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Yasmin Food Market v. Tom Vilsack

January 24, 2012

YASMIN FOOD MARKET,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOM VILSACK, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckwalter, S.J.

MEMORANDUM

Defendant, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture ("Defendant"), has filed the present Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Yasmin Food Market's ("Plaintiff") Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

According to the facts set forth in the Amended Complaint,*fn1 Plaintiff, as part of its business as a food retailer, was a participant in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, 42 U.S.C. § 1786 ("WIC") and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 7 U.S.C. § 2011, et seq. ("SNAP"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) On September 1, 2010, November 9, 2010, and March 11, 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which administers WIC, subjected Plaintiff to four separate "compliance buys"*fn2 and concluded that Plaintiff had violated the program's rules and regulations. (Id. ¶ 7.)*fn3 Plaintiff was not informed of these violations until after all four compliance buys had occurred. (Id. ¶ 10.) As a result of the alleged violations, Plaintiff was disqualified from WIC on July 6, 2011 and from SNAP on August 1, 2011, and is prohibited from participating in these programs for a period of three years. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15.)

On August 16, 2011, Plaintiff filed in this Court a Complaint, a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order. The Court denied the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order on August 16, 2011. On October 5, 2011, the Court also denied the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, albeit without prejudice, so as to allow Plaintiff the opportunity to amend its Complaint.

The Amended Complaint, filed on November 3, 2011, alleges the following: (1) Defendant deprived Plaintiff of a property interest without due process of law by disqualifying it from WIC and SNAP (Count I); (2) Defendant violated Plaintiff's due process rights by failing to notify it of the WIC violations until after all four compliance buys were complete (Count II); and (3) the penalties imposed by Defendant are disproportionate to Plaintiff's WIC violations and therefore constitute cruel and unusual punishment (Count III). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-25.) Plaintiff requests an injunction that would compel Defendant to reinstate it as a participant in WIC and SNAP. (Id. ¶ 1.) On November 17, 2011, Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss, and Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition on November 30, 2011.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. It emphasized that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In the subsequent case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court enunciated two fundamental principles applicable to a court's review of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, it noted that "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Thus, although "[Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal has altered some of the fundamental underpinnings of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review. Arner v. PGT Trucking, Inc., No. Civ.A.09-0565, 2010 WL 1052953, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2010); Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-0626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8; Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

SNAP, originally known as the Food Stamp Act, was enacted in 1964 to assist low-income households in obtaining "a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation." 7 U.S.C. § 2011. WIC was established in 1972 to provide "supplemental foods and nutrition education" to pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, as well as children from families with inadequate income. 42 U.S.C. § 1786(a). These programs are administered by Defendant's Food and Nutrition Service through state-level agencies. 7 C.F.R. §§ 246.3, 271.3, & 271.4.

In Pennsylvania, it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth's Department of Health to develop policies and procedures for the operation of the WIC Program, distribute funds to local agencies to assist the Department in operating the WIC Program, authorize stores to participate in the WIC Program, monitor and evaluate WIC Program services provided by WIC authorized stores, maintain fiscal records, submit reports and carry out all other responsibilities delegated to it by the USDA-FNS for the operation of the WIC Program.

28 Pa. Code § 1101.3(a). Pursuant to 28 Pa. Code § 1107.1, the Department of Health may sanction a WIC-participating store for violations of the program's terms and conditions. Sanctions can range from a civil ...


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