United States District Court, D. Colorado
BRYAN RAWLINGS, BRITTANY VASQUEZ, SYLVIA COPPIN, and MICHAEL COPPIN, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF FOUNTAIN, COLORADO, and MATTHEW RACINE, Sergeant, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.
RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
KRISTEN L. MIX UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion
to Dismiss [#23] (the “Motion”). Plaintiffs
filed a Response [#26] in opposition to the Motion, and
Defendants filed a Reply [#29]. The Motion has been referred
to the undersigned for a recommendation regarding disposition
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and D.C.COLO.LCivR
72.1(c)(3). See [#28]. The Court has reviewed the
Motion, Response, Reply, the entire case file, and the
applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court respectfully
RECOMMENDS that the Motion [#23] be
well-pled facts of the Amended Complaint [#1] are construed
in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Barnes v.
Harris, 783 F.3d 1185, 1191-92 (10th Cir. 2015).
Plaintiffs are Bryan Rawlings (“Rawlings”),
Brittany Vasquez (“Vasquez”), Sylvia Coppin
(“S. Coppin”), and Michael Coppin (“M.
Coppin”) who live together at 117 Yearling Court,
Fountain, Colorado. Am. Compl. [#21] at ¶ 9.
Plaintiffs Rawlings and Vasquez both had a Medical Marijuana
Physician Certification, and the household is permitted to
grow up to eighty marijuana plants pursuant to Article XVIII,
§§ 14 and 16 of the Colorado Constitution.
Id. at ¶ 10. On the morning of July 22, 2016, a
City of Fountain Police Department SWAT Team conducted a
search of the Yearling Court property. Id. [#21] at
¶ 12. The search was conducted pursuant to a search
warrant for which Defendant Matthew Racine
(“Racine”) had applied. Id. at ¶
13. In the affidavit for the search warrant, Defendant Racine
noted that he saw two “plastic white tent[s]” in
the residence's backyard with “thin clear
plastic” and that he observed “the top of a live
Marijuana plant inside” one of those tents. Racine
Aff. [#23-1] at 5. Plaintiffs maintain that the
“secured and locked greenhouse in the backyard . . .
was not visible to public view.” Am. Compl.
[#21] at ¶ 11. Moreover, Plaintiffs complain that
“[t]he police failed to conduct proper research through
the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry maintained by the
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to
determine whether Plaintiff [sic] had the right to grow
medical marijuana before it raided his [sic] home with a SWAT
Team.” Id. at ¶ 14.
SWAT Team entered the home in what Plaintiffs describe as a
manner causing “serious emotional pain and suffering,
mental anguish, shock, [and] fright” and “ordered
Plaintiffs . . . out of the home at gunpoint, ” despite
Plaintiffs being in various levels of undress. Id.
at ¶¶ 16, 18, 19, 33. The SWAT Team also allegedly
injured Plaintiff S. Coppin's shoulder in the process of
detaining her. Id. at ¶ 20. Finally, Plaintiffs
contend that the experience was humiliating because neighbors
observed the SWAT Team raid and Plaintiffs were required to
stay outside for “approximately one hour.”
Id. at ¶ 21. When the search concluded,
Plaintiff Rawlings was told he would be criminally charged
for offenses relating to marijuana and for offenses relating
to child abuse. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiffs
Rawlings and Vasquez were later issued summonses and
complaints but when they arrived at their arraignment
hearings, they learned that no charges had been filed against
them. Id. at ¶¶ 24, 30. Plaintiffs allege
that this also caused them emotional distress and to incur
legal expenses. Id.
