Ariz. Yage Assembly v. Garland, CV-20-02373-PHX-ROS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
Writing for the CourtHonorable Roslyn O. Silver, Senior United States District Judge.
PartiesArizona Yage Assembly, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Merrick B. Garland, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCV-20-02373-PHX-ROS
Decision Date30 March 2022

Arizona Yage Assembly, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.

Merrick B. Garland, et al., Defendants.

No. CV-20-02373-PHX-ROS

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 30, 2022


ORDER

Honorable Roslyn O. Silver, Senior United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs Clay Villanueva, Arizona Yage Assembly, North American Association of Visionary Churches, and the Vine of Light Church brought this action against a variety of state and federal government officials and entities seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. (Doc. 109 at 87-94). Plaintiffs bring claims against the United States; Merrick Garland, the United States Attorney General, Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”), Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and Chris Magnus, the Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) (collectively, “the Federal Defendants”) in their official capacities under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, et seq.; claims against the United States and DEA under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 500, et seq.; claims against Maricopa County, the DEA, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detective Matthew Shay in his personal capacity, and DEA employee Marco Paddy in his personal capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; claims against Maricopa County and Shay under the Arizona Free

1

Exercise of Religion Act (“AFERA”), A.R.S. § 41-1493, et seq., and for several common law torts, including trespass, battery, conversion, negligence, and loss of consortium. (Doc. 109 at 43-87). It appears Plaintiffs asks this Court to establish they have the right to import and use ayahuasca for religious purposes and to obtain tort relief for an allegedly unconstitutional search of Villanueva's residence

Plaintiffs filed this matter in the District Court for the Northern District of California on March 5, 2020, naming the same defendants, as well as the State of Arizona, the Arizona Attorney General in his official capacity, and a DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator in his personal capacity. (Doc. 1). Four amended complaints and several Rule 12 motions have followed.

A First Amended Complaint was filed on June 16, 2020. (Doc. 12). On July 15 and 16, the DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator and the Federal Defendants moved to stay proceedings pending the Supreme Court's resolution of Tanzin v. Tanvir, 141 S.Ct. 486 (2020) (which later held money damages are available under RFRA against federal officials sued in a personal capacity). (Docs. 17, 19). On July 21, Maricopa County and Matthew Shay moved to strike the First Amended Complaint on the ground that it was improperly filed and moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. (Doc. 20). While the motions to stay, strike, and dismiss were pending, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction. (Doc. 22). Shortly thereafter, the Arizona Attorney General and the State of Arizona moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper filing, and because sovereign immunity precluded liability (Doc. 29), and the Federal Defendants moved to strike the First Amended Complaint based on the improper filing. (Doc. 31). On September 21, 2020, Judge William H. Orrick granted the Arizona Defendants' motions to dismiss and denied the motions to stay, motions to strike, and motion for preliminary injunction. (Doc. 57). Plaintiffs then moved to transfer venue here (Doc. 61), which was granted, and venue was transferred to the District of Arizona. (Doc. 65).

The State of Arizona and the Arizona Attorney General were voluntarily

2

dismissed on December 28, 2020, and a Second Amended Complaint followed on January 21, 2021. (Docs. 70, 77). On March 22, the Federal Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Maricopa County and Matthew Shay moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Docs. 85, 86). Marco Paddy filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on April 6. (Doc. 90).

Plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Complaint on May 4, [1] but corrected it by filing a Fourth Amended Complaint on May 27. (Docs. 97, 98, 109). The Federal Defendants again filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing Plaintiffs do not have standing and the claim under the APA is not ripe. (Doc. 112). Marco Paddy filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 111). And Maricopa County and Matthew Shay filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 110). On November 9, 2021, Arizona Yage Assembly moved for a preliminary injunction[2] against the Federal Defendants. (Doc. 137). The three motions to dismiss and the motion for preliminary injunction are now fully briefed.

BACKGROUND

I. The Parties

Plaintiffs Arizona Yage Assembly (“AYA”) and North American Association of Visionary Churches (“NAAVC”) are alleged religious non-profit groups that seek to use ayahuasca for religious purposes. (Doc. 109 at 5). Plaintiff Clay Villanueva is the founder of Vine of Light Church[3] (“VOLC”) and a NAAVC “Board member.” (Doc. 109 at 6). Plaintiff VOLC is a member of NAAVC. (Doc. 109 at 6).

