Hymas v. USA

Filing 168

ORDER ADOPTING 163 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION; granting 141 Defendants' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 157 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. Case is closed. Signed by Judge Salvador Mendoza, Jr. (AY, Case Administrator)

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1 FILED IN THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON 2 Mar 31, 2021 SEAN F. MCAVOY, CLERK UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON 3 4 5 JAY HYMAS, d/b/a DOSMEN FARMS, Plaintiff, 6 9 10 ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION v. 7 8 No. 4:16-cv-05091-SMJ UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, DEBRA A. HAALAND, Secretary of the United States Department of Interior, and AURELIA SKIPWITH, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 11 Defendants.1 12 13 Before the Court is Magistrate Judge Dimke’s February 23, 2021 Report and 14 Recommendation, ECF No. 163, recommending that this Court grant Defendants’ 15 Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 141, and deny Plaintiff’s 16 Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 157. Plaintiff objected to the report in its 17 18 1 19 20 Debra Haaland has succeeded David L. Bernhardt as Secretary of the United States Department of Interior. Additionally, Aurelia Skipwith no longer serves as Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the position remains vacant. Yet because the Court rules in favor of Defendants, it need not separately dismiss claims against Skipwith here. ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 1 1 entirety. ECF No. 164. Defendants responded and asked the Court to adopt the 2 Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 167. 3 Plaintiff is a farmer in the Columbia Basin. Defendants manage the Mid- 4 Columbia Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Umatilla and McNary 5 National Wildlife Refuges. Defendants contract with private farmers to produce 6 crops on certain lands within the refuges through cooperative farming agreements 7 (CFAs), which allow the farmers to retain a share of the crop yield. After 8 unsuccessful attempts to obtain a CFA, Plaintiff brought this suit, challenging 9 Defendants’ use of a priority system which favors incumbent farmers. The sole 10 remaining cause of action in this case arises under the Administrative Procedure 11 Act, (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.2 12 After reviewing the Report and Recommendation and relevant authorities, 13 the Court finds the Magistrate Judge’s findings are correct. Therefore, the Court 14 adopts the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. LEGAL STANDARD 15 16 When a party files a timely objection to a Magistrate Judge’s 17 recommendation, the District Court must make a de novo determination about each 18 19 20 2 Because Magistrate Judge Dimke’s Report and Recommendation, as well as previous filings in the record, properly set out the procedural and factual background of this case, the Court includes only a summary here. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 141, 157, & 163. ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 2 1 portion of the recommendation to which the party objected. United States v. Howell, 2 231 F.3d 615, 621 (9th Cir. 2000); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court “may 3 accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made 4 by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). “The judge may also receive 5 further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” 6 Id. DISCUSSION 7 8 Plaintiff raises five categories of objections. He argues that Magistrate Dimke 9 erred by (1) determining the Refuge Manual was still in effect in 2013 and 2014; 10 (2) limiting the scope of Plaintiff’s claims; (3) permitting Defendants to “award 11 CFAs without any binding guidelines whatsoever,” ECF No. 164 at 7; (4) 12 concluding the 2013 and 2014 CFA awards complied with the APA; and (5) 13 accepting the Administrative Record. See generally ECF No. 164. The Court 14 reviewed the law, the issues, and the record de novo. The Court agrees with the 15 Magistrate’s analysis and determines that only limited additional analysis is needed. 16 This Order is to be read in conjunction with the Report. See ECF No. 163. 17 A. The Report properly determined the Refuge Manual was still in effect in 2013 and 2014 18 19 Through Director’s Order 42 (DO 42), Defendants sought to consolidate its 20 “myriad of separate manuals, handbooks and other directives.” AR 1374–75. A ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 3 1 “savings clause,” allowed Defendants to continue to rely on the directives, including 2 the Refuge Manual, until the conversion was complete. Id. The second sentence of 3 the savings clause terminated the provisions of DO 42 on January 1, 2008 in the 4 event that the conversion of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s manuals and other 5 directives had not been completed and the revoked manuals had not been amended 6 or superseded by that time. AR 1374–75, 1377. 7 Whether the Court accepts Amendment 15’s retroactive effective date or not, 8 the Refuge Manual was still in effect in 2013 and 2014. See AR 1378. The Refuge 9 Manual was not converted, amended, or superseded before January 1, 2008. Either 10 the provisions of DO 42 were “revoked” between January 1, 2008 and February 26, 11 2014 or the agency could rely on it under the savings clause. This is a plain reading 12 of the text of DO 42 and does not require the Court to adopt any “unexpressed 13 intentions to trump the ordinary import” of the regulatory language. See Exportal 14 Ltda. v. United States, 902 F.2d 45, 50–51 (D.C. Cir. 1990). 15 B. 16 The Report properly limited the scope of Plaintiff’s claims 1. The Court agrees that it should dismiss Plaintiff’s APA claim challenging Defendants’ failure to farm Field 4 17 18 The Court agrees that Plaintiff’s operative complaint does not properly allege 19 a “failure to act” claim under the APA and that amendment at this late stage would 20 be overly prejudicial to Defendants. See ECF Nos. 86, 163; see also Coleman v. ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 4 1 Quaker Oats Co., 232 F.3d 1271, 1291–92 (9th Cir. 2000). But even if Plaintiff had 2 properly pleaded the claim, it would fail on the merits, so amendment would be 3 futile. See Rosati v. Igbinoso, 791 F.3d 1037, 1039 (9th Cir. 2015) (“A district court 4 should not dismiss a pro se complaint without leave to amend unless it is absolutely 5 clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment”) 6 (internal quotation omitted). 7 A failure to act claim “can proceed only where a Plaintiff asserts that an 8 agency failed to take a discrete agency action that it is required to take.” Norton v. 9 S. Utah Wilderness Alliance, 542 U.S. 55, 64 (2004) (emphasis in original). But 10 Section 706(1) “does not give [courts] license to ‘compel agency action’ whenever 11 the agency is withholding or delaying an action [they] think it should take.” Hells 12 Canyon Pres. Council v. U.S. Forest Servs., 593 F.3d 923, 932 (9th Cir. 2010). 13 Instead, Courts may do so only when “an agency has ignored a specific legislative 14 command.” Id. 15 Plaintiff correctly asserts that Defendants adopted Alternative 2 of the 16 Conversion Plan, which listed an “Objective” to maintain 2,100 acres for the 17 production of crops on the two Refuges. See AR 335. Yet Defendants provide 18 evidence that attempting to “maintain” crops on Field 4 would be ineffective and 19 fruitless. See AR 85–86. While Defendants must “manage the refuge or planning 20 unit in a manner consistent with the plan,” its failure to meet an objective where the ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 5 1 environmental conditions prevent it does not violate this mandate. See 16 U.S.C. § 2 668dd(e)(1)(E). 3 Defendants thus did not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or contrary to law in 4 deciding not to farm Field 4. Nor did it ignore any specific legislative mandate. See 5 Hells Canyon Pres. Council, 593 F.3d at 932 (rejecting Plaintiff’s failure to act 6 claim because while the applicable statute required the Forest Service to prohibit 7 motor vehicles from wilderness areas, it did not specifically require the Forest 8 Service to establish a wilderness area boundary to prohibit unauthorized vehicles). 9 The manner of meeting the objectives of the plan is left to Defendants’ discretion, 10 and this Court cannot require them to do what they have reasonably deemed 11 impracticable under the circumstances. 12 2. Defendants did not inject the 2017 FWS policy into this dispute 13 Defendants promulgated their 2017 FWS policy after Plaintiff filed his 14 operative Complaint. His claims thus could not pertain to that policy. He argues that 15 because Defendants relied on the policy as a basis to dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended 16 Complaint, it is now at issue in this case. But the Ninth Circuit ultimately rejected 17 Defendants’ argument that the policy mooted Plaintiff’s Complaint. ECF No. 139. 18 The Ninth Circuit’s mandate to address “whether or not it is permissible to favor 19 incumbent farmers when awarding cooperative farming agreements” merely 20 directed this Court to evaluate Plaintiff’s existing claims, because Defendant had ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 6 1 failed to meet the “formidable burden” of showing that any “wrongful behavior 2 could not be reasonably expected to recur.” Id. at 2–3 (internal quotation omitted). 3 Complying with the Ninth Circuit’s directive does not require—or even allow— 4 consideration of a policy promulgated after Plaintiff’s Complaint. The Ninth Circuit 5 did not amend Plaintiff’s operative complaint sub silentio. 6 C. The Report does not allow Defendants to award CFAs without binding guidelines 7 8 Neither party disputes that the CFAs were cooperative agreements. See ECF 9 No. 164 at 7; ECF No. 167 at 5. Rather, Defendants argue, and the Magistrate 10 agreed, that Plaintiff conflates assistance agreements as a general category with 11 financial assistance agreements, a subset. See ECF No. 167 at 5. The Court agrees 12 only financial assistance agreements are subject to rules Plaintiff cites. 13 Under the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act (FGCAA), 31 14 U.S.C. §§ 6304, 6305, the general category of assistance agreements, which 15 includes cooperative agreements and grants, involves a transfer of any “thing of 16 value.” The CFAs in this case, all parties agree, satisfy this definition. Although 17 232 FW 1 and 2 C.F.R. § 25.406, cited by Plaintiff, also reference cooperative 18 agreements and grants, the Court agrees that those provisions do not contemplate 19 all grants and cooperative agreements, but financial assistance agreements in 20 particular. “Whether a statute is unambiguous . . . is determined not only by ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 7 1 reference to the language itself but as well by the specific context in which the 2 language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole.” Yates v. United 3 States, 574 U.S. 528, 537 (2015) (internal quotations and brackets omitted). 4 “[I]dentical language may convey varying content when used in different statutes.” 5 Id. 6 For example, 2 C.F.R. § 25.4063 provides that “financial assistance” may be 7 “administer[ed] in the form of,” among other things, grants, cooperative 8 agreements, or “any other financial assistance transaction that authorizes . . . 9 expenditure of Federal funds” (emphasis added). The use of the term “other” 10 indicates that the previous items in the list are also “financial assistance 11 transaction[s].” Similarly, 232 FW 1 governs training programs for agency 12 employees involved in awards of “financial assistance.” See ECF No. 164-1. 13 Although none of the at-issue terms are defined in 232 FW 1, it contemplates 14 financial assistance, rather than assistance generally like in the FGCAA. The CFAs 15 do not provide financial assistance as contemplated by the rules. See ECF No. 163 16 at 36–39. The Court thus interprets the references to “cooperative agreements” and 17 “grants” to be limited to those that provide monetary support. 18 19 20 3 Further, as Defendants point out, 2 C.F.R. § 25.406 merely provides guidance to Defendants; it does not regulate it. See 2 C.F.R. § 1.105(b). ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 8 1 The Magistrate correctly determined that Defendants complied with all legal 2 requirements that did apply to the CFAs in this case and properly dispensed with 3 those that did not. See ECF No. 163 at 36–39; see generally ECF No. 163. Although 4 certain directives do not apply to CFAs, adoption of the Report would not allow 5 Defendants to award CFAs unimpugned by standards or guidelines. Instead, the 6 Magistrate merely parsed out which requirements apply to this dispute and which 7 do not. 8 D. The Report properly concluded the CFA awards complied with the APA 9 The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) directs district courts to “hold 10 unlawful and set aside” an agency action that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of 11 discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law” or that is taken “without 12 observance of procedure required by law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) & (D). Courts must 13 reject “[c]onstructions that are contrary to clear Congressional intent or frustrate the 14 policy that Congress sought to implement.” Earth Island Inst. v. Hogarth, 494 F.3d 15 757, 765 (9th Cir. 2007). And agency action that is not the product of reasoned 16 decision making is arbitrary and capricious. See Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of U.S., 17 Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). An agency must 18 “cogently explain why it has exercised its discretion in a given manner.” Id. at 48. 19 Under this standard, courts “do not substitute [their] judgment for that of the 20 ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 9 1 agency.” Earth Island Inst. v. U.S. Forest Serv. (“Earth Island”), 697 F.3d 1010, 2 1013 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted). 3 1. Defendants permissibly used a priority system and had a rational basis for the 2013 and 2014 CFA awards 4 5 Many of Plaintiff’s arguments rely on a determination that the Refuge 6 Manual was not a valid source of authority in 2013 and 2014. See ECF No. 164 at 7 10–12. Because the Court determines it was a valid source of authority, it must 8 reject those arguments. See supra. 9 While Plaintiff may have possessed the requisite skills and knowledge of the 10 land for a CFA, Defendants rationally rely on past positive experiences with 11 previous cooperators to minimize risk. The incumbent cooperators, in order to 12 remain eligible for priority status, fulfilled the obligations of their previous 13 agreements. See AR 150. They have thus proven to Defendants their knowledge and 14 skills, alleviating the need for the agency to “request information from its existing 15 cooperators.” ECF No. 164 at 11. 16 And Plaintiff has cited no authority which required Defendants to seek 17 cooperators willing to farm the land on McNary Refuge, which had been left fallow 18 because the acres were “economically undesirable for existing cooperators.” See 19 AR 51. The Refuge Manual instructs that “no person should be selected who is not 20 willing . . . to meet the requirements” of a cooperation agreement. AR 149. But that ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 10 1 says nothing about the inverse; it does not require Defendants to award a CFA, 2 regardless of the conditions of the land, prior experience, and other considerations, 3 so long as there is anyone who is willing to farm it. As discussed above, Defendants 4 rationally determined not to contract with anyone to farm Field 4 due to economic 5 and environmental concerns. The Court will “not substitute [its] judgment for that 6 of the agency.” Earth Island, 697 F.3d at 1013 (internal quotations omitted). 2. The award of Library Field to Mr. Blasdel was, at worst, harmless error 7 8 9 The Report properly determined that even if Defendants violated the Refuge 10 Manual in its award of Library Field to Mr. Blasdel, it was harmless error. Mr. 11 Blasdel had priority status because he used land in the local vicinity, whereas 12 Plaintiff “did not provide any location information to verify” the location where he 13 claimed to be farming, despite being asked for the address of the property. Compare 14 AR 150 with AR 213 (Plaintiff provided a residential address approximately seven 15 miles from the McNary Refuge and twenty-three miles from the Umatilla Refuge, 16 but he did not provide a farming address). Defendants’ determination that seven 17 miles as the crow flies is not “in the vicinity” is rational and is not contrary to law. 18 See AR 123–78 (providing no definition of “in the vicinity” or “neighbor”). Plaintiff 19 does not refute this contention. See ECF No. 162 at 5–6; ECF No. 164 at 12. 20 // ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 11 1 E. The Report properly accepted the Administrative Record 1. 2 The memoranda prepared in this case do not present post hoc rationalizations 3 4 “An agency must defend its actions based on the reasons it gave when it 5 acted.” Dep’t of Homeland Sec. v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 140 S. Ct. 1891, 6 1909–10 (2020). Acknowledging that elaborations “must be viewed critically” to 7 avoid impermissible post hoc rationalizations, the Court agrees with the Report that 8 the memoranda are “fuller explanation[s] of the agency’s reasoning at the time of 9 the agency action” and are therefore properly considered by the Court. See id. at 10 1907, 1908. 11 As the Report explains, the Glass and Stenvall memoranda, AR 85–88, 89– 12 92, 190–93 & 212, “contain the rationales of . . . decision-makers with authority to 13 speak on its contents. They are not incongruent with the April 2013 letter advising 14 Mr. Hymas he was not awarded a CFA.” AR 93. 15 Defendants do not “supplant” their original rationale “with a different one.” 16 See ECF No. 162 at 10. Even viewing the memoranda critically as required, the 17 Court agrees that they merely “offer genuine justifications for important decisions” 18 so that those reasons “can be scrutinized by the courts and the interested public.” 19 Dep’t of Commerce v. New York, 139 S. Ct. 2551, 2575–76. 20 // ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 12 1 2. Plaintiff has not overcome the presumption of regularity 2 Plaintiff argues that “the issues at play in this case make it extremely unlikely 3 that the record here is complete.” ECF No. 164 at 14. He contends that Defendants 4 admitted that they had not followed the agency’s manuals in the past. Id. (citing 5 Corrected Br. for Def.-Appellant United States, Fed. Cir. Case No. 14-5150, ECF 6 No. 24 at 17). He is not requesting “every scrap of paper” relating to the case, he 7 insists, but does not provide an indication of what he believes is missing. Id. 8 (quoting ECF No. 163 at 29–30). 9 The Court agrees with the Magistrate. Defendants have certified under 10 penalty of perjury—even if they did not do so initially—that the Administrative 11 Record is complete. See ECF No. 112-1; ECF No. 160-1. Even if Defendants have 12 failed to follow agency manuals on other issues in the past, Plaintiff has not made 13 any persuasive showing that the administrative record is incomplete. 14 F. Plaintiff has waived injunctive relief 15 Notwithstanding all the shortcomings in Plaintiff’s position detailed in the 16 Report and above, this Court agrees with the Report that Plaintiff is not entitled to 17 a permanent injunction. First, he failed to argue for injunctive relief in his motion 18 for summary judgment. ECF No. 157; see also ECF No. 163 at 26. Plaintiff did not 19 label his motion as a “partial” motion for summary judgment, and he asked for other 20 relief in the motion. ECF No. 157 at 22; see also Friends of Yosemite Valley v. ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 13 1 Kempthorne, 520 F.3d 1024, 1033 (9th Cir. 2008) (“Arguments not raised by a party 2 in its opening brief are deemed waived.”). Second, this Court likely does not have 3 jurisdiction to award permanent injunctive relief in this matter. See Tucson Airport 4 Auth. v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 136 F.3d 641, 646–47 (9th Cir. 1998); North Side 5 Lumber Co. v. Block, 753 F.2d 1482, 1485 (9th Cir. 1985). 6 Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED: 7 1. The Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 163, is ADOPTED in its entirety. 8 2. 9 Defendants’ Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 141, is GRANTED. 10 11 3. Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 157, is DENIED. 12 4. All remaining claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, with all parties to bear their own costs and attorney fees. 13 14 // 15 // 16 // 17 // 18 // 19 // 20 // ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 14 1 5. This Court SUBSTITUTES Debra A. Haaland for David L. Bernhardt 2 as a Defendant in this matter under Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d). The Clerk’s 3 Office is directed to AMEND the caption accordingly. 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6. The Clerk’s Office is directed to ENTER JUDGMENT in favor of Defendants and CLOSE the file. IT IS SO ORDERED. The Clerk’s Office is directed to enter this Order and provide copies to all counsel and Magistrate Judge Dimke. DATED this 31st day of March 2021. _________________________ SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. United States District Judge 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION – 15

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