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Humphreys v. City of Coolidge

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 24, 2019

Stacy Lynn Humphreys, et al., Plaintiffs,
City of Coolidge, et al., Defendants.


          Dominic W. Lanza United Slates District Judge

         Pending before the Court are (1) Defendants' partial motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (Doc. 57) and (2) the parties' joint motion to stay discovery and disclosure (Doc. 71). As explained below, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part and the motion to stay will be denied as moot.


         The sprawling amended complaint in this case is 70 pages long and contains more than 500 paragraphs. (Doc. 55.) In a nutshell, the plaintiffs-Stacy Lynn Humphreys and James Edward Smith III, a husband and wife, and two of Humphreys' businesses, Jugs & Strokers, LLC and Mama Jugs, LLC (collectively, “Plaintiffs”)-contend they have been subjected to harassment by the City of Coolidge's (“City”) police department due to their support for Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (“OMGs”). Among other things, Plaintiffs contend that members of the City's police department improperly monitored their Facebook and other social media accounts, falsely told other law enforcement officers that criminal activity was occurring at their businesses, harassed their customers through heightened police surveillance and patrols, and refused to comply with requests under Arizona's public records laws.

         Based on these allegations, the complaint asserts the following eleven claims for relief: (1) violations of the First Amendment; (2) violations of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) violations of the Criminal Intelligence Systems Operating Policies, 28 CFR § 23.20; (4) violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (Hobbs Act); (5) violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq. (RICO); (6) violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (“Conspiracy With Civil Rights”); (7) violations of “18 U.S.C. § 1983”; (8) violations of A.R.S. titles 39 and 42 (Arizona's public records laws); (9) tortious interference with business expectancy; (10) tortious interference with contract; and (11) conspiracy to commit tortious interference.

         On April 16, 2018, Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss. (Doc. 57.) It asks the Court to dismiss Claims 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in their entirety and to dismiss Claim 7 as to one defendant (the City) and one plaintiff (Smith). On June 11, 2018, after the motion was fully briefed, the Court heard oral argument. (Doc. 65.) However, before a decision could be issued, this matter was reassigned to a new judge. (Doc. 69.)[1]

         On December 11, 2018, the parties filed a joint motion to stay discovery and disclosures (Doc. 71) while the motion to dismiss was pending.


         I. Motion to Dismiss

         A. Legal Standard

         “[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a party must allege ‘sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” In re Fitness Holdings Int'l, Inc., 714 F.3d 1141, 1144 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “[A]ll well-pleaded allegations of material fact in the complaint are accepted as true and are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id. at 1144-45 (citation omitted). However, the court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679-80. The court also may dismiss due to “a lack of a cognizable legal theory.” Mollett v. Netflix, Inc., 795 F.3d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).

         B. Analysis

         1. Claims One and Two (First and Fourteenth Amendments)

         In Claim One of the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their free speech and free association rights under the First Amendment. (Doc. 55 ¶¶ 316-328.) In Claim Two, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their rights under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶¶ 329-356.)

         Defendants argue that Claims One and Two must be dismissed because the First and Fourteenth Amendments don't create a private right of action. (Doc. 57 at 5.) Defendants contend that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the vehicle by which to assert violations of constitutional rights, yet Plaintiffs haven't specifically pleaded their First and Fourteenth Amendment claims through § 1983. (Id.) In their response, Plaintiffs agree that § 1983 is the proper vehicle for asserting such claims and thus request leave to amend “[t]o the extent th[e] Court finds that violations of Plaintiffs' Constitutional rights were inappropriately pled.” (Doc. 61 at 7-8.)

         Dismissal is not warranted on this basis. To be sure, § 1983 is the proper vehicle to assert First and Fourteenth Amendment-based constitutional claims. Vinson v. Thomas, 288 F.3d 1145, 1155 (9th Cir. 2002) (“Section 1983 . . . allows individuals to enforce rights contained in the United States Constitution . . . .”). However, to survive dismissal, Plaintiffs weren't required to specifically invoke § 1983 in the paragraphs of the complaint discussing Claims One and Two. In Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346 (2014), the Supreme Court encountered a similar issue. There, the district court rejected a civil rights lawsuit, which alleged that certain public officials in Mississippi had engaged in Fourteenth Amendment violations, due to the plaintiffs' “failure to invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in their complaint.” Id. at 346. The Supreme Court summarily reversed, emphasizing that the “[f]ederal pleading rules call for ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief'; they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court added that a plaintiff need only “plead facts sufficient to show that her claim has substantive plausibility” and is “required to do no more to stave off threshold dismissal for want of an adequate statement of [her] claim.” Id. at 347. See ...

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