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McFarlin v. Box Elder County

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 10, 2020

McFarlin et al., Plaintiffs,
Box Elder County et al., Defendants.

          Dale A. Kimball District Judge


          Magistrate Judge Cecilia M. Romero United States District Judge

         Before the court is Plaintiffs Nehemiah McFarlin (McFarlin) and Atoatasi Fox's (Fox) (collectively Plaintiffs) Motion to Amend/Correct their Complaint (First Motion) (ECF 31). Prior to the court issuing a ruling on the First Motion, Plaintiff's filed a second Motion to Amend/Correct Complaint (Second Motion) (ECF 72). The First and Second Motion (collectively Motions) are referred to the undersigned in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Defendants Oneida County, Oneida County Sherriff's Office, Jeff Semrad, and Patsy Sherman (Oneida County); and Defendants Box Elder County, Box Elder County Sherriff's Office, Steven Berry, Z. Moore, and L. Maughn (Box Elder) have opposed the Motions (ECF 36, 42, 75, 76) and Plaintiffs submitted their replies (ECF 44, 45, 80, 81). Subsequent to the filing of the Second Motion, Defendants Adam Walker, Justin Zilles, and Shane Nebeker were dismissed from the action (ECF 78). The Motions are now fully briefed.

         After careful consideration and review of the pleadings, and for the reasons discussed herein, the court GRANTS the Motions.


         Plaintiffs allege they were arrested in Box Elder County, Utah for crimes allegedly committed in Malad, Idaho. Plaintiffs allege the arrest was unlawful, and violative of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Box Elder Defendants and Oneida County Defendants have each filed separate motions for judgment on the pleadings (ECF 28, 29) currently pending before District Judge Dale A. Kimball. In the proposed amended complaint attached to the First Motion (First Amended Complaint) (ECF 31), Plaintiffs add and remove some parties, and include additional statements and allegations to clarify that all named defendants participated in the alleged illegal seizure, arrest, search, interrogation, and/or detention. In the proposed amendment attached to the Second Motion (Second Amended Complaint), Plaintiffs again assert additional facts related to their five causes of action and seek to add Box Elder County Chief Deputy Sherriff Dale Ward (Ward) as an individually named defendant (ECF 72-1). For ease of reference the court will refer to the Second Amended Complaint, which is the only proposed amended complaint that complies with the new DUCivR 15-1(a)(2) (effective December of 2019). The court notes the Second Amended Complaint includes all of the proposed amendments in the First Amended Complaint.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) provides that “[t]he court should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “The district court has ‘wide discretion to recognize a motion for leave to amend in the interest of a just, fair or early resolution of litigation.'” Bylin v. Billings, 568 F.3d 1224, 1229 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Calderon v. Kan. Dep't of Soc. & Rehab. Servs., 181 F.3d 1180, 1187 (10th Cir. 1999)). “Refusing leave to amend is generally only justified upon a showing of (1) undue delay, (2) undue prejudice to the opposing party, (3) bad faith or dilatory motive, (4) failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or (5) futility of amendment.” Id. (quoting Frank v. U.S. West, Inc., 3 F.3d 1357, 1365 (10th Cir. 1993)).

         Plaintiffs filed their First Motion (ECF 31) on June 16, 2019, well before the deadline for filing a motion to amend pleadings.[1] Before the court issued an order on the First Motion, Plaintiffs' filed their Second Motion on November 29, 2019. There have been no prior amendments to the complaint and discovery is ongoing.[2] Plaintiffs allege they brought the Motions after clarifying facts through the discovery process. No party has argued undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, or undue prejudice. The Defendants arguments focus only on futility. Therefore, the remainder of this order will address the futility of the proposed amendments.

         A. Amendment would not be futile as to Oneida County.

         Oneida County asserts the proposed amendments would be futile because Plaintiff McFarlin's[3] amended facts and allegations fail to state any plausible claims against them (ECF 36 at 2). Oneida County argues that (1) McFarlin's factual allegations affirmatively show none of the Oneida County Defendants were present at the time of McFarlin's arrest, (2) McFarlin has not alleged Oneida County Defendants searched and/or seized his vehicle, (3) Oneida County Defendants could not have racially profiled McFarlin, (4) McFarlin cannot state a plausible claim regarding the use of a suggestive photo array because there is no constitutional right to be free from such photo array (ECF 36 at 3); and (5) a claim pertaining to the affidavit of probable cause should be denied as the alleged misleading statements are immaterial (ECF 75).[4]

         The Supreme Court has established that §1983 complaints must contain factual allegations that constitute a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). There is no heightened pleading standard. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). “If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits. In the absence of any apparent or declared reason […] the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         In order to state a claim of a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. §1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) a violation of rights protected by the federal Constitution or created by federal statute or regulation, (2) proximately caused (3) by the conduct of a person (4) who acted under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State or Territory. Summum v. City of Ogden, 297 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2002) (citing 1 Martin Schwartz, Section 1983 Litigation: Claims and Defenses, § 1.4 at 12 (3d ed. 1997)).

         In the Second Amended Complaint, McFarlin alleges facts addressing each of the above elements. By way of summary, McFarlin alleges Oneida County Defendants deprived him of his liberty and property in violation of his constitutional rights. Specifically, that Oneida County employees arrived at the scene of McFarlin's arrest and/or participated in obtaining arrest warrants from Oneida County prosecuting attorneys. McFarlin also alleges Oneida County employees Douglas Williams and Jeff Semrad illegally interrogated him and attempted to coerce a false confession. McFarlin alleges the defendants who performed the arrest, did so on the Oneida County Defendants' request under the color of state law. McFarlin also contends the lack of guidance on how to conduct a non-suggestive photo lineup in ...

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