United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
Honorable Alfred H. Bennett United States District Judge.
the Court are Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission
officials-the Defendants-Adrian Bentley Nettles (Executive
Director of TABC), Dexter K. Jones (Chief of Audit and
Investigations), Emily E. Helm (former General Counsel for
TABC), Judith L. Kennison (TABC attorney), and Matthew Edward
Cherry's (TABC attorney) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #15),
Plaintiff Spec's Family Partners, Ltd.'s
("Plaintiff) Response (Doc. #28), and Defendant's
Reply (Doc. #32). After considering the parties'
arguments, submissions and applicable legal authority, the
Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
case arises out of an administrative enforcement action
prosecuted by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
("TABC") against Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that
the fifty-three charges brought against it were
"wrongfully and maliciously pursued," that the
administrative enforcement action brought by TABC against
Plaintiff "should have never been filed," and that
it caused "tremendous expense and economic loss" to
Plaintiff. Doc. #3 at 1; Doc. #28 at 1.
2012, early 2013, industry participants complained of
misconduct by Plaintiff As a result, TABC investigated
aspects of Plaintiff s business and concluded that Plaintiff
violated numerous applicable Texas regulations. TABC
initiated a formal case at the State Office of Administrative
Hearings ("SOAH") in February 2013. In the SOAH
case, TABC sought to cancel or suspend 164 of Plaintiffs
retail package store permits. Doc. #3 at 6. Plaintiff alleges
that Defendants "wrongfully withheld permits" for
new stores across Texas and refused to renew Plaintiffs
permits for existing stores during the administrative
enforcement action. Id. at 2. Plaintiff believes
that Defendants did this in order to "coerce an
unjustified multi-million dollar settlement" from
Plaintiff. Id.; Doc. #28 at 1.
two-week SOAH hearing was conducted in front of a panel of
three administrative law judges. Doc. #3 at 10-30. After the
evidentiary hearing, the panel of judges concluded that TABC
had not met its burden with respect to any of the charges
against Plaintiff except "one credit law
violation." Id. at 9. Plaintiff now claims that
the charges against it were "groundless" and
Defendants were the cause of Plaintiffs economic losses. Doc.
#28 at 2. Plaintiff asserts numerous complaints concerning
the actions of TABC officials during the initiation of the
enforcement action and the enforcement hearing. Doc. #3 at
10-30. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the conduct of
the TABC officials involved in the administrative enforcement
proceedings violated its Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth
Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at
further argues that "TABC's allegations were based
on false testimony from a TABC witness" and that it was
deprived of both procedural and substantive due process.
Id. at 9, 30. Furthermore, Plaintiff brings state
law claims for malicious prosecution. Id. at 35-38.
Plaintiff requests that this Court issue a declaratory
judgment and provide injunctive relief to prevent TABC from
"ever again engaging in the same or similar abusive
tactics in the future." Id. at 2. Plaintiff is
also seeking just compensation for the losses and damages it
suffered as a result of the enforcement action. Id.
Lastly, Plaintiff alleges that TABC violated the Sherman
Antitrust Act (The Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209, as amended, 15
U.S.C. § 1 et seq.) and seeks a declaratory
judgment that Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code §
102.01(a)(7) is a per se violation of the Sherman Antitrust
Act. Doc. #3 at 2; 38-40.
move to dismiss this case for failure to state a claim and
for failure to overcome TABC and its' officials'
immunity from suit under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Defendants argue that Plaintiffs
claims should be dismissed pursuant to Eleventh Amendment
sovereign immunity, and that the individual Defendants are
entitled to both absolute immunity and qualified immunity.
The issue before the Court is whether Plaintiffs allegations
concerning the administrative enforcement proceedings are
appropriate in light of Defendants' assertion of various
immunities from suit.
Motion to Dismiss 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)
district court must dismiss a case when the plaintiff fails
to establish subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1). "When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in
conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should
consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before
addressing any attack on the merits." Ramming v.
United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).
However, dismissal based on lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction does not constitute a determination of the claim
on its merits, and does not prevent a plaintiff from pursuing
the claim in a court that has proper jurisdiction.
motion to dismiss is the proper vehicle to assert a claim of
absolute immunity. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S.
409, 416 (1976) (prosecutorial immunity); Mowbray v.
Cameron County, 274 F.3d 269, 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2001)
(prosecutorial immunity and witness immunity). The Supreme
Court has stated that a defendant properly invoking immunity
is entitled to dismissal even before discovery. Behrens
v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 306 (1996).
12(b)(6) allows dismissal if a plaintiff fails "to state
a claim upon which relief may be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). "Under the 12(b)(6) standard, all well-pleaded
facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, but plaintiffs must allege facts that support the
elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid
claim." City of Clinton v. Pilgrim's Pride
Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010). "To
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint
'does not need detailed factual allegations,' but
must provide the plaintiffs grounds for entitlement to
relief-including factual allegations that when assumed to be
true 'raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.'" Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397,
401 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). That is, "a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to 'state a claim to relief:hat is plausible on its
face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
674 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
Eleventh Amendment ...