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Miller v. United States Department of Interior

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 6, 2016

Douglas E. Miller, Plaintiff,
United States Department of the Interior; et al., Defendants.



The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff’s Complaint for failure to comply with federal pleading requirements. The Complaint was not understandable. Instructions were given how to comply. (Doc. 40 at 3-4.) Upon review of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 41), the Court entered an order to show cause why the Amended Complaint should not be dismissed too. (Doc. 46 at 2.) The Federal Defendants, all agencies or officers sued in their official capacity, also filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 48.) (The Federal Defendants will collectively be referred to as “the Government” because a suit against a federal officer in his official capacity is a suit against the Government. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991).)

1. Claims Against the Government

The Amended Complaint still does not contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is considerably longer than the original Complaint and contains many new allegations the relevance of which is not clear. Although the Amended Complaint has the benefit of mostly chronological order, it still fails to explain which of the Government’s actions were illegal and why. It alleges that the Government issued certain Grazing Permits as Plaintiff wished, and it never alleges that the Government revoked or limited these Permits or that the Permits are different now compared to when they were first issued to Plaintiff. There is no allegation that Plaintiff formally requested any change in the Permits or that any such request was denied by final agency action. Indeed, there is no allegation of any final agency action. Rather, the Amended Complaint alleges that the Government failed to protect Plaintiff’s Permits in state court litigation. Perhaps Plaintiff’s theory is that the Government had a duty to take over his private lawsuit and win it for him. Even so, he does not allege that he ever asked the Government to protect him or that the Government knew of the state court litigation.

None of this does or can state a claim against the Government. There is nothing illegal about granting Plaintiff the Grazing Permits as requested and renewing them as requested. The Secretary of the Interior has no duty to take over private litigation relating to Permits after she has granted them. She has no duty to take sides in property litigation between private parties that may affect the value of the Permits.

Plaintiff seeks two alternative forms of relief against the Government. The first involves damages:

C. . . . that the Federal Defendants, specifically the BLM [Bureau of Labor Management], reassume BLM Lease #06222, Arizona State Lands Lease #05-1618 and their associated grazing preference and pay Miller damages for his loss of business assets in the amount of not less than $850, 000 plus interest or an amount to be determined at trial.

(Doc. 41 at 35-36.) The second involves declaratory judgment and transfer of property: Alternatively: . . .

G. A declaratory judgment reaffirming and declaring that Miller owns, and has owned no later than 2001, all of the Grazing Permit and Grazing Preference associated with Allotment No. 06222.
K. Order the Federal Defendants to effect and complete actual deeded transfer to Miller of all the Range Improvements, Co-operative Agreements and Water Rights pertaining to the 209 head federal grazing preference.

(Id. at 36-37.)

To the extent Plaintiff requests money damages against the Government, the request is barred by sovereign immunity. “To sustain a claim that the Government is liable for awards of money damages, the waiver of sovereign immunity must extend unambiguously to such monetary claims.” Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996). Plaintiff does not allege any statutory authorization for a damages action against the Government. Were Plaintiff alleging a breach of contract claim, which he is not, the Tucker Act could not authorize this action for damages because the exclusive forum would be the Claims Court, not this District Court. See United States v. Hohri, 482 U.S. 64, 66 n.1 (1987). Nor could the Federal Tort Claims Act authorize this action for damages, because it only covers circumstances where private actors could be liable under state law. See United States v. Olson, 546 U.S. 43, 45-46 (2005). To the extent Plaintiff requests an order that the Government buy back the Permits, no wrong is alleged at all, much less one for which the law gives that remedy. Because there is no statutory authorization of that relief, such relief would also violate sovereign immunity. No declaratory judgment can be given when there is no right or case or controversy alleged against the Government.

Therefore the Government’s Motion to Dismiss will be granted, in part for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and in part for sovereign ...

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