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Tierra Blanca Ranch High Country Youth Program v. Gonzales

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 20, 2017

TIERRA BLANCA RANCH HIGH COUNTRY YOUTH PROGRAM, SCOTT CHANDLER, COLETTE CHANDLER, AND BRYCE HALL, Plaintiffs
v.
FELIPE GONZALES, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Bryce Hall [Doc. 11] and Plaintiffs' Motion to File Second Amended Complaint. [Doc. 30] The Court has considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion to File Second Amended Complaint, and DENIES in part and GRANTS in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Bryce Hall.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Tierra Blanca Ranch High Country Youth Program (the Program), Scott Chandler, Colette Chandler, and Bryce Hall (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed a Complaint alleging deprivation of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in September, 2015. [Doc. 1 (Complaint)] Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant Felipe Gonzales (Defendant) "used deceit and intimidation to obtain consent to search their business premises and subject them, participants and staff to prolonged detention and interrogation with the intent and result of depriving Plaintiffs of rights arising nnder the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983." [Doe. 1 (Complaint); Doc. 6 (Amended Complaint)} Plaintiff Hall also alleged a violation of his First Amendment right to association. [Doc. 6] See 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . ."). An Amended Complaint was filed in December, 2015. [Doc. 6 (Amended Complaint)} Defendant answered, [Doc. 10] and also filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Bryee Ball [Doc. 11] Plaintiffs responded to the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 19] and filed a Motion to File Second Amended Complaint. [Doc. 30]

         The following facts are derived from the Amended Complaint. [Doc. 6] The Program "is a pnvately funded program for troubled youths that provides a simple ranch life with the goal of helping troubled teenagers turn their lives around." [Doc. 6, ¶ 11] Plaintiff Bryce Hall was enrolled in the Program at the time of the events at tssue, and Plaintiff Scott Chandler (Chandler) is an owner and director of the Program. [Doc. 6, ¶¶ 5-7]

         In September, 2013, a resident of the Program was killed in a car accident while riding in a vehicle driven by a Program staff member. [Doc. 6, ¶ 32] The New Mex.co State Police, among others, responded to the accident. [Doc. 6, ¶ 33] A few days after the accident, Defendant contacted Chandler to arrange to question people involved in the accident. [Doc. 6, ¶ 35] Approximately six days later, Defendant arrived at the Program with five other state police officers as well as five staff members of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). [Doc. 6, ¶ 40] Plaintiffs allege that, over objections by the Chandlers and "[u]sing threats and coercion, CYFD and the New Mexico State Police entered the property and interviewed the youths without permission or a warrant." [Doc. 6, ¶ 47] Plaintiffs further allege that after the interviews, CYFD "directed [the parents of youths in the Program] to remove their youths from the . . . Program because the Program was going to be shut down." [Doc. 6, ¶ 60] The Amended Complaint states that Chandler was forced to "return the boys to their families due to the untenable situation caused by the actions of CYFD following the September 30, 2013 interviews." [Doc. 6, ¶ 56]

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant "illegally entered onto the Tierra Blanca Creek Ranch property and detained Bryce Hall against his will without warrants or other legal basis, " [Doc. 6, ¶ 95] and that "[a]s a result of the actions by [Defendant, ] and/or others under his command or in the course of events instigated by him, Plaintiff Bryce Hall was forcibly sent away from the Program and deprived of his constitutional right of association, and the care and guidance of the . . . Program, which he was depending on to turn his life around and keep him out of trouble." [Doc. 6, ¶ 96] In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that "[b]ecause of the State's conduct, Bryce sustained additional living and educational expenses, loss of income, loss of earning capacity, suffered emotional trauma, strained family relations and interference with privacy." [Doc. 6, ¶ 106]

         Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiff Bryce Hall [Doc. 11] on the grounds that 1) Hall lacks standing to bring claims against Defendant, and 2) Hall has failed to state a claim related to his First Amendment right to association. [Doc. 11] Plaintiff Hall opposes the motion to dismiss [Doc. 19] and also moves to amend the complaint. [Doc. 30]

         II. Analysis

         A. Order of Consideration of Motions

         The first question presented is the order in which to consider the pending motions. In essence, Plaintiffs' Motion to File Second Amended Complaint seeks to modify the Amended Complaint to address the deficiencies identified by Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. [Doc. 30] Thus, if the Second Amended Complaint rectifies any such deficiencies, the Motion to Dismiss is moot. See Gotfredson v. Larsen LP, 432 F.Supp.2d 1163, 1172 (D. Colo. 2006) (stating that "[a] pleading that has been amended under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), supersedes the pleading it modifies" and that "motions to dismiss [filed before an amended pleading] are technically moot because they are directed at a pleading that is no longer operative."). However, if the Second Amended Complaint also fails to state a claim, then the amendment would be futile and the Court may properly deny leave to amend. Ketchum v. Cruz, 961 F.2d 916, 920 (10th Cir. 1992) (stating that a district court is "justified in denying the motion to amend if the proposed amendment could not have withstood a motion to dismiss or otherwise failed to state a claim.").

         Defendant argues that his Motion to Dismiss must be considered before granting leave to amend the Amended Complaint. [Doc. 31, pg. 2] Such an approach is contrary to the "preferred practice, " which is "to accord a plaintiff notice and an opportunity to amend his complaint before acting upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim." McKinney v. State of Okl, Dep 't of Human Servs., Shawnee OK, 925 F.2d 363, 365 (10th Cir. 1991). The Court will therefore consider first Plaintiffs' Motion to File Second Amended Complaint.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion to File Second Amended Complaint

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) allows a party to amend its pleading by leave of the court after a responsive pleading is served, and provides that leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.

In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be "freely given."

Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); see Castleglen, Inc. v. Resolution Trust Corp., 984 F.2d 1571, 1585 (10th Cir. 1993) (citing cases). Defendant's only argument in opposition to the proposed Second Amended Complaint is that the Second Amended Complaint fails to adduce facts necessary to support Plaintiffs' claims, an argument closely related to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. [Doc. 31, pg. 2] Thus, he does not argue that he will suffer undue prejudice if the amendment is granted, or that Plaintiffs have acted in bad faith. The Court concludes that Plaintiffs' Motion to File Second Amended Complaint should be, and hereby is, granted. The Court will consider Defendant's Motion to Dismiss in light of the facts set forth in the proposed Second Amended Complaint. See Bauer v. City & Cty. of Denver, 642 F.App'x 920, 925 (10th Cir. 2016) (unpublished) (affirming the district court's denial of a motion to amend where the district ...


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