appropriate challenge.
To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, plaintiffs must plead enough
facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 547 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when a plaintiff pleads facts
that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court must accept all wellpleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiffs. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232-33 (5th Cir.
2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). But the Court is not
bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
A legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a “sheer
possibility” that plaintiffs’ claim is true. Id. It need not contain detailed
factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or
formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual
matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence
of each element of the plaintiffs’ claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 255-57. If
there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, or if it is apparent from the face
of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, Jones v. Bock, 549
U.S. 199, 215 (2007); Carbe v. Lappin, 492 F.3d 325, 328 n.9 (5th Cir. 2007),
the claim must be dismissed.
Finally, because plaintiff is a pro se litigant, the Court will apply “less
stringent standards to parties proceeding pro se than to parties represented
by counsel. Grant v. Cuellar, 59 F.3d 523, 524 (5th Cir. 1995) (per curiam).
This does not mean, however, that a court “will invent, out of whole cloth,
novel arguments on behalf of a pro se plaintiff in the absence of meaningful,
albeit imperfect, briefing.” Jones v. Alfred, 353 F. App’x 949, 951-52 (5th
Cir. 2009). Therefore, even a liberally construed pro se complaint “must set
forth facts giving rise to a claim on which relief may be granted.” Johnson v.
Atkins, 999 F.2d 99, 100 (5th Cir. 1993).
The Tax Injunction Act provides that “[t]he district courts shall not
enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under
State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts
of such State.” 28 U.S.C. § 1341. As the Fifth Circuit holds, “[s]ection 1341
reflects ‘the fundamental principle of comity between federal courts and
state governments that is essential to Our Federalism, particularly in the area
of state taxation.’” Washington v. New Orleans City, 424 F. App’x 307, 30910 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Fair Assessment in Real Estate Ass’n, Inc. v.
McNary, 454 U.S. 100, 103 (1981)). Federal courts interpret section 1341’s
text to advance its purpose of “confin[ing] federal-court intervention in state
government.” ANR Pipeline Co. v. Louisiana Tax Comm’n, 646 F.3d 940,
946 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Arkansas v. Farm Credit Servs. of Cent. Ark.,
520 U.S. 821, 826-27 (1997)).
Here, plaintiff seeks $20,800,000 in damages arising out of the
allegedly unconstitutional application of Louisiana’s ad valorem tax scheme
to his property. As the text of section 1341 instructs courts not to “enjoin,
suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax,” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1341, plaintiff argues that Act does not apply here because he has never
“asked [the] court or intend[ed] to ask a jury to enjoin, suspend, restrain,
levy or collect any tax under Louisiana state law.”7
ignores the breadth of the Tax Injunction Act. The Fifth Circuit has made
clear that the Tax Injunction Act “is not a narrow statute aimed only at
injunctive interference with tax collection, but is rather a broad restriction
on federal jurisdiction in suits that impede state tax administration . . . .”
United Gas Pipe Line Co. v. Whitman, 595 F.2d 323, 326 (5th Cir. 1979).
Consistent with this broad interpretation, the Fifth Circuit has previously
found that the Tax Injunction Act also applies to federal suits for damages
against state tax administrators based on theories that the enforcement of
the tax is unconstitutional, because the suit “would have many of the same
detrimental effects that actions for tax refund, declaratory, or injunction
R. Doc. 14-1 at 3.
relief would have.” A Bonding Co. v. Sunnuck, 629 F.2d 1127, 1133-34 (5th
Cir. 1980). Further, that the suit alleges civil rights violations under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 does not preclude the application of the Tax Injunction Act.
Moss v. State of Ga., 655 F.2d 668, 669 (5th Cir. 1981). Thus, the Court may
not exercise jurisdiction unless Louisiana fails to provide a “plain, speedy,
and efficient remedy” for plaintiff’s claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1341.
“State courts are equipped to furnish a plain, speedy, and efficient
remedy if they provide a procedural vehicle that affords taxpayers the
opportunity to raise their federal constitutional claims.” Home Builders
Ass’n of Mississippi, Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1012 (5th
Cir. 1998). A state’s remedy is therefore adequate when it provides taxpayers
with a complete judicial determination, with ultimate review available in the
United States Supreme Court. Smith v. Travis Cnty. Educ. Dist., 968 F.2d
453, 456 (5th Cir. 1992) (quoting Rosewell v. LaSalle Nat. Bank, 450 U.S.
503, 514 (1981)). Importantly, “the state remedy need not be the best of all
remedies. [I]t need only be adequate.” Home Builders, 143 F.3d at 1012
(quoting Alnoa G. Corp. v. City of Houston, Tex., 563 F.2d 769, 772 (5th Cir.
constitutional challenges to state taxation schemes: payment under
Louisiana’s payment-under-protest statute and a refund suit in state court.
As the Fifth Circuit has repeatedly held, these procedures provide an
adequate means of asserting constitutional claims in Louisiana courts. See
Washington, 424 F. App’x at 310; ANR Pipeline, 646 F.3d at 947; MRT Expl.
Co. v. McNamara, 731 F.2d 260, 263 n.5 (5th Cir. 1984) (“[T]he Louisiana
refund procedure provides taxpayers with a plain, speedy, and efficient
remedy in the Louisiana courts.”). Plaintiff’s response to the motions to
dismiss does not contest that Louisiana provides taxpayers who wish to
challenge Louisiana’s ad valorem taxation scheme with a plain, speedy, and
efficient remedy. Thus, the relief that plaintiff seeks in this case would
dispute Louisiana’s tax administration, and a plain, speedy and efficient
remedy is available in state court. Accordingly, the Tax Injunction Act
precludes the Court from exercising jurisdiction over this case. 8
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS defendants’ motions to
dismiss. Plaintiff’s complaint is DISMISSED under Federal Rule of Civil
Because the Court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiff’s complaint,
the Court need not address whether plaintiff’s suit is barred by the Eleventh
Amendment or if plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be
Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
dismissal is for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, it is without prejudice to
plaintiff’s right to pursue his claims in state court.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this _____ day of January, 2017.
SARAH S. VANCE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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