Violet Dock Port, Inc., L.L.C. v. Heaphy et al, No. 2:2019cv11586 - Document 15 (E.D. La. 2019)

Court Description: ORDER AND REASONS granting 8 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle on 11/23/19. (ko)
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Violet Dock Port, Inc., L.L.C. v. Heaphy et al Doc. 15 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA VIOLET DOCK PORT INC., LLC CIVIL ACTION VERSUS NO. 19-11586 DREW M. HEAPHY, IN HIS CAPACITY AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ST. BERNARD PORT, HARBOR & TERMINAL, AND ST. BERNARD PORT, HARBOR, & TERMINAL SECTION "B"(3) ORDER AND REASONS Defendants St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District (“St. Bernard Port”) and Drew M. Heaphy, in his capacity as executive director of St. Bernard Port, filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(6). Rec. Doc. 8. Violet Dock Port, Inc. (“Violet Dock”) filed a response in opposition. Rec. Doc. 9. Defendant then sought, and was granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 13. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED and plaintiff’s claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY This case arises out of St. Bernard Port’s taking of Violet Dock’s property. Defendant St. Bernard Port is a public corporation and political subdivision of the State of Louisiana and Drew Heaphy is its executive director. In December 2010, St. Bernard Port filed a state court petition for expropriation of Violet Dock’s property along the Mississippi River in Violet, Louisiana, and deposited 1 Dockets.Justia.com $16 million as estimated just compensation in the court’s registry. Rec. Doc. 1 at 2; 1-1 at 4. Violet Dock had constructed on the subject property a fully operational, private port facility with five steel and concrete docks, three of which were certified for providing services to Navy Military Sealift Command ships. Rec. Doc. 1-1 at 7. Violet Dock argued the $16 million amount deposited by St. Bernard Port was insufficient and sought additional just compensation. Id. at 3. The state trial court sided with St. Bernard Port and awarded just compensation in the amount provided by St. Bernard Port, and the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed. Id. at 4. The Louisiana Supreme Court subsequently reversed the just compensation award and remanded the matter to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit for a de novo determination of just compensation. Id. On remand on increased September the trial 12, 2018, court’s the award Louisiana of just Fourth Circuit compensation to $28,764,685.00 together with interest and attorneys’ fees and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Id. On April 12, 2019 the trial court entered a Consent Judgment awarding plaintiff an additional sum of $3,342,626.90 for attorneys’ fees and costs, plus judicial interest from the date of the entry of the judgment until paid. Id. at 5. On July 9, 2019 plaintiff filed the instant federal action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violation of its Fifth Amendment 2 right to be paid just compensation for the taking of its property pursuant to the state courts’ final judgments. Rec. Doc. 1 at 7. Plaintiff seeks $21,609,508.33, which represents the amount due under the state courts’ judgments after subtracting the $16 million already paid by defendant, plus interest at a daily rate of $2,298.06. Id. at 5. LAW, ANALYSIS, AND FINDINGS To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff’s complaint “must contain ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Varela v. Gonzalez, 773 F.3d 704, 707 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). However, the court is not bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002). 3 When deciding whether a plaintiff has met her burden, a court “accept[s] all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and interpret[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, but ‘[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements’ cannot establish facial plausibility.” Snow Ingredients, Inc. v. SnoWizard, Inc., 833 F.3d 512, 520 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A. § 1983 Claims “Section 1983 provides a cause of action when a person has been deprived of federal rights under color of state law”. Doe v. Dall. Indep. Sch. Dist., 153 F.3d 211, 215 (5th Cir.1998). “To state a § 1983 cause of action, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights secured by the Constitution or by federal laws.” D.A. ex rel. Latasha A. v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 629 F.3d 450, 456 (5th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim alleges a violation of its Fifth Amendment right to just compensation for the taking of its property. Rec. Doc. 1 at 7. There appears to be a contradiction between what was alleged in the complaint and what plaintiff claims in its opposition to defendant’s motion. Plaintiff’s complaint identifies the taking of its “seventy-five (75) acres of land and improvements, including five deep-water docks” without just compensation as the subject of its takings claim. Rec. Doc. 1 at 2. Yet, in its opposition, plaintiff indicates that the core issue 4 in the federal claim is only its entitlement to the state court’s judgment. In an attempt to avoid preclusion, plaintiff clarifies that it is “not attempting to relitigate just compensation” and recognizes the state court’s “just compensation award [a]s final and definitive.” Rec. Doc. 9 at 20. Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under § 1983. Plaintiff’s complaint and opposition demonstrate that it is not seeking to bring a claim for the unlawful taking of the property expropriated by St. Bernard Port, because final judgment has already been rendered on that issue in state court. Rather plaintiff only wishes to pursue its entitlement to the state court’s compensation award and is attempting to use § 1983 as the vehicle for such relief. However, “the property right created by a judgment against a government entity is not a right to payment at a particular time, but merely the recognition of a continuing debt of that government entity.” Guilbeau v. Par. of St. Landry, 2008 WL 4948836, at *10 (W.D. La. Nov. 19, 2008), aff'd, 341 F. App'x 974 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Minton v. St. Bernard Par. Sch. Bd., 803 F.2d 129, 132 (5th Cir. 1986)); Davis v. Cantrell, 2018 WL 6169255, at *5 (E.D. La. Nov. 26, 2018)). Thus, defendant’s delay in paying the remaining amount of the state court’s judgment has not given rise to a Fifth Amendment violation. Additionally, plaintiff’s attempt to distinguish Minton and subsequent cases on the grounds that the judgments in those cases did not involve 5 takings of private property is unavailing, because plaintiff makes clear in its opposition that it is not seeking to relitigate the underlying takings claim or the amount of just compensation owed. The Court further notes that the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Knick v. Twp. of Scott, Pennsylvania, 139 S. Ct. 2162, 2177, (2019) does not alter this ruling. Knick overruled the stateexhaustion requirement of Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985) to permit landowners to bring a Fifth Amendment claim under § 1983 as soon as a local government takes property without compensation. “[B]ecause the violation is complete at the time of the taking,” the Court held that “pursuit of a remedy in federal court need not await any subsequent state action.” Knick at 2177. Plaintiff contends that it should not be penalized for exhausting state court remedies while Williamson was still the law of the land. Rec. Doc. 9 at 10. The Court recognizes that if Knicks had been issued before the expropriation of plaintiff’s property, plaintiff could have proceeded directly to federal court. Nevertheless, Knick does not convert § 1983 into a tool for collecting payment due on state court judgments that issued prior to initiation of the federal action. Plaintiff concedes that its claims against Heaphy are based only upon his official capacity as executive director of the St. Bernard Port. The official capacity claims against Heaphy are 6 duplicative of claims against the St. Bernard Port. As such, the claims against Heaphy are also dismissed. Castro Romero v. Becken, 256 F.3d 349, 355 (5th Cir. 2001); Winn v. New Orleans City, 2014 WL 790870 (E.D. La. Feb. 26, 2014). Finally, had instant § 1983 claims proceeded, the punitive damage claims against the St. Bernard Port and Heaphy in his official capacity would not survive beyond summary dismissal. See Davis v. W. Cmty. Hosp., 755 F.2d 455, 459,467 (5th Cir. 1985); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S. Ct. 3099 (1985). The Court also finds that granting leave to amend would be futile in this case, because additional facts would not remedy the legal insufficiency of plaintiff’s claims. New Orleans, Louisiana this 23rd day of November 2019 ___________________________________ SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 7