Casias v. City of Pueblo

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
PartiesCRYSTAL CASIAS, and DANIEL AGUILERA, Plaintiffs, v. THE CITY OF PUEBLO, a municipal corporation, MARIO DIAZ, in his personal and professional capacity, PUEBLO POLICE OFFICER JOHN DOE, in his personal and professional capacity, and KAREN WILLSON, in her personal and professional capacity, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action 20-cv-02545-WJM-KMT
Decision Date04 October 2021


THE CITY OF PUEBLO, a municipal corporation, MARIO DIAZ, in his personal and professional capacity, PUEBLO POLICE OFFICER JOHN DOE, in his personal and professional capacity, and KAREN WILLSON, in her personal and professional capacity, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 20-cv-02545-WJM-KMT

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 4, 2021


Kathleen M Tafoya, United States Magistrate Judge.

This case comes before the court on Defendants' “Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint” (Doc. No. 19 [Mot.], filed December 23, 2020). Plaintiffs filed their response in opposition (Doc. No. 24 [Resp.], filed January 13, 2021), and Defendants filed a reply (Doc. No. 32 [Reply], filed January 27, 2021).



Plaintiffs, who proceed pro se, filed their Amended Complaint on December 9, 2020. (Doc. No. 16. (Doc. No. 54 [Am. Compl.].) Plaintiffs assert jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Id. at 1.)

Plaintiffs allege on August 12, 2020, at 14:51:14, all defendants came to their front door. (Id., ¶ 4.) Defendant Willson asked Plaintiff Casias (“Ms. Casias”), “Will you show us your [marijuana] grow?” (Id.) Plaintiff Crystal Casias (“Ms. Casias”) asked if she could get shoes on before showing the defendants, and Defendant Diaz told Ms. Casias they would wait for her. (Id.) However, Plaintiffs allege Defendant Willson searched the driveway and curtilage of their home and took pictures “without a warrant, consent or exigent circumstances, ” apparently before Ms. Casias had put her shoes on. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiffs allege consent to search their property was given only when Ms. Casias led the officers to the backyard. (Id.)

Ms. Casias states she asked if she could file an appeal of the city ordinance, and Defendant Diaz began to get angry. (Id. at 6-7.) Ms. Casias states “[her] minister” was “school[ing] [Defendant] Diaz on Federal law and Federal due process, ” and Defendant Diaz then seized and hung up her phone. (Id. at 7.)

Plaintiff Daniel Aguilera (“Mr. Aguilera”) sates he is a member of a protected class, as he is Native American. (Id. at 7.) Mr. Aguilera claims he is a member of Sinsemillas House of Worship, of which marijuana is the only sacrament. (Id.) Mr. Aguilera states he uses marijuana to pray, and because his “House of Worship” is in Colorado Springs, he uses his backyard as his second “House of Worship.” (Id. at 8.)


Mr. Aguilera states that when he heard about the visit from defendants, he “immediately moved to seek an administrative remedy so that [his] religion would not be further burdened.” (Id.) On August 13, 2020, he “wrote a Notice to law enforcement, Demands to rectify, ” and emailed various Pueblo government officials and Defendant Diaz. (Id.) In the Notice, Plaintiff demanded a hearing from Pueblo code enforcement. (Id.; Ex. 1.) Mr. Aguilera also “let Pueblo Government know that [he is] involved in a civil trial with [his landlord] and [he] felt that the code enforcement complaint was retaliation by [his landlord].” (Id.; Ex. 1.)

Mr. Aguilera states after he sent the Notice, “retaliation and threats were almost immediate.” (Id. at 9.) On August 15, 2020, Mr. Aguilera received a letter from the City of Pueblo Code Enforcement Unit, in which it cited multiple violations at the plaintiffs' address and ordered the plaintiffs to correct the violations. (Id. at 10; Ex. 2 [“Notice of Violation”].) Mr. Aguilera contends that the Notice of Violation violated the plaintiffs' due process right to have a hearing and threatened the free exercise of Mr. Aguilera's religion. (Id. at 11.)

Mr. Aguilera states he began to dig up his marijuana plants, but apparently stopped when his son-in-law convinced him that the policy, the City of Pueblo, and the code enforcement officer were acting in violation of the Constitution. (Id. at 11-12.) Mr. Aguilera contends the City of Pueblo did not go through with their threats because he filed a Section 1983 claim. (Id.) However, Mr. Aguilera says the threats and intimidation from police and code enforcement has stopped the plaintiffs' prayer. (Id. at 12.)

Plaintiffs assert claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion (id. at 22-24); Retaliation for Free Exercise (id. at 24-25); Fourth Amendment Unlawful Search (id. at 26-27); Fourteenth Amendment Denial of Equal Protection (id. at 27-


28); Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Violations (id. at 28-29); First Amendment Free Speech Violations (id. at 29-30); First Amendment Retaliation (id. at 31-32); Fourth Amendment Unlawful Seizure (id. at 32-33); and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) regarding Protection of Land Use as Religious Exercise (id. at 33-35).

Plaintiffs sue the individual defendants in their official and individual capacities (id. at 1) seeking money damages and injunctive relief (id. at 35). Defendants move to dismiss the claims against them in their entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (See Mot.)


A. Pro Se Plaintiffs

Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se. The court, therefore, “review[s] [their] pleadings and other papers liberally and hold[s] them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys.” Trackwell v. United States, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). See also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (holding allegations of a pro se complaint “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”). However, a pro se litigant's “conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments are insufficient to state a claim on which relief can be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). A court may not assume that a plaintiff can prove facts that have not been alleged, or that a defendant has violated laws in ways that a plaintiff has not alleged. Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). See also Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (court may not “supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint”); Drake v. City of Fort Collins,


927 F.2d 1156, 1159 (10th Cir. 1991) (the court may not “construct arguments or theories for the plaintiff in the absence of any discussion of those issues”). The plaintiffs' pro se status does not entitle them to application of different rules. See Montoya v. Chao, 296 F.3d 952, 957 (10th Cir. 2002).

B. Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a defendant may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194, 1201 (10th Cir. 2003) (quotation marks omitted).

“A court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint presumes all of plaintiff's factual allegations are true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to dismiss, means that the plaintiff pleaded facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Iqbal evaluation requires two prongs of analysis. First, the court identifies “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations which are legal conclusion, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 679-81. Second, the Court considers the factual allegations “to


determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. If the allegations state a plausible claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. Id. at 679.

Notwithstanding, the court need not accept conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments. S. Disposal, Inc., v. Texas Waste, 161 F.3d 1259, 1262 (10th Cir. 1998). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S at 678. Moreover, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does the complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.' ” Id. (citation omitted). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.' ” Id. (citation omitted).

C. Body Camera Footage

Plaintiffs incorporated the defendants' body camera footage in their Amended Complaint by reference. Plaintiff also refers to the body camera footage and relies on its contents in the Amended Complaint. (See Am. Compl. at 3-7.) Neither side appears to challenge the body camera footage's authenticity. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 379 (2007) (in a case involving allegations of excessive force, the Supreme Court considered the contents of a videotape “capturing the events in question” for which there were no...

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