United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Robert Blakey United States District Judge
Petra Mini Mart, Inc. ("Petra") initiated this
action seeking review of a Final Agency Decision (the
"Decision") entered by the United States Department
of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service
("USDA"). Petra claims that the Decision was not
supported by sufficient evidence. The United States of
America, on behalf of the USDA, conversely insists that the
Decision is valid, and has accordingly moved for summary
judgment on Petra's claim.  at 1-2.For the reasons
explained below, that motion is granted.
operated at 2701 East 79th Street in Chicago, and was
previously qualified to participate as a retailer in the
federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(“SNAP”).  at 2. SNAP is overseen by the Food
and Nutrition Service (“FNS”). Id. at
April of 2014, FNS informed Salaymeh that it had evidence
suggesting Petra was “trafficking” in SNAP
benefits. Id. at 2; see also 7 C.F.R.
§ 271.2 (defining “trafficking” to mean,
inter alia, the “buying, selling, stealing, or
otherwise effecting an exchange of SNAP” benefits
“for cash or consideration other than eligible food,
either directly, indirectly, in complicity or collusion with
others, or acting alone.”). FNS subsequently charged
Petra with trafficking SNAP benefits, and on August 5, 2014,
Petra was permanently disqualified from participating in the
SNAP program.  at 2. Neither Petra nor Salaymeh ever
contested the determination that Petra had been trafficking
in SNAP benefits.
during the course of its operation, also accumulated over
$40, 000 in tickets from the City of Chicago. Id. at
4. As a result of these tickets, Salaymeh could not
“afford to stay in business, ” and Jaffar Karakra
(“Karakra”), a former Petra employee,
“want[ed] to take over.” Id. at 3. To
that end, Karakra (not Salaymeh) executed a lease with the
owner of Petra's location that began to run in October of
2014. Id. Karakra also registered articles of
incorporation for a new business entity (A&S Food Mart #1
or “A&S”) on October 30, 2014, and A&S
received its business registration on November 1, 2014.
Id. Finally, Karakra sought the licenses required to
operate a food or tobacco store in the City of Chicago.
Id. Municipal authorities refused to issue these
licenses until Karakra assumed financial responsibility for
Petra's outstanding tickets. Id. at 4. Karakra
agreed, and his understanding with Salaymeh was memorialized
in an “affidavit” jointly executed on March 6,
2015. Id. The affidavit provides:
I, Jaffar Karakra SSN . . . certifies [sic] that I did
purchase the business Petra Mini Mart, Inc. 2701 E. 27th St.,
Chicago, IL 60649 from Mr. Ayman Salaymeh. This is also to
certify that I will pay all the tickets for the City of
Chicago from the purchase price as it was agreed with the
City of Chicago to pay $2, 600 per month for 17 months.
Id. at 52. That same month, Petra ceased operations,
A&S received its licenses to sell tobacco and food, and
A&S began operating at Petra's former location on
79th street. Id. at 5.
informed Salaymeh in August of 2015, several months after
Petra had closed, that it had obtained evidence suggesting
that Salaymeh had sold Petra to a former employee, in
violation of controlling federal law. Id. at 2;
see also 7 U.S.C. § 2021(e)(1) (“In the
event any retail food store or wholesale food concern that
has been disqualified [from participation in SNAP] is sold or
the ownership thereof is otherwise transferred to a purchaser
or transferee, the person or persons who sell or otherwise
transfer ownership of the retail food store or wholesale food
concern shall be subjected to a civil penalty . . .
.”); 7 C.F.R. § 278.6 (“In the event any
retail food store or wholesale food concern which has been
disqualified is sold or the ownership thereof is otherwise
transferred to a purchaser or transferee, the person or other
legal entity who sells or otherwise transfers ownership of
the retail food store or wholesale food concern shall be
subjected to and liable for a civil money penalty.”).
charge was supported by both the previously-mentioned
affidavit of sale and Karakra's lease over Petra's
location at 79th street, which began to run in October of
2014-six months prior to Petra's closing in March of
2015. Id. at 2. Based upon this evidence, FNS
imposed a $44, 000 transfer-of-ownership-civil-money-penalty
against Salaymeh (the “TOCMP”). Id.
submitted a timely request for administrative review of the
TOCMP. Id. at 2-3. He argued that FNS did not have
any evidence that he sold Petra to Karakra. Id.
Salaymeh additionally insisted that he had simply closed
Petra in March 2015, and Karakra had opened a similar store
in the same location afterwards. Id. at 3.
March 24, 2016, FNS affirmed its finding that Petra was sold
and upheld the $44, 000 penalty triggered by the transfer.
Id. This Decision was based upon both the affidavit
of sale and Petra's leasing history. Id.
initiated this lawsuit under 7 U.S.C. § 2023(a)(13),
which provides that if a “store, concern, or State
agency feels aggrieved by such final determination, it may
obtain judicial review thereof by filing a complaint against
the United States in the United States court for the district
in which it resides or is engaged in business . . . within
thirty days after the date of delivery or service of the
final notice of determination upon it, requesting the court
to set aside such determination.” The Decision was