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Saxton v. Lucas

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 26, 2016

LAURA SAXTON and DOUG SCHELLING, as the surviving parents of Kelsie Schelling, decedent, Plaintiff,
v.
DONTHE LUCAS, SARA LUCAS, VIVIAN LUCAS, DAWN SHAY LUCAS, DETECTIVE NEAL ROBINSON, in his individual capacity, SERGEANT KEN ESPINOZA, in his individual capacity, DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF ANDREW McLACHLAN, in his individual capacity, and CITY OF PUEBLO, COLORADO, Defendants.

ORDER ADOPTING OCTOBER 27, 2015 AND NOVEMBER 23, 2015 RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the October 27, 2015 and November 23, 2015 Recommendations issued by United States Magistrate Judge Michael J. Watanabe. (Docs. ## 65 and 70.)

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiffs’ Complaint

Plaintiffs’ daughter Kelsie Schelling has been missing for over two years; it appears that she was murdered the night she disappeared, but the police have never charged anyone for the crime. Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint brings allegations against two separate groups of Defendants. In Claim One, Plaintiffs sue the alleged murderer, Donthe Lucas, and his family/accomplices, Sara Lucas, Vivian Lucas, and Dawn Shay Lucas (the Lucas Defendants), under Colorado state law, alleging wrongful death. (Doc. # 8 at 24-25.) In Claims Two and Three, Plaintiffs sue the City of Pueblo, investigating police officer Neal Robinson, and officer Robinson’s supervisors, Sergeant Ken Espinoza and Deputy Police Chief Andrew McLachlan (the Pueblo Defendants), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983) and Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), alleging that their conduct (specifically, destroying evidence and incompetently investigating the case) violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to access the courts by damaging Plaintiffs’ wrongful-death claim in Claim One. (Id. at 25-27.) Finally, in Claim Four, Plaintiffs sue both the Lucas Defendants and the Pueblo Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Section 1985), alleging a conspiracy to violate Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to access the courts. (Id. at 27-28.)

B. Procedural History

This Court referred a variety of Motions to Dismiss, filed by both the Pueblo Defendants and the Lucas Defendants, to Magistrate Judge Watanabe. (Docs. ## 52, 66.) On October 27, 2015 and November 23, 2015, Judge Watanabe issued Recommendations to the Court regarding these motions. (Docs. ## 65, 70.)

Judge Watanabe’s October 27, 2015 Recommendation suggested that the Motion to Dismiss brought by the Pueblo Defendants (Doc. # 38), be granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. # 65.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Watanabe recommended granting the Pueblo Defendants’ Motion as to (1) qualified immunity for Defendants Robinson, Espinoza, and McLachlan, on Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 claim; (2) lack of personal participation by Defendants Espinoza and McLachlan, on Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 claim; and (3) lack of municipal liability for Defendant City of Pueblo pursuant to Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95. Accordingly, he recommended that the Court dismiss Claims Two, Three and Four of the Complaint in their entirety, as against the Pueblo Defendants. (Id. at 17.)

Judge Watanabe’s November 23, 2015 Recommendation dealt with the other Motions to Dismiss in this matter (Doc. ## 60, 62-64), filed by the Lucas Defendants. (Doc. # 70.) Specifically, Judge Watanabe recommended that the Lucas Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss be granted as to Claim Four (alleging a conspiracy to violate Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to access the courts under Section 1985), but denied as to Claim One (wrongful death). (Doc. # 70 at 4.)

Additionally, in his October 27, 2015 Recommendation, Judge Watanabe noted that the Court would no longer have independent subject matter jurisdiction over Claim One pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (providing for federal-question jurisdiction) or 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (providing for diversity jurisdiction), if the Court accepted his recommendations regarding the dismissal of the Pueblo Defendants. (Doc. # 65 at 17.)

Both of Judge Watanabe’s Recommendations are incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Plaintiffs filed Objections to both Recommendations on December 11, 2015 (Doc. # 73), to which the Pueblo Defendants responded on December 28, 2015. (Doc. # 75.) The Lucas Defendants did not file a response to Plaintiffs’ Objections.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, the district judge must “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge’s [recommended] disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). An objection is “properly” made if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known As 2121 East 30th Street, 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996). In conducting his or her review, “[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the ...


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