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Joseph v. United States

February 2, 2006

JOSEPH AND PATRICIA TUCHRELLO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

Plaintiffs Joseph and Patricia Tuchrello bring this action against the United States Department of Agriculture ("the Department")seeking review of a Final Determination issued by the Department on March 25, 2004. That Final Determination, which was reissued on September 14, 2004, rejected plaintiffs' claims that their civil rights had been violated by the Department and various employees of the Farm Service Agency ("FSA")(the successor of the Farmers Home Administration ("FmHA")) in connection with loans made to the plaintiffs by the FmHA. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended in their underlying administrative complaint that they were discriminated against on the basis of their Italian national origin, and the fact that they received public assistance. The plaintiffs further claimed that they were retaliated against for complaining of discrimination.

In the instant action, plaintiffs contend that the Department wrongfully denied their claims of discrimination, and ask this court to reverse the Department's determination. Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint on grounds that the plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Specifically, the defendant alleges that plaintiffs are not entitled to a review of the Department's determination because the claims raised in the administrative proceeding before the Department had been raised and dismissed, or could have been raised, in previous federal litigation. In support of this argument, the defendant claims that plaintiffs' discrimination claims were raised or could have been raised in J. Tuchrello v. Farmers Home Administration, 92-CV-6334 (filed August 4, 1992); and in House v. Larimer, 95-CV-6455 (filed September 14, 1995), and that because the claims in those actions were dismissed on the merits, plaintiffs may not in this case seek review of the Department's administrative decision denying those discrimination claims.

For the reasons set forth below, I grant defendant's motion to dismiss, and dismiss plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Joseph and Patricia Tuchrello are family farmers who, defaulted on loans obtained through the FmHA. In August, 1992, the plaintiffs filed an action in federal court against the FmHA and several of its employees, alleging among other things, that the named defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934, the Rural Industrial Assistance Act of 1986, the Farm Credit Act of 1971 as amended by the Agricultural Credit Technical Corrections Act of 1988, and the Farm Credit Act Amendments of 1986, sections 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1994 of the Civil Rights Acts, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and 28 U.S.C. § 453 (the oath of office for federal judges). That case, along with several others filed by family-farmers in the same situation as the plaintiffs, was heard in this District by United States District Court Judge G. David Larimer. On November 10, 1993, Judge Larimer dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice, and ordered plaintiffs to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed against them due to their filing of a frivolous Complaint and several frivolous motions. The dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on August 30, 1994, and thereafter, by Order dated September 11, 1995, Judge Larimer imposed sanctions of $3,000.00 on the plaintiffs.

Three days after sanctions were imposed on the plaintiffs, they, along with several other parties who had had their cases dismissed, filed a new action. House v. Larimer, 95-CV-6455 (filed September 14, 1995). The new action not only repeated all of the claims that had been dismissed by Judge Larimer in the previous action, but added Judge Larimer as a defendant. By Order dated March 21, 1996, I dismissed plaintiffs' Complaint as barred by the doctrine of res judicata, and judicial immunity.

Nine months after plaintiffs' second federal case was dismissed, plaintiffs brought an administrative action against the Department of Agriculture seeking a determination that they had been discriminated against with respect to the processing and handling of their FmHA loans. The administrative action was commenced by the Department on the basis of two letters sent by the plaintiffs to the Department, dated January 21, 1997, and January 22, 1997. In the January 21, 1997 letter, the Tuchrello's referenced the federal case they had filed before Judge Larimer, and indicated that the violations cited in that complaint "all but ruined [their] farm operation." Plaintiffs additionally complained that their loan had been transferred to several different FmHA offices causing them inconvenience, and that the FmHA had unfairly forced them to pay their brother's debts. In the second letter, plaintiffs again referenced and attached the federal complaint filed before Judge Larimer, and claimed that the alleged violations stated in that complaint violated their civil rights. Plaintiffs additionally complained that their accounts had been transferred between three different FmHA offices, causing them hardship, inconvenience, and economic loss. In addition to the two January, 1997, letters, plaintiffs filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Department in 1999 which alleged that the plaintiffs had been discriminated against on the basis of actions that took place in 1982 through 1993.

On March 24, 2004, the Department issued a Final Determination dismissing plaintiffs' complaints on grounds that plaintiffs' claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Specifically, the Department held that because the plaintiffs were raising the same issues in the administrative proceedings as they had in the federal case before Judge Larimer, the fact that Judge Larimer had dismissed those claims barred the plaintiffs from relitigating their claims before the Department in an administrative complaint. The Final Determination was reissued on September 14, 2004 due to the fact that the original Final Determination had not been timely mailed to the parties. Plaintiffs filed the instant action on March 11, 2005.

DISCUSSION

I. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for dismissal of the Complaint where the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must ascertain, after presuming all factual allegations in the pleading to be true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, whether or not the plaintiff has stated any valid ground for relief. Ferran v. Town of Nassau, 11 F.3rd 21, 22 (2d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1014 (1994). The court may grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion only where "`it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Allen v. WestPoint-Pepperell, Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

The defendant moves to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint on grounds that their claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Specifically, defendant contends that because plaintiffs previously brought or could have the discrimination claims underlying their administrative complaint in their two previous federal court actions, they are barred by the doctrine of res judicata from seeking yet another review of those claims in this federal proceeding.

Plaintiffs oppose defendant's motion on grounds that the res judicata doctrine does not apply in this case because the plaintiffs did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate their claims in their previous federal actions; that the issues in those actions differed from the discrimination issues raised in the underlying administrative proceeding; and that in any event, courts should construe ...


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