Plaintiffs bring this action against: (1) the United States; (2) Merrick Garland, the United States Attorney General; (3) Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the Drug

3

Enforcement Agency; (4) Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security; (5) Chris Magnus, the Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; (6) Marco Paddy, an employee of the DEA; (7) Maricopa County; and (8) Matthew Shay, an employee of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”). (Doc. 109 at 6-7). All defendants except Paddy and Shay are named in their official capacity.

The motion to dismiss filed by the Federal Defendants (Doc. 112) will be granted. Plaintiffs' claim against the Federal Defendants under the APA will be dismissed without leave to amend because the Court finds amendment would be futile. Plaintiffs' claims under RFRA and § 1983 against the Federal Defendants will be dismissed with leave to amend. Paddy's motion to dismiss (Doc. 111) will be granted and Plaintiffs' claims against Paddy will be dismissed without leave to amend. The motion to dismiss filed by Maricopa County and Shay (Doc. 110) will be granted and the claims will be dismissed or stayed. AYA's motion for a preliminary injunction (Doc. 137) will be denied.

II. Factual Allegations Relevant to the Pending Motions

Ayahuasca is a tea brewed from plants containing the hallucinogenic compound, N, N-dimethyltryptamine (“DMT”). (Doc. 112 at 2). DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1). (Doc. 112 at 2). Plaintiffs allegedly use and share ayahuasca in the exercise of their “visionary religion.”[4] (Doc. 109 at 26). AYA describes “the use of Ayahuasca [a]s the sine qu[a] non of AYA and Visionary Churches everywhere.” (Doc. 137 at 7).

Plaintiffs allege four shipments of ayahuasca from Peru to AYA and/or NAAVC were seized by the federal government between April and December 2020. (Doc. 109 at 14-15, 44-45). The MCSO, allegedly at the behest of Defendant Paddy, investigated Villanueva for production, use, and distribution of DMT and marijuana. (Doc. 39-3 at 10-34) (affidavit of Matthew Shay in support of a search warrant). It is further alleged that Paddy intentionally violated Villanueva's Fourth Amendment rights by falsely accusing

4

Villanueva of selling DMT pursuant to a tip Paddy passed to a Phoenix police officer.[5](Doc. 109 at 47-48). Plaintiffs allege Paddy “mismanage[d]” an informant as a result of DEA training, resulting in the violation of Villanueva's constitutional rights. (Doc. 109 at 50).

On May 19, 2020, two weeks after this case was filed in the Northern District of California, the MCSO executed a warrant at Villanueva's residence, the official location of the Vine of Light Church. (Doc. 117 at 3). Defendant Shay, an MCSO Deputy Detective, obtained the warrant (Doc. 39-3 at 10) and allegedly performed the search. (Doc. 117 at 3). “The search found marijuana, 91 pounds of ayahuasca paste, 15 bottles of ayahuasca liquid, 260.5 grams of ‘suspected' psilocybin mushrooms, and more than $14, 025.” (Doc. 57 at 5-6). On August 23, 2021, Villanueva was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport before departing for Peru to participate in alleged religious ceremonies. (Doc. 125 at 2). The Court, on September 8, 2021, denied without prejudice an Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed on Villanueva's behalf on the ground that the petition failed to name the proper respondent and did not provide an adequate legal basis. (Doc. 131).

Although a DEA guidance document (“the Guidance”) first promulgated in 2009 established a procedure for seeking religious exemptions from the CSA, see U.S. Dep't of Just., Guidance Regarding Petitions for Religious Exemption from the Controlled Substances Act Pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Plaintiffs have not sought an exemption. Plaintiffs allege they failed to seek an exemption because of an alleged DEA “policy of denying regulatory services to visionary churches and refusing all requested religious exemptions from the CSA” and because doing so allegedly “would waive the Fifth Amendment rights of the Founder” of AYA, Scott Stanley. (Doc. 109 at 28, 35). Finally, Plaintiffs claim they are not required to exhaust the administrative resources for an exemption because the DEA has not promulgated the Guidance through APA rulemaking procedures. (Doc. 109 at 32-33).

5

ANALYSIS

I. Motions to Dismiss

Three motions to dismiss have been filed. One was filed by the Federal Defendants (Doc. 112), one by Paddy (Doc. 111), and one by Maricopa County and Shay. (Doc. 110).

A pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT