Gerhardt v. Mares

Citation179 F.Supp.3d 1006
Decision Date20 January 2016
Docket NumberNo. CIV 15–0797 JB/LAM,CIV 15–0797 JB/LAM
Parties Robert J. Gerhardt, Plaintiff, v. Vincent Mares, Executive Director, New Mexico Racing Commission; New Mexico Racing Commission; David Keiter, Steward, New Mexico Racing Commission; Robert M. Doughty, III, Commissioner; Beverly Bourguet, Commissioner; Jerry Cosper, DVM, Commissioner; Gayla D. McCulloch, Commissioner; Ray Willis, Commissioner; Roscoe Woods, Assistant Attorney General; John Doe(s) 1–5, New Mexico Racing Commission, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Mexico

A. Blair Dunn, Dori Ellen Richards, Western Agriculture, Resource and Business Advocates, LLP, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Attorneys for the Plaintiff

Walter J. Melendres, Carolyn A. Wolf, Trent A. Howell, Montgomery & Andrews, PA, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Attorneys for Defendants Vincent Mares, New Mexico Racing Commission, David Keiter, Robert M. Doughty, III, Beverly Bourguet, Jerry Cosper, Gayla D. McCulloch, and Ray Willis

Hector Balderas, Attorney General of the State of New Mexico, Ari Biernoff, Assistant Attorney General, New Mexico Attorney General's Office, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Attorney for Defendant Roscoe Woods



THIS MATTER comes before the Court on: (i) Defendant Roscoe Woods' Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint, filed October 16, 2015 (Doc. 29)(“Woods Motion”); (ii) the Racing Commission Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, filed October 28, 2015 (Doc. 31)(“Commission Motion”); and (iii) the Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Sur–Reply to Defendant Woods' Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss, filed November 24, 2015 (Doc. 38)(“Surreply Motion”). The Court held a hearing on December 18, 2015. The primary issues are: (i) whether the Court should grant Plaintiff Robert J. Gerhardt's Surreply Motion and allow him to file a surreply to Reply Memorandum of Law in Further Support of Roscoe Woods' Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint, filed November 16, 2015 (Doc. 33)(“Woods Reply”); (ii) whether qualified immunity bars Gerhardt's claims against Defendant Roscoe Woods, an Assistant Attorney General for the State of New Mexico, who represented Defendant New Mexico Racing Commission (the Racing Commission) and who set up a settlement conference between Gerhardt and the other Defendants; (iii) whether Gerhardt has sufficiently alleged a claim against Woods for civil conspiracy under rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ; (iv) whether ripeness, abstention under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971) (Younger abstention), the Declaratory Judgment Act, or absolute quasi-judicial immunity bar Gerhardt's federal claims against the remaining Defendants; and (v) whether sovereign immunity and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, N.M. Stat. Ann.1978 §§ 41–4–1 to—30 (“NMTCA”), bar Gerhardt's state claims against the remaining Defendants. First, the Court grants Gerhardt's Surreply Motion to allow Gerhardt to clarify his arguments. Second, the Court concludes that qualified immunity bars Gerhardt's claims against Woods. Third, the Court would grant the Woods Motion even if qualified immunity did not apply, because Gerhardt fails to state a claim under rule 12(b)(6). Fourth, the Court concludes that ripeness and quasi-judicial immunity, but not Younger abstention or the Declaratory Judgment Act, bar Gerhardt's federal claims against the remaining Defendants. Finally, the Court concludes that sovereign immunity and the NMTCA bar Gerhardt's state-law claims against the remaining Defendants. The Court will thus grant the Surreply Motion, the Woods Motion, and the Commission Motion.


The Court takes its facts from the Complaint, as it must when ruling on a motion under rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Amended Complaint for Damages for Constitutional Violations, Prima Facie Tort and Civil Conspiracy, filed October 9, 2015 (Doc. 28)(“Complaint”).

Gerhardt owns a racehorse known as Three Wild Dreams. See Complaint ¶ 16, at 3. Three Wild Dreams was registered to compete in a race meet on May 24, 2014, at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico. See Complaint ¶ 14, 16, at 2–3. The purse value of this race was nearly one million dollars. See Complaint ¶ 17, at 3. Defendant David Keiter, the race's presiding steward,1 “scratched”2 Three Wild Dreams from the race moments before it began. Complaint ¶¶ 18–19, at 3. Keiter acted “under the authority and specific direction of Vincent Mares, Executive Director of the” Racing Commission. Complaint ¶ 20, at 3.

Keiter stated that he scratched Three Wild Dreams because of Gerhardt's failure to comply with Rule (the ‘Breed Certificate Rule’),” which states that [a] horse shall be ineligible to start in a race when its breed registration certificate is not on file with the racing secretary.” Complaint ¶¶ 21–22, at 3. The racing secretary3 at Ruidoso Downs had copies of Three Wild Dreams' breed registration certificate on file instead of the original version. See Complaint ¶ 24, at 3.

“On or about May 24, 2014, David Keiter, acting in consort with Vincent Mares, interpreted the Breed Certificate Rule to require the ‘original’ Breed Certificate to be on file at a race location on race day.” Complaint ¶ 25, at 3–4. The Racing Commission had not enforced the Breed Certificate Rule “in recent history when two live races were ongoing.” Complaint ¶ 26, at 4. The Racing Commission did not scratch any horses during races within the same event on May 22–23, 2014. See Complaint ¶ 28, at 4.

Leasa Johnson, an investigator with the NMRC [New Mexico Racing Commission], was present at the Ruidoso Downs races on May 24, 2014.” Complaint ¶ 30, at 4. Johnson inquired into the horse scratches on May 24, 2014, and Keiter advised her that he was enforcing the Breed Certificate Rule. See Complaint ¶ 31, at 4. Johnson expressed concern, because the Racing Commission had not enforced the “original” certificate requirement in recent history and the Racing Commission was not enforcing it consistently to all competitors. See Complaint ¶¶ 3233, at 4. “Based on the horses scratched, it appears that the NMRC was targeting horses trained by trainer John Stinebaugh.” Complaint ¶ 34, at 4. The Racing Commission did not enforce the requirement until the third day of the Ruidoso Downs meet and did not apply the originals requirement to every horse during the three-day Ruidoso Downs meet.See Complaint ¶¶ 35, 39 at 4, 5. The Racing Commission provided only “select owners and trainers” with advance notice that it would begin enforcing the “implied” Breed Certificate Rule's “original” requirement. Complaint ¶¶ 37, 43, at 5–6.

Gerhardt filed an appeal with the Racing Commission regarding the improper scratch on or about May 30, 2014. See Complaint ¶ 45, at 6. The Racing Commission appointed Leann Warbelow as the hearing officer, and she held a hearing on several similar cases on November 20, 2015. See Complaint ¶¶ 46–47, at 6. Lonnie Barber, Director of the SunRay Park Race Track for eleven years and former president of the Horseman's Association for fifteen years testified during the NMRC hearing that the NMRC had not enforced the original certificate requirement of the Breed Certificate Rule in the past.” Complaint ¶ 40, at 5. Warbelow issued her initial report and recommendation to the Racing Commission (the “Initial Recommendation”) on December 16, 2014. See Complaint ¶ 102, at 13. She found that the scratch “shows a lack of impartiality and is inconsistent with the statutory directive of the Horse Racing Act that rules of the Commission be ‘construed to ensure that horse racing in New Mexico is conducted with fairness.’ Complaint ¶ 48, at 6.

On March 12, 2015, the Racing Commission voted to take the Warbelow's decision “under advisement.” Complaint ¶ 50, at 6. On July 8, 2015, the Racing Commissioners (Robert M. Doughty III, Beverly Bourguet, Jerry Cosper, Gayla D. McCulloch, and Ray Willis) and Woods set up a “settlement meeting” with “the primary purpose of assessing the strength of Plaintiff's case.” Complaint ¶ 106, at 14. Woods had no authority or intent to resolve the issue, and used the meeting “solely to gather information by which to influence and/or change the hearing officer's decision.” Complaint ¶¶ 108–109, at 14. On July 22, 2015, the Racing Commissioners held a meeting, at least in part to discuss Gerhardt's claims. See Complaint ¶ 110, at 14. They ignored the relevant regulations, which required them to discuss the issue in an open meeting. See Complaint ¶¶ 111–112, at 14–15. “Based on information extracted during a settlement meeting, Defendant Commissioners acted to ‘remand’ Plaintiff's matter for further examination. No explanation was provided as to how such process was to proceed or the reasons/purposes for a remand.” Complaint ¶ 113, at 25. The Racing Commission has not taken any further action on Gerhardt's claims. See Complaint ¶ 114, at 15.


Gerhardt filed his Amended Complaint on October 9, 2015. See Complaint at 1. His Complaint targets Woods,4 the Racing Commission, its Racing Commissioners, Keiter (its steward), Mares (its executive director