Schwent et al v. National Resource Conservation Service et al

Filing 40

ORDER granting 37 Motion to Dismiss signed by Judge Benjamin H. Settle.(TG)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT TACOMA 5 6 VINCENT SCHWENT, et al., CASE NO. C16-5708 BHS 7 Plaintiffs, 8 9 v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS AND DISMISSING REMAINING CLAIMS FOR LACK OF JURISDICTION 10 Defendants. 11 12 This matter comes before the Court on the United States of America’s 13 (“Government”) motion to dismiss. Dkt. 37. The Court has considered the pleadings filed 14 in support of and in opposition to the motions and the remainder of the file and hereby 15 grants the motion. The Court also dismisses Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants Rita 16 and Ward Willets (the “Willets”) because it lacks jurisdiction. 17 18 I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY On August 12, 2016, Plaintiffs Vincent Schwent and Debra Shapiro Schwent 19 (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint against the Government and the Willets. Dkt. 1. On 20 August 17, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint for trespass, nuisance, 21 constitutional tort, and breach of easement agreement. Dkt. 7. Plaintiffs requested 22 compensatory damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees and costs. Id. ORDER - 1 1 On October 20, 2016, the Federal Defendants moved to substitute the United 2 States of America for the previously named Federal Defendants, to dismiss all non-tort 3 claims, to dismiss the named Federal Defendants, and to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ requests 4 for injunctive relief. Dkt. 15. On October 28, 2016, the Willets filed a motion to dismiss. 5 Dkt. 17. 6 On January 17, 2016, the Court entered an order granting the Government’s 7 motion to dismiss. Dkt. 26 at 5. The Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims against the 8 Government on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction because the claims exceeded the 9 applicable $10,000 jurisdictional cap. Id. The Court also granted Plaintiffs leave to 10 amend because a claim could be stated if the complaint were amended to limit damages 11 to $10,000. Id. In the same order, the Court denied the Willets’ motion to dismiss. Dkt. 12 26 at 3–4. 13 On August 24, 2017, Plaintiffs filed another amended complaint. Dkt. 36. In this 14 most recent amended complaint, Plaintiffs bring claims against the Willits for trespass by 15 waters and nuisance. Id. at 6. Additionally, Plaintiffs name the Government as “a 16 necessary party under [Fed. R. Civ. P.] 19 as the easement holder such that any remedy 17 other than or in addition to compensation that this court might order will require the 18 concurrence of the United States . . . .” Id. at 2. 19 On September 1, 2017, the Government again moved for dismissal. Dkt. 37. On 20 September 20, 2017, Plaintiffs responded. Dkt. 38. On September 29, 2017, the 21 Government replied. Dkt. 39. 22 ORDER - 2 1 II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND 2 In October 2013, Plaintiffs purchased property adjacent to the Willets’ property. 3 Dkt. 36 at 3. After the 2014–2015 winter, a field on Plaintiffs’ property began to flood. 4 Id. Plaintiffs claim that the excess water is coming from the Willets’ property. Id. After 5 investigation, Plaintiffs discovered that the Government, through the Department of 6 Agriculture, holds a conservation easement over portions of the Willets’ property and that 7 this portion of the property contains a beaver colony with numerous beaver dams. Id. at 8 4. Plaintiffs claim that the excessive water coming from the beaver dams acts as a 9 nuisance, establishes trespass by nuisance, and violates the easement agreement. Id. at 4– 10 5. 11 12 III. DISCUSSION While Plaintiffs have omitted any express reference to the Takings Clause in their 13 amended complaint, they nonetheless name the Government as a necessary party on the 14 basis that, in order to secure the requested relief, it will be necessary to obtain an order 15 enforceable against the Government for the purpose of preventing the further deprivation 16 of their rights in a property. Dkt. 36 at 2; Dkt. 38 at 3–4. This amounts to a takings claim, 17 and “neither injunctive nor declaratory relief is available for a takings claim against the 18 United States.” Bay View, Inc. v. Ahtna, Inc., 105 F.3d 1281, 1286 n. 6 (9th Cir. 1997). 19 Furthermore, as already discussed in the Court’s previous orders, the Court lacks 20 jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ takings claim because the amount in controversy exceeds 21 10,000 dollars. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2). McGuire v. United States, 550 F.3d 903, 910–11 22 (9th Cir. 2008). To the extent Plaintiffs seeks a judgment that may be enforced against ORDER - 3 1 the Government for use of its property resulting in an allegedly unlawful taking of their 2 property, jurisdiction lies in the Court of Federal Claims, not here. 28 U.S.C. § 1491. 3 Additionally, the Court dismisses without prejudice Plaintiffs’ claims against the 4 Willets. “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the 5 court must dismiss the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (emphasis added). See also Snell 6 v. Cleveland, Inc., 316 F.3d 822, 826 (9th Cir. 2002) (“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7 12(h)(3) provides that a court may raise the question of subject matter jurisdiction, sua 8 sponte, at any time during the pendency of the action . . . .”). Plaintiffs’ claims against the 9 Willets arise exclusively under Washington State law, see Dkt. 36 at 6, and Plaintiffs 10 have failed to provide a jurisdictional basis for pursuing them in this Court. 11 IV. 12 ORDER The Government’s motion to dismiss (Dkt. 37) is GRANTED. Any claims 13 Plaintiffs assert against the Government are DISMISSED without prejudice to allow 14 Plaintiffs to pursue their claims in the appropriate jurisdiction. Furthermore, because the 15 Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ remaining claims against the Willets, those 16 claims are also DISMISSED without prejudice and the Clerk shall close this case. 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. 18 Dated this 19th day of October, 2017. A 19 20 BENJAMIN H. SETTLE United States District Judge 21 22 ORDER - 4

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?