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Rawlings v. City of Fountain

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 10, 2018

CITY OF FOUNTAIN, COLORADO, and MATTHEW RACINE, Sergeant, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [#23][1] (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 GRANTED.

         I. Background

         The 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.[2] 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.

         The 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.

         Plaintiffs 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).

         II. Standard of Review

         To 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).

         III. Analysis

         A. Defendant Racine: Qualified Immunity

         Defendant 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).

         1. 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)).

         Plaintiffs 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 substantial issues”).

         2. Second Claim: ...

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