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Holdner v. Coba

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

July 2, 2018

KATY COBA, in her individual capacity; ALEXIS TAYLOR, DIRECTOR OF OREGON DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, in her official capacity; DICK PEDERSON, in his individual capacity; and RICHARD WHITMAN, DIRECTOR OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, in his official capacity, Defendants.[1]




         Plaintiff William Holdner (“Holdner”), appearing pro se, filed a civil rights action against Katy Coba, Director of Oregon's Department of Agriculture, and Dick Peterson, Director of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (collectively “Defendants”), challenging their authority to regulate livestock operations on his land. The court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss finding Holdner lacked standing; the claims are barred by claim preclusion, issue preclusion; and Eleventh Amendment immunity; and Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Holder appealed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the court's dismissal of the complaint but remanded with directions to dismiss the action without prejudice.

         On March 27, 2018, Holdner filed a First Amended Complaint (the “Amended Complaint”) in which he asserts the same claims but incorporates additional factual allegations. Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint asserting it does not remedy the defects found in the original complaint. The court finds the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and Defendants are entitled, once again, to the dismissal of this action. Consequently, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.


         This is the third action initiated in this court by Holdner asserting claims based on Oregon's enforcement of water quality standards against his livestock operation. In 2006, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (the “Department”) became concerned Holdner was discharging animal waste from his property in a manner likely to send it into a nearby creek. Holdner v. Coba, Civ. No. 09-979-AC, 2011 WL 2633165, at *3 (D. Or. July 5, 2011)(“Holdner I”). As a result, the Department issued a civil citation for pollution violations against Holdner on three separate occasions - March 9, 2007, February 10, 2009, and June 15, 2009. Id. Additionally, in 2010, the Oregon Department of Justice indicted Holdner on three felony and twenty-five misdemeanor counts of water pollution. Id. at *3. Holdner requested administrative review of the civil citations, arguing his ranch was exempt from state and federal regulation, and moved to dismiss the criminal charges on the ground the Department exceeded its authority in enforcing the federal statute. Id. at *3; see also Holdner v. Kroger, No. 3:12-cv-01159-PK, 2012 WL 6131637, at *2 (D. Or. Nov. 6, 2012)(“Holdner II”). The administrative hearing resulted in final orders in the agency's favor and the court denied Holdner's motion in the criminal proceedings. Holdner I, 2011 WL 2633165, at *3; Holdner II, 2012 WL 6131637, at *3.

         On August 20, 2009, Holdner filed an action against the Department complaining about the issuance of the civil citations. Holdner I, 2011 WL 2633165, at *1. Holdner again asserted the Department exceeded its authority under federal statues and sought to enjoin it from taking further enforcement actions against him. Id. at *4. After directing Holdner to amend his complaint twice, the court determined Holdner was alleging a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) for violation of his rights to procedural due process. Id. It then granted summary judgment to the Department on the Section 1983 claim, finding Holdner failed to allege a violation of a fundamental right or offer evidence of the Department's involvement in the conduct comprising such violation.[2]Id. at *7-*8.

         Holdner filed a second action on June 28, 2012, once again alleging various Oregon agencies lacked authority to regulate water quality and asserting a single claim for declaratory relief under a slightly different theory than alleged in Holdner I. Holdner II, 2012 WL 6131637, at *2. Specifically, Holdner alleged the United States Environmental Protection Agency never granted authority to the State of Oregon to administer the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and, absent such authority, Oregon's regulatory and permitting scheme governing animal feeding operations was ultra vires. Id. at *3. Judge Papak denied the defendants' motion to dismiss on the grounds of mootness and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, but granted the motion finding Holdner's claims barred by the Younger abstention doctrine and claim preclusion. Id. at *3-*7.

         Judge Papak set forth the elements of the claim preclusion doctrine - identity of claims, final judgment on the merits, and identity or privity between the parties - and described the doctrine as “[barring] litigation of any claims that were raised or could have been raised in the prior action” where these elements are present. Id. at *7. He then reasoned:

Looking for the moment only at Holdner's prior state administrative and criminal proceedings, it is clear that Holdner could easily have raised his current theory that the ODA lacks authority to enforce the Clean Water Act in either of those proceedings, but only now attempts to pursue further litigation on that “theory of relief.” Similarly, Holdner could have raised his ultra vires theory in the prior federal case, in which he contended that the ODA exceeded its regulatory authority for other reasons. Moreover, there is no doubt that Holdner's prior proceedings were litigated to final judgment on the merits. Finally, the current defendants in this action are surely in privity with the State of Oregon, a party to Holdner's criminal proceeding, since they are all departments or agents of the state.
Holdner's single argument against the application of claim preclusion is that the legal theory central to his case - that Oregon's entire water pollution control scheme is ultra vires - was not previously litigated in any other proceeding. But Holdner misunderstands the nature of federal and Oregon claim preclusion doctrines, both of which recognize preclusion where a claim or theory could have been raised in an earlier proceeding, but nevertheless was not. Consequently, even though Holdner has now discovered a new legal theory explaining why he was not subject to the Oregon NPDES permitting requirement for CAFO's, he is precluded from advancing it here because he could have raised it in any number of earlier proceedings.

Id. at *7 (internal quotations omitted).

         Holdner filed the instant action, the third in this court, on October 29, 2015, once again complaining about Defendants' regulation of the livestock operations on Holdner's property. (Compl. ECF No. 1.) The court interpreted the complaint filed on October 29, 2015 (the “Complaint”) to allege three claims: 1) deprivation of Holdner's constitutional due process rights under Section 1983; 2) Defendants acted outside their enforcement authority under the Clean Water Act; and 3) Holdner's land patent bars the state from regulating water quality on his land. Holdner v. Coba, Civ. No. 3:15-cv-2039-AC, 2016 WL 3102053 (D. Or. June 1, 2016) (“Holdner III”)[3]. However, the court later noted “the allegations of the Complaint universally support a single claim under Section 1983.” Holdner v. Coba, Case No. 3:15-cv-2039-AC, 2016 WL 6662687, at *5 (D. Or. Nov. 9, 2016).

         The court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss on several grounds. First, the court found Holdner lacked standing based on the absence of a injury-in-fact. Holdner III, 2016 WL 3102053, at *3. The court reasoned “[b]ecause plaintiff cannot legally possess livestock until December 8, 2019, he has no legally protected interest in livestock as required for standing to bring his claims, and can show ...

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