United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
matter comes before the Court upon Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and filed on
March 2, 2017. (Doc. 6). Plaintiffs filed their Response in
Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on April 30,
2017. (Doc. 15). Defendants filed their Reply in Support of
Motion to Dismiss on May 15, 2017. (Doc. 16). The Court held
a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss on October 12, 2017, in
which Dori E. Richards and A. Blair Dunn represented
Plaintiffs, and Randi N. Valverde represented Defendants.
considered the parties' arguments and applicable law, the
Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Specifically,
the Court determines that Defendants are entitled to
qualified immunity on the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
Clause claims because Plaintiffs have failed to plead a
clearly established constitutional right. Additionally,
Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because
Plaintiffs have failed to plead facts sufficient to raise a
plausible claim of relief under the Fourteenth
Amendment's Due Process Clause or Equal Protection
Clause. Accordingly, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs'
Complaint without prejudice.
their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege three constitutional
violations against Defendants David Keiter and Vincent Mares
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege
procedural due process, substantive due process, and equal
protection violations. Complaint at ¶¶ 55-97.
Plaintiffs support their claims with allegations of
Defendants' conduct during the May 22-24, 2014, horse
racing competition at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track, and with
allegations regarding the post-scratch administrative appeal
before the New Mexico Racing Commission (NMRC).
The May 22-24, 2014, Horse Racing Competition
are horse owners who were and are licensed by the NMRC to
engage in horse racing in New Mexico. Id. at ¶
9. Plaintiffs state that their horses were “scratched,
” or disqualified, during the third day of competition
on May 24, 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10, 13, and
24. Defendant Keiter, the presiding Steward, scratched the
horses for failure to comply with Rule 220.127.116.11(B) NMAC.
Id. at ¶ 14 and 16. Rule 18.104.22.168(B) states,
A horse shall be ineligible to start in a race when: its
breed registration certificate is not on file with the racing
secretary or horse identifier; unless the racing secretary
has submitted the certificate to the appropriate breed
registry for correction; the stewards may waive this
requirement if the information contained on the registration
certificate is otherwise available; and the horse is
otherwise correctly identified to the stewards'
Keiter scratched the horses because Plaintiffs did not have
the original breed certificates on file with the racing
secretary at the competition in Ruidoso. Id. at
¶¶ 16 and 20. Defendant Keiter allegedly acted
under the authority and direction of Defendant Mares,
Executive Director of the NMRC. Id. at ¶ 15.
Plaintiffs had copies of the breed certificates on file with
the racing secretary at the competition in Ruidoso.
Id. at ¶ 19. During the weekend of May 22-24,
2014, Plaintiffs had the original breed certificates on file
in Farmington, New Mexico. Id. at ¶ 20.
Keiter's interpretation of Rule 22.214.171.124(B) had not been
enforced in recent history. Id. at ¶ 22.
According to Plaintiffs, Defendant Keiter and the NMRC were
targeting horses trained by Mr. John Stinebaugh. Id.
at ¶ 31. Plaintiffs allege that at least one horse, not
owned by any Plaintiffs or trained by Mr. Stinebaugh and that
did not have an original breed certificate on file at the
Ruidoso Downs Race Track, was allowed to race during the
competition at issue. Id. at ¶ 36. And no
announcements or notices were given to owners that they
needed to have the original breed certificates in Ruidoso.
Id. at ¶¶ 34-35. Additionally, Plaintiffs
allege that employees of the NMRC advised only some of the
horse owners and trainers of the requirement to have an
original certificate on file at Ruidoso during the race
competition. Id. at ¶ 40.
Plaintiffs' Administrative Appeal
2, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an appeal of the scratches with the
NMRC. Id. at ¶ 42. The NMRC appointed a hearing
officer to hear the case and after a hearing on November 20,
2014, the hearing officer determined that Defendants'
conduct “show[ed] a lack of impartiality and is
inconsistent with the statutory directive of the Horse Racing
Act.” Id. at ¶¶ 42-45. The NMRC did
not implement the recommendations of the hearing officer, did
not take any actions against Defendants, and did not
compensate Plaintiffs. Id. at ¶ 46.
Furthermore, on two separate occasions, March 12, 2015, and
July 22, 2015, the NMRC did not adopt the hearing
officer's recommendations. Id. at ¶¶
47-48. Plaintiffs allege that the July 22, 2015, NMRC meeting
took place in closed session in violation of NMAC
126.96.36.199(C)(15)(d). Id. at ¶¶ 49-50. For
more than 16 months, the NMRC failed to reach a decision
regarding Plaintiffs' appeal. Id. at ¶ 52.
Plaintiffs finally withdrew their administrative appeal
without final action by the NMRC. Id. at ¶ 54.
Standard of Review
ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must
accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and must view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. See
Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990); Swanson
v. Bixler, 750 F.2d 810, 813 (10th Cir. 1984). Rule
12(b)(6) requires that a complaint set forth the grounds of a
plaintiff's entitlement to relief through more than
labels, conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must
allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim of relief.
Id. at 570. A claim is facially plausible if the
plaintiff pleads facts sufficient for the court to reasonably
infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged
misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The
plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability
requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal based on the defense of
qualified immunity, plaintiff “must allege facts
sufficient to show (assuming they are true) that the
defendants plausibly violated their constitutional rights,
and that those rights were clearly established at the
time.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242,
1249 (10th Cir. 2008). A court “may decide ‘which
of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should
be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the