United States District Court, D. Minnesota
L. M. Kennedy, Kennedy & Cain PLLC, Minneapolis, MN for
Plaintiffs Tawakal Halal LLC and Abdifateh Mohamed Omar.
W. Fuller, United States Attorney's Office, Minneapolis,
MN for Defendant United States of America.
OPINION AND ORDER
C. Tostrud United States District Judge
relevant facts and procedural history of this case may be
described briefly. Plaintiff Tawakal Halal LLC is a grocery
store in Minneapolis, and Plaintiff Abdifateh Mohamed Omar is
its owner. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 2, 7 [ECF No. 1]. In this
action, they seek judicial review of a September 2017 final
decision of the United States Department of Agriculture
disqualifying Tawakal Halal permanently from participating as
an authorized retailer in the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program, or “SNAP.” Id.
¶ 5; see Id. Ex. 1 at 1-15 (Final Agency
Decision) [ECF No. 1-1]. Federal law authorizes a store
aggrieved by a final agency decision disqualifying it from
SNAP to “obtain judicial review thereof.” 7
U.S.C. § 2023(a)(13). But circumstances here have
changed since Plaintiffs commenced this action. The
Department of Agriculture vacated its disqualification
decision in March 2019. Fuller Decl. Ex. A [ECF No. 53-1].
Contending that the agency's vacatur of the
disqualification decision renders Plaintiffs' claim moot,
the United States has moved to dismiss this case for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1). ECF No. 49. The motion will be granted
because the vacatur of the disqualification decision gives
Plaintiffs all of the relief they could have obtained in this
case regarding the validity of the disqualification decision,
and there is no reasonable basis to expect that the
Department of Agriculture might reinstate its now-vacated
governing consideration of the United States' motion is
settled. Start with the standard of review. The United States
has introduced matter outside the pleadings- evidence of the
Department of Agriculture's decision to vacate its
disqualification decision-making its attack on subject-matter
jurisdiction “factual.” Branson Label, Inc.
v. City of Branson, 793 F.3d 910, 914 (8th Cir. 2015).
The factual nature of the United States' attack enables
the Court to resolve disputed facts, applying no presumption
of truth to the non-moving party's allegations or
evidence (or, for that matter, to the moving party's
evidence). Id. at 914-15; Osborn v. United
States, 918 F.2d 724, 729-30 & n.6 (8th Cir. 1990).
With respect to the substantive standards, the United States
Constitution limits the subject-matter jurisdiction of
federal courts to ongoing cases and controversies.
See U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1.
“[A]n actual [case or] controversy must exist not only
at the time the complaint is filed, but through all stages of
the litigation.” Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc.,
568 U.S. 85, 90-91 (2013) (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted). “When, during the course of litigation,
the issues presented in a case ‘lose their life because
of the passage of time or a change in circumstances . . . and
a federal court can no longer grant effective relief,'
the case is considered moot.” Ali v. Cangemi,
419 F.3d 722, 723 (8th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original)
(quoting Haden v. Pelofsky, 212 F.3d 466, 469 (8th
Cir. 2000)). If an action is moot because it no longer
satisfies the case-or-controversy requirement, a federal
court “ha[s] no discretion and must dismiss the action
for lack of jurisdiction.” Ali, 419 F.3d at
724 (citing Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496
n.7 (1969)). There are four exceptions, however. If any of
the following exceptions apply, a court should not dismiss an
action as moot:
(1) secondary or ‘collateral' injuries survive
after resolution of the primary injury; (2) the issue is
deemed a wrong capable of repetition yet evading review; (3)
the defendant voluntarily ceases an allegedly illegal
practice but is free to resume it at any time; or (4) it is a
properly certified class action suit.
Abdiwali M. A. v. Sec'y Homeland Sec., No.
18-cv-2793 (DWF/TNL), 2019 WL 2107914, at *3 (D. Minn. Apr.
17, 2019) (citation omitted), R&R adopted, 2019
WL 2108659 (D. Minn. May 14, 2019).
there is no present controversy regarding Tawakal Halal's
authority to participate as an authorized retailer in SNAP,
and Plaintiffs' claims are moot. The statute authorizing
Plaintiffs to bring this case, 7 U.S.C. § 2023(a)(13),
permits a store aggrieved by a final determination to pursue
judicial review “requesting the court to set aside such
determination.” The statute precludes the agency's
liability “for the value of any sales lost during the
disqualification period.” 7 U.S.C. § 2023(a)(18).
Consistent with this regime, Plaintiffs in their complaint
did not request monetary relief but requested only that the
disqualification decision be “set aside” or,
alternatively, that a civil monetary penalty be imposed
“in lieu of permanent disqualification.” Compl.
at 11. The Department of Agriculture's vacatur of its
disqualification decision gives Plaintiffs the very relief
they sought by filing this action. With respect to their
§ 2023(a)(13) claim, it is not possible for the Court to
grant Plaintiffs greater relief than they have obtained
on the voluntary-cessation rule, Plaintiffs argue that
“the possibility that the USDA brings further charges
of trafficking against Plaintiffs remains high.” Mem.
in Opp'n at 3 [ECF No. 56]. And Plaintiffs point out that
“[t]here is no settlement agreement in place that would
limit the ability of the USDA to again disqualify the
Plaintiffs based on the same allegations that were made
originally.” Id. at 2. These assertions do not
show that Plaintiffs' claims in this case are not moot.
Plaintiffs' hypothesized future trafficking charges are
unsupported and “too remote to establish an ongoing
case or controversy.” Ayyoubi v. Holder, 712
F.3d 387, 391 (8th Cir. 2013). And any future agency action
would be premised on a different record. See Kargbo v.
Brott, No. 15-cv-2713 (PJS/LIB), 2016 WL 3676162, at *2
(D. Minn. July 6, 2016) (“[W]hile it is certainly
possible for the government to again detain Kargbo illegally,
that detention would be illegal for different factual and
legal reasons than the detentions challenged by Kargbo in his
habeas petitions. It is now impossible for the government to
repeat the same unlawful conduct that Kargbo
challenged, and thus this case does not fall into the
voluntary-cessation exception to the mootness
doctrine.”). Plaintiffs do not suggest that there is
any realistic possibility the agency will rescind its
decision reinstating Tawakal Halal's participation in
SNAP (or “vacate the vacatur”), and the United
States avers there is none. Reply Mem. at 2 [ECF No. 57]
(“Thus, no basis currently exists for USDA to
disqualify the store, and to that extent the reinstatement
decision is permanent.”).
hearing on this motion, Plaintiffs pointed out that they
would be seeking attorneys' fees under the Equal Access
to Justice Act. But this does not mean Plaintiffs' claim
remains live for purposes of Article III. “An interest
in attorney's fees is insufficient to create an Article
III case or controversy where none exists on the merits of
the underlying claim.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a
Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 107 (1998) (cleaned up).
on the foregoing, and all of the files, records, and
proceedings herein, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
1. Defendant's motion to dismiss [ECF No. 49] is