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Salman v. City of Phoenix

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 13, 2015

Michael Salman, et al., Plaintiffs,
City of Phoenix, et al., Defendants.


JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Salmans' Amended Complaint. (Doc. 62). The Court now rules on the motion.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

For context, the Court briefly summarizes the facts as they are stated in the Amended Complaint. In 2006, Plaintiffs moved into their current address and began holding weekly bible study meetings in their home. Plaintiff Michael Salman has been an ordained minister since 1996, and as such, he believes that he is called to be hospitable and to make himself available to his friends and family for studies and religious teaching.

In 2007, Plaintiffs' neighbors began to complain to Defendant City of Phoenix about Plaintiffs' bible studies. As a result, the City sent Plaintiffs several letters informing them that they are not permitted to use their house as a church, citing the City's building code. Plaintiffs met with representative of the City to discuss the problem, but were unable to come to an agreement about Plaintiffs' religious use of their property.

In 2009, Plaintiffs built a 2000 square foot game room in their back yard and began holding their bible studies there. Upon the completion of this addition, attendance at Plaintiffs' bible study rose from about fifteen to about thirty-five. Eventually the City prosecuted Mr. Salmans for violating the building code, and Mr. Salmans was convicted after a trial at the Phoenix Municipal Court. The Maricopa County Superior Court, sitting as an appellate court, upheld the conviction.

B. Procedural History

This is not the first time Plaintiff has sought relief from the City's actions. On April 4, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in this Court, which was assigned to Judge Martone. (No. CV 11-646-PHX-FJM). Among other requests for relief, in that case Plaintiff sought a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") enjoining Defendants from implementing and enforcing the Codes and Ordinances against Plaintiffs to prohibit private worship, bible studies, and placement of a reader board with religious messages at their residence and from prosecuting, sentencing, arresting, or incarcerating Plaintiffs. ( See CV 11-646-PHX-FJM, Doc. 2). In that Motion, Plaintiffs specifically referred to Michael Salman's conviction and sentence to serve sixty days in jail, three years of probation, $12, 000 in fines, and the prohibition against Plaintiff Michael Salman hosting more than twelve people at his residence at a time. ( Id. ). At the time of that Motion, Plaintiffs' appeal of that sentence was pending before the Arizona Court of Appeals. ( Id. ).

After Judge Martone denied their Motion for Temporary Restraining Order ( see CV 11-646-PHX-FJM at Doc. 5), Plaintiffs filed an amended Complaint (CV 11-646-PHX-FJM, Doc. 6) and an Amended Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (CV 11-646-PHX-FJM, Doc. 7), asserting the same essential theories and requests for relief asserted in their original Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order. Judge Martone denied Plaintiffs' Amended Motion for Temporary Restraining Order. (CV 11-646-PHX-FJM, Doc 10).

Defendants moved to dismiss the remainder of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) and Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and Judge Martone granted that Motion to Dismiss on Younger and Heck grounds in a detailed and reasoned opinion. See Salman v. City of Phoenix, No. CV 11-00646-PHX-FJM, 2011 WL 5024263 (D. Ariz. Oct. 21, 2011).

Less than a year after Judge Martone dismissed the case, Plaintiffs filed the current action. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs' original Complaint requested (1) a Declaratory Judgment declaring that Defendants' implementation of the Code on privately held religious meetings violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Free Exercise of Religion Act; (2) a permanent injunction enjoining Defendant from enforcing the Code on privately held religious gatherings; (3) a preliminary injunction enjoining the City of Phoenix from enforcing the Code on privately held religious gatherings; and (4) compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiffs also moved for the issuance of a preliminary injunction (Doc. 5) and TRO (Doc 4) enjoining Defendants from implementing the code on private religious gatherings and bible studies and restraining the execution of Mr. Salman's sentence. The Court denied these requests and dismissed the case for several reasons. First, the Court found that Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims were barred by Heck and the doctrine of collateral estoppel. (Doc. 36 at 8-9). Second, the Court concluded that under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider Plaintiffs' remaining claims because doing so would "necessarily depend on this Court reaching opposite findings on the issues discussed in the Maricopa Superior Court's Order." (Doc. 36 at 12).

Plaintiffs appealed the Court's dismissal of the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which reversed and remanded. (Doc. 49-1). Importantly, as the Ninth Circuit's mandate pointed out, Plaintiffs did not appeal and the Ninth Circuit did not review the Court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' § 1983 damages claims on Heck and collateral estoppel grounds. ( Id. at 2). Rather, the only issue the Ninth Circuit reviewed was whether "under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine... [the Court] lacked subject matter jurisdiction over [Plaintiffs'] request for an order enjoining the City from implementing or enforcing Section 303 of the 2006 Phoenix Building Code on private religious gatherings and bible studies and over their other remaining claims." (Doc. 49-1 at 2). On that issue, the Ninth Circuit held that the Court does, in fact, have subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' non-§ 1983 claims because Rooker-Feldman does not strip jurisdiction when "a ...

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