Monday, February 13, 2006

Sixth Circuit: Abuse of Discretion to Dismiss Solely Based on Failure to Respond to 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

Per the Sixth Circuit in Bangura v. Hansen, 434 F.3d 487 (6th Cir. Jan. 18, 2006):

The district court abused its discretion in holding that Plaintiffs waived their APA claims. In a footnote in its opinion, the district court disposed of all of Plaintiffs' APA claims. The district reasoned that Plaintiffs waived the APA claims by failing to address them in Plaintiffs' response to defendant's motion to dismiss. In Carver v. Bunch, this Court held that a district court abused its discretion in dismissing a plaintiff's claims solely because the plaintiff failed to respond to the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. 946 F.2d at 452. It reasoned that such a dismissal was akin to a dismissal for failure to prosecute, and thus, governed by the standard set forth in Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. It then determined that in order for a district court to dismiss a plaintiff's claims in response to a 12(b)(6) motion, the district court must “conclude ‘beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief,’ ” regardless of whether the plaintiff responded. Id. (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)). Analogizing to a summary judgment motion, the court also noted that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure place the burden on the moving party to demonstrate that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief. Id. at 454-55. In this case, the district court failed to address whether Plaintiff's complaint stated a claim for relief under the APA and dismissed the APA claims solely because Plaintiffs failed to respond to Defendant's motion. Thus, the district court's dismissal rested on impermissible grounds.Moreover, the factual basis underlying the district court's determination that Plaintiffs waived their APA claims is clearly erroneous. The district court states that Plaintiffs “fail to even mention [their APA claims] in their Memorandum.” (Op. & Or. Granting Mot. to Dismiss, March 23, 2003.) In fact, half of Plaintiffs' memorandum in response to Defendants' motion to dismiss is devoted to their APA claims and rebutting Defendants' contention that Plaintiffs do not have standing to seek judicial review for their APA claims.

Finally, the district court erroneously placed the burden on Plaintiffs to demonstrate that they stated a claim for relief. As noted above, this Court has determined that on a 12(b)(6) motion, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff failed to state a claim. Carver, 946 F.2d at 455. In this case, Defendants did not argue in their memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief under the APA. Instead, Defendants argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear any of Plaintiffs' claims and that Plaintiffs failed to state a substantive or procedural due process claim. Because Defendants did not offer a single argument to support their assertion that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief under the APA, Defendants failed to meet their burden of proof, and the district court should have dismissed Defendants' motion


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