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Kuntz v. Delta County Board of County Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 7, 2017

DR. DAVID KUNTZ, Plaintiff,
DELTA COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, C. DOUGLAS ATCHLEY, Delta County Commissioner, in his official capacity, C. BRUCE HOVDE, Delta County Commissioner, in his official capacity, and MARK ROEBER, Delta County Commissioner, in his official capacity, Defendants.


          Christine M. Arguello Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 24.) On June 2, 2016, this Court referred the Motion to United States Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72. Upon review, Magistrate Judge Gallagher recommended that this Court grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. # 38.) For the following reasons, the Court adopts that Recommendation and dismisses the case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Dr. David Kuntz, wanted to add a new chicken barn and egg-laying operation to his existing cattle ranch and wheat farm in unincorporated Delta County. (Doc. # 1 at 3). Pursuant to the Delta County Regulation for Specific Developments (DCR), Defendants, Delta County Board of Commissioners et al., required Plaintiff to undergo an application and approval process before adding the egg-laying operation. (Doc. # 1 at 4-5.) Defendants first denied Plaintiff's multiple requests for approval but ultimately granted his application in October 2015. (Doc. # 1 at 5.) Defendants reserved the right to revoke the approval for violation of any conditions imposed therein. (Doc. # 1 at 5.)

         In March 2016, Plaintiff initiated this suit against Defendants, raising one substantive claim for relief: a perceived equal protection violation under the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §1983, and the Colorado Constitution, Article II, Section 25.[1](Doc. # 1 at 9.) Plaintiff argues that, through their enforcement of the DCR, Defendants treat individuals engaged in egg-laying operations differently from similarly-situated individuals engaged in chicken-raising operations.[2] (Doc. # 1 at 7.) More specifically, he alleges that a farmer, like himself, who wants to add an egg-laying operation to his repertoire is required to undergo review under the DCR while a farmer who wants to add the rearing of live chickens to his repertoire is not.

         In May 2016, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss, requesting that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failing to adequately plead an essential element of his equal protection claim-that the DCR treats similarly-situated individuals differently. (Doc. # 24 at 7.) Defendants contend that the DCR plainly requires any new operation to undergo review, regardless of whether the operation is created to sell eggs or rear live chickens. (Id.)

         Magistrate Judge Gallagher agreed with Defendants' interpretation of the DCR and recommended that this Court dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint as not cognizable under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 38 at 8-9.) Plaintiff objects to the Recommendation in its entirety. (Doc. # 41.)


         After a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive motion, Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) requires that the district judge conduct a de novo review of any part of the recommendation that has been properly objected to. In conducting the review, a “district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id. Any arguments raised for the first time in objections are deemed waivable and need not be considered by the district court. Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996).

         III. LAW

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can plead no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Golan v. Ashcroft, 310 F.Supp.2d 1215, 1217 (D. Colo. 2004). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may also be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory. Golan, 310 F.Supp.2d at 1217. In reviewing a motion to dismiss, courts take all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and construe the allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1190 (10th Cir. 2012).

         When, as here, a court's review of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion hinges on interpreting a statute or county enactment, ordinary rules of statutory construction apply. See Treece, Alfrey, Musat & Bosworth, PC v. Dep't of Fin., 298 P.3d 993, 996 (Colo.App. 2011). When interpreting a statute, a court's “primary task . . . is to give effect to the intent of the drafters, which [the court does] by looking to the plain language.” Id. The court reads “statutes and municipal enactments in such a way as to give effect to every word, ” considering “the language used in the context of the statute or code as a whole” and “construing each [provision] consistently and in harmony with the overall statutory design.” Id. Courts “should reject interpretations that will render words or phrases superfluous and must avoid interpretations that produce illogical or absurd results.” Id.; see also Lagae v. Lackner, 996 P.2d 1281, 1284 (Colo. 2000).

         IV. ...

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