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Rogers v. United States Department of Agriculture

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 25, 2018

Elroy Rogers, Plaintiff,
United States Department of Agriculture, et al., Defendants.


          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Elroy Rogers initiated this lawsuit against federal, state, and county agencies and individuals[1] over the quarantine, seizure, and subsequent destruction of his sheep. All claims against state and county defendants were dismissed on March 9, 2018. Currently before the Court is the April 23, 2018 Report and Recommendation (R&R) of United States Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel, (Dkt. 68), which recommends granting the remaining Defendants' motion to dismiss the remaining claims. Rogers filed timely objections to the R&R. (Dkt. 69.) Also before the Court is Rogers's motion for an order requiring Defendants to show cause why his complaint should be dismissed. (Dkt. 78.) For the reasons addressed below, the Court adopts the R&R, grants Defendants' motion to dismiss, denies as moot Rogers's motion for an order to show cause, and dismisses Rogers's complaint.


         I. The R&R and Rogers's Objections

         After a party to a legal action files and serves specific written objections to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations, the district court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which an objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). When doing so, the district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id.; accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3).

         A. The R&R

         The April 23 R&R first addresses Defendants' arguments for dismissal on jurisdictional grounds and determines that any claims that are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine must be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The R&R then determines that the remaining individually named defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the R&R recommends granting Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim because it is unclear from Rogers's complaint which claims Rogers asserts against which defendants and which facts support those claims. Each recommendation is addressed in turn.

         1. Jurisdictional Matters

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives federal district courts of subject-matter jurisdiction over certain claims related to state-court decisions. See Rooker v. Fid. Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-84 (1983). Under this doctrine, a federal district court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over any claim seeking direct review of a state-court judgment, Skit Int'l, Ltd. v. DAC Techs. of Ark., Inc., 487 F.3d 1154, 1157 (8th Cir. 2007), or any claim that is “inextricably intertwined” with a state-court decision, Simes v. Huckabee, 354 F.3d 823, 827 (8th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim is inextricably intertwined if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Charchenko v. City of Stillwater, 47 F.3d 981, 983 (8th Cir. 1995).

         The R&R recommends dismissing those claims that are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Rogers objects to the R&R's analysis, arguing that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to any of his claims because a final judgment was not entered against him in any state-court proceeding. Determining whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a suit or claim “requires determining exactly what the state court held.” Id. Here, it is unclear from the record what occurred in the state-court proceedings against Rogers. However, the R&R merely determines that “to the extent [Rogers] is seeking to appeal” any unfavorable state-court decisions, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine requires dismissal of the claims. Because this conclusion is consistent with controlling law, the Court overrules this objection.

         The sovereign immunity of Defendant United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is another jurisdictional basis for dismissing Rogers's claims. Because jurisdiction is a threshold requirement in every federal lawsuit, see Sanders v. Clemco Indus., 823 F.2d 214, 216 (8th Cir. 1987), the Court addresses this ground for dismissal before reaching Rogers's other objections to the R&R.

         The federal government is entitled to sovereign immunity, see U.S. Dep't of Energy v. Ohio, 503 U.S. 607, 615 (1992), and that immunity extends to federal agencies such as the USDA, see In re Operation of Mo. River Sys. Litig., 418 F.3d 915, 917 (8th Cir. 2005). An express congressional waiver is required to subject federal agencies to suit. In re Operation of Mo. River Sys. Litig., 418 F.3d at 917. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671 et seq., waives the sovereign immunity of the federal government and its agencies, exposing them to liability for certain torts “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2674; accord Compart's Boar Store, Inc. v. United States, 829 F.3d 600, 604 (8th Cir. 2016).

         Rogers's complaint does not clearly delineate which claims he asserts against the USDA, which prevents the Court from determining whether the United States has waived its immunity as to those claims. Nonetheless, Rogers is procedurally barred from asserting any FTCA claims. The FTCA requires a party to present its claims to the federal agency it intends to sue and to wait for a written denial before that party asserts an FTCA claim in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). The USDA contends that Rogers has not presented any tort claims to the USDA, and Rogers does not dispute the USDA's assertion. Because Rogers failed to file an administrative claim with the USDA prior to initiating this lawsuit, the USDA's sovereign immunity is not waived; and any claims asserted against the USDA are barred by sovereign immunity. See Smith v. United States, 588 F.2d 1209, 1211 (8th Cir. 1978). As the Court cannot exercise jurisdiction over claims against a party entitled to sovereign immunity, all such claims are dismissed.

         2. ...

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