United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff Taunya Miller brings this action against defendant
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, alleging that defendant violated the Equal
Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f, by
improperly denying plaintiff's farm Microloan
applications on the basis of sex/gender and age. Plaintiff
has moved for partial summary judgment (Docket No. 34), and
defendant has moved for summary judgment (Docket No. 45). The
Court heard oral argument on July 20, 2018. (Docket Nos. 60,
64). At the hearing, the Court denied plaintiff's Motion.
Subsequently, the Court ordered, and the parties submitted,
supplemental briefing. (Docket Nos. 63, 65). For the
following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN
PART defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
Pirkle Farms was an heirloom tomato farm in Bangs, Texas. Pl.
PMSJ, Ex. 31 (Docket No. 34). In July 2014, plaintiff was
interested in purchasing the farm and contacted the
Stephenville, Texas office of the Farm Service Agency
(“FSA”), an agency within the Department of
Agriculture, to discuss loan options. Id., Ex. 3;
Def. MSJ, Ex. 14, at 2 (Docket No. 45-14). That month, FSA
Program Technician Jane Pierce emailed plaintiff a farm
ownership loan application. Plaintiff was referred to Farm
Loan Manager Cynthia Kinser for further assistance. Pl. Ex. 4
(Docket No. 12).
submitted three loan applications: two Microloan
applications, each for $35, 000, and one Farm Ownership loan
application for $176, 000. Pl. PMSJ, Ex. 3 (Docket No. 34).
The FSA received the two Microloan applications on August 29,
2014, and September 3, 2014, and the Farm Ownership Loan
application on September 3, 2014. Id., Ex. 2, at 4;
Ex. 3, at 4; Ex. 4, at 3 (Docket Nos. 34-2 - 34-4). On
September 2, 2014, plaintiff signed a contract to purchase
Pirkle Farms for $200, 000, which contract referenced
third-party financing of $176, 000. Pl. Ex. 24 (Docket No.
12); Def. MSJ, Ex. 5, at 1 (Docket No. 45-5).
September 2, 2014, the FSA sent plaintiff a Notice of
Incomplete Application regarding the Microloans, requiring
plaintiff to provide additional information by September 22,
2014. Def. MSJ, Exs. 6 & 7 (Docket Nos. 45-6 & 45-7).
On September 9, 2014, the FSA sent plaintiff a Notice of
Incomplete Application regarding the Farm Ownership Loan
application, requiring additional information by September
29, 2014. Id.
requested that she meet with Kinser, and the two met, along
with plaintiff's husband, Ernest Miller, on September 12,
2014, at the Stephenville FSA Office to discuss her
applications. They discussed the FSA's statutory and
regulatory requirements, as well as plaintiff's credit
issues, farm experience, operating plans. Kinser Decl. ¶
11 (Docket No. 47).
point in September, 2014, the FSA obtained a joint credit
report regarding plaintiff's and her husband's credit
and financial histories, while both the Ownership Loan and
Microloan applications were pending. See Def. MSJ,
Ex. 19 & 20 (Docket Nos. 45-19, 45-20).
September 29, 2014, the FSA sent plaintiff a Second Notice of
Incomplete Application regarding the Farm Ownership Loan
application, requiring additional information by October 9,
2014, or else that application would be withdrawn. Def. MSJ,
Ex. 8 (Docket No. 45-8). On October 14, 2014, the FSA sent
plaintiff a Notice of Application Withdrawal regarding the
Ownership Loan application, due to plaintiff's failure to
provide additional information. Id., Ex. 9 (Docket
No. 45-9). On November 10, 2014, the FSA mailed plaintiff a
letter denying the Microloan applications, due to
plaintiff's failure to meet program eligibility and
feasibility requirements. The letter explained
plaintiff's reconsideration and appeal options, which had
to be pursued within 30 days. Id., Ex. 10 (Docket
No. 45-10). That day, plaintiff emailed Kinser to say that
she had not received the mailed letter regarding the
deficiencies in the Microloan applications, and would be
resubmitting the applications. Id., Ex. 11 (Docket
No. 45-11). Plaintiff received the Microloan denial letter
December 3, 2014, within the time for filling of an appeal.
did not pursue the appeal or reconsideration options
described in the November 10 Denial Letter regarding the
Microloan applications. Kinser Decl. ¶ 16 (Docket No.
days after plaintiff received the Microloan denial letter
from FSA, in December 2014, Pirkle Farms was sold to another
buyer. Id., Ex. 12 (Docket No. 45-12).
March 18, 2014, plaintiff filed a program discrimination
complaint against the FSA with the USDA Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (“OASCR”),
alleging sex and age discrimination in the denial of her
Microloan applications. Id., Ex. 13 (Docket No.
45-13). On August 19, 2016, OASCR completed its investigation
and produced a Record of Investigation. Id., Ex. 16
(Docket No. 45-16). The Early Resolution and Conciliation
Division attempted mediation between the parties in September
2016 and February 2017, but they were unable to resolve the
matter. Butler Decl. ¶ 4 (Docket No. 46). The matter was
referred back to OASCR for a Final Agency Determination.
Id. In the interim, plaintiff filed this action, and
so OASCR did not make a final decision on plaintiff's
complaint. Id. ¶ 5.
commenced this action on April 28, 2017. Compl. (Docket No.
1). On May 1, 2017, she filed an Amended Complaint,
correcting the spelling of defendant's name, Am. Compl.
(Docket No. 7); two weeks later, she also submitted
voluminous documents titled “Exhibits” (Docket
No. 12). Plaintiff brings two causes of action:
(1) For violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (the
“ECOA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f, for
defendant's alleged improper denial of plaintiff's
farm loan applications on the basis of sex and age; and
(2) Under the Administrative Procedure Act
(“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq.
January 5, 2018, plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment
on discrimination claims, and on certain of defendant's
affirmative defenses. (Docket No. 34). On February 28, 2018,
the Court issued an Opinion and Order, holding that plaintiff
was not entitled to a jury trial on her ECOA action as
against the federal government (Docket No. 44), which
question had arisen at an earlier status conference (Docket
No. 43). On April 16, 2018, defendant moved for summary
judgment. (Docket No. 45).
Court heard oral argument on the Motions on July 20, 2018,
and at that hearing, the Court denied plaintiff's Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment, for the reasons stated on the
record, and as stated below. (Docket Nos. 60, 64). The Court
also ordered, and the parties submitted, supplemental
briefing on certain questions of fact and law. (Docket Nos.
judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden
is on the moving party to point out the absence of any
genuine issue of material fact; once the initial burden is
satisfied, the burden shifts to the opponent to demonstrate
through the production of probative evidence that there
remains an issue of fact to be tried. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In opposing summary
judgment, a party may not rely on mere allegations or denials
in pleadings, but must set forth specific facts supported by
competent evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Far Out Prods., Inc. v.
Oskar, 247 F.3d 986, 997 (9th Cir. 2001). On a motion
for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Robi v. Reed,
173 F.3d 736, 739 (9th Cir. 1999). “A fact issue is
genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable [fact
finder] could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc.,
281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted).
“The non-moving party has failed to meet its burden if
the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier
of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Intel
Corp. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 952 F.2d
1551, 1558 (9th Cir. 1991) (quotation omitted). The
substantive law governing a claim ...