assert three constitutional violations by Defendant Racine
and the City of Fountain: (1) deprivation of the rights
secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to be secure
from unreasonable searches and seizures, (2) excessive force
prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, and (3) deprivation of
the right to liberty protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Id. at ¶¶ 40-50. Specifically,
Plaintiffs contend that Defendant Racine acted under color of
state law in his duties as Police Sergeant and that the City
Defendant failed to adequately train its officers to avoid
such constitutional deprivations. Id. at
¶¶ 7, 8, 35-38. For these alleged constitutional
deprivations, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that
Defendants' conduct violated the Fourth, Fifth, and
Fourteenth Amendments; a mandatory injunction requiring that
Defendants deliver any arrest information arising from the
raid to Plaintiffs and expungement of their records;
compensatory damages for emotional distress, bodily harm,
costs related to Plaintiffs' criminal defenses, and any
other compensatory damages as permitted by law; punitive
damages against Defendants jointly and severally;
attorneys' fees; costs of suit; and other relief the
Court finds is appropriate and equitable. Id. at
13-14. Defendants bring this Motion [#23] to dismiss all
claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
Standard of Review
survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must
contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC
v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007)
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). A plausible claim is a claim that “allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the Court must
accept the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true
and construe them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, Barnes, 783 F.3d at 1191-92, conclusory
allegations are not entitled to be presumed true,
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. However, so long as the
plaintiff offers sufficient factual allegations such that the
right to relief is raised above the speculative level, he has
met the threshold pleading standard. See, e.g.,
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556; Bryson v.
Gonzales, 534 F.3d 1282, 1286 (10th Cir. 2008).
Defendant Racine: Qualified Immunity
Racine contends that he is shielded by qualified immunity for
claims brought against him in his individual capacity.
Motion [#23] at 5. “The doctrine of qualified
immunity shields government officials performing
discretionary functions from liability for damages
‘insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.'” Boles v.
Neet, 486 F.3d 1177, 1180 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)).
Resolving the question of immunity involves a two-pronged
test: (1) a court must decide whether the facts that a
plaintiff has alleged make out a violation of a
constitutional right and (2) a court must decide whether the
right at issue was “clearly established” at the
time of defendant's alleged misconduct. See Pearson
v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009) (citing
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)) (holding
that although qualified immunity determination involves a
two-part inquiry, if the plaintiff fails either inquiry
reviewed in any order, no further analysis need be undertaken
and qualified immunity is appropriate).
First Claim: Search and Seizure Plaintiffs first
allege that their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to
be free from unreasonable searches and seizures were violated
by Defendant Racine. If a search warrant is “so
obviously deficient” that the search is essentially
warrantless, the search is presumptively unreasonable.
Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 558 (2004). One way a
search warrant can be so deficient is if “it ‘was
based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause
as to render official belief in its existence entirely
unreasonable' . . . or unless the affiant has
misrepresented or omitted material facts to the judge issuing
the warrant . . . .” Harte v. Bd. of Comm'rs of
Cty. of Johnson, Kan., 864 F.3d 1154, 1174 (10th Cir.
2017) (citations omitted). However, the “negligence or
innocent mistakes [of an officer] are insufficient to
challenge a warrant affidavit's validity.”
Id. (quoting Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S.
154, 171 (1978)).
allege that the SWAT Team “had no probable cause”
to search Plaintiff's property and that “their
actions were based on malice and bad faith.” Am.
Compl. [#21] at ¶ 32. Plaintiffs further contend
that although Defendant Racine did obtain a search warrant,
the warrant was invalid because “the facts and
circumstances within [Defendant Racine's] knowledge at
the time the application for the search warrant was made did
not provide a reasonably trustworthy basis for a person of
reasonable caution to believe that a criminal offense had
been committed . . . .” Id. at ¶ 13.
Here, Plaintiffs have offered only conclusory statements
regarding the lack of probable cause and bad faith of
Defendant Racine in obtaining the warrant. See Id.
The Complaint fails to specify what “knowledge”
he allegedly possessed that should have led him to conclude
that no criminal offense had been committed. While
Plaintiffs' Response [#26] implies conclusorily that
Defendant Racine may have lied in drafting the warrant, the
Amended Complaint [#21] itself is void of any explanation as
to why the warrant is invalid. See [#26] at 10.
Without including further factual allegations in the Amended
Complaint, Plaintiffs have failed to adequately allege a
constitutional violation and Defendant Racine is shielded by
qualified immunity. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.
Accordingly, the Court respectfully
recommends that Plaintiffs' first claim
be dismissed without prejudice against
Defendant Racine in his individual capacity. See Crump v.
James Irwin Charter Sch., No. 12-cv-00008-PAB-KLM, 2012
WL 1247186, at *3-4 (D. Colo. Mar. 21, 2012) (dismissing
claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) without prejudice). See
Reynoldson v. Shillinger, 907 F.2d 126, 127 (10th Cir.
1990) (holding that prejudice should not attach to a
dismissal when plaintiff has made allegations “which,
upon further investigation and development, could raise
Second Claim: ...