United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO
THELTON E. HENDERSON United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on separate motions to dismiss
Plaintiff’s Class Action Complaint by Defendants United
States Department of Agriculture (“UDSA”) and Tom
Vilsack (“Federal Defendants”) and Defendant Will
Lightbourne (“State Defendant”). Dkt. Nos. 30
(“Fed. Mot.”), 31 (“State Mot.”).
After carefully considering the parties’ written and
oral arguments, the Court hereby GRANTS the Defendants’
motions, for the reasons set forth below.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(“SNAP”) is a federally-funded food assistance
program administered by the states. See 7 U.S.C.
§ 2011 et seq. SNAP is designed to alleviate
hunger by supplementing the monthly food budgets of
low-income households throughout the United States. Dkt. No.
1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 11; Dkt. No. 38
(“Opp’n”) at 1. Plaintiff is one of the
millions of Americans who rely on monthly food assistance
through SNAP to survive. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 14, 24.
September 2015, a Congressional budget impasse nearly caused
a federal government shutdown. Id. ¶ 2. If
Congress did not reach agreement on federal appropriations
before the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2015, a
“funding gap” would have resulted and the federal
government would have been forced to “begin a
‘shutdown’ of affected activities, including the
furlough of non-essential personnel and curtailment of agency
activities and services.” Id. ¶ 15. On
September 23, 2015, with such a shutdown looming, the USDA
sent a letter to state SNAP administrators stating,
“should Congress fail to act . . . [t]his would require
USDA to take steps, including the deauthorization of
retailers in the first several days of the month to prevent
SNAP benefits from being redeemed during an appropriations
lapse.” Id. ¶ 18. A spokeswoman for USDA
also stated, “[i]f Congress does not act to avert a
lapse in appropriations, then USDA . . . will be forced to
stop providing benefits within the first several days of
October, ” and “[o]nce that occurs, families
won’t be able to use [SNAP] benefits at grocery stores
to buy the food their families need.” Id.
¶ 17. Fearing this outcome, Plaintiff filed the
Complaint on September 30, 2015, seeking declaratory and
injunctive relief on behalf of a nationwide class of SNAP
beneficiaries. Id. at 17. The Complaint brings three
claims: violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, 5
U.S.C. § 500; violation of the Food and Nutrition Act of
2008, 7 U.S.C. § 2011; and Declaratory Relief pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-02. Id. ¶¶
threatened federal shutdown never occurred. On September 30,
2015, Congress passed an appropriations measure temporarily
continuing funding for federal projects and activities.
Continuing Appropriations Act, 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-53, 129
Stat. 502 (Sept. 30, 2015). Congress later passed a permanent
resolution that authorized funding for the federal government
(and SNAP) through the 2016 fiscal year. Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2016, Pub. L. 114-113, 129 Stat 2242
(Dec. 18, 2015). Congress also provided for a SNAP
contingency fund of $3 billion through December 31, 2017 and
extended the existing $3 billion contingency fund through
December 31, 2016 (rather than September 30, 2016, as
is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
(“Rule”) 12(b)(1) when a federal court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction. Federal courts’
subject-matter jurisdiction is limited by Article III’s
“case or controversy” clause, which requires,
among other things, that a plaintiff have standing, that the
plaintiff’s claims be “ripe” for
adjudication, and that the plaintiff’s claims not be
“moot.” Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737,
750 (1984). Standing, ripeness, and mootness are therefore
appropriate topics on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss.
See White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir.
2000) (“Because standing and mootness both pertain to a
federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction under
Article III, they are properly raised in a motion to dismiss
under [Rule] 12(b)(1).”). These requirements extend
throughout the life of a litigation. See Wolfson v.
Brammer, 616 F.3d 1045, 1053 (9th Cir. 2010) (“A
case or controversy must exist at all stages of review, not
just at the time the action is filed.”).
party asserting federal subject-matter jurisdiction bears the
burden of establishing its existence. Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).
But in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, courts
must take the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint
as true and draw “all reasonable inferences in
[plaintiff’s] favor.” Wolfe v.
Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). A Rule
12(b)(1) motion may be facial or factual: “In a facial
attack, the challenger asserts that the allegations contained
in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke
federal jurisdiction. By contrast, in a factual attack, the
challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by
themselves, would otherwise invoke federal
jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer,
373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004).
Federal and State Defendants both move to dismiss the
Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule
12(b)(1), on the grounds of standing (i.e., lack of
injury-in-fact), prudential ripeness, mootness, and that
Plaintiff does not challenge a final agency action. Fed. Mot.
at 8-18; State Mot. at 6-10. The State Defendant also moves
to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), on the basis
that Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to state a
claim against Director Lightbourne. State Mot. at 4-6.
Plaintiff’s allegations fail to satisfy Article
III’s case or controversy requirement.
assuming Plaintiff suffered an injury-in-fact and that her
claims were ripe at the time of filing, this Court would lack
subject-matter jurisdiction under Article III if
Plaintiff’s claims are now moot. White, 227
F.3d at 1242. The Court therefore addresses this issue first.
case becomes moot when interim relief or events have deprived
the court of the ability to redress the party’s
injuries.” Am. Cas. Co. of Reading, Pa. v.
Baker, 22 F.3d 880, 896 (9th Cir. 1994) (quoting
United States v. Alder Creek Water Co., 823 F.2d
343, 345 (9th Cir. 1987)). “The basic question is
whether there exists a present controversy as to which
effective relief can be granted.” Id. (quoting
Village of Gambell v. Babbitt, 999 F.2d 403, 406
(9th Cir. 1993)). If not, then federal courts lack
jurisdiction because “moot questions require no
answer.” Wolfson, 616 F.3d at 1053 (quoting
North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971)).
Accordingly, “[e]ven where litigation poses a live
controversy when filed, the [mootness] doctrine requires a
federal court to refrain from deciding it if ‘events
have so transpired that the decision will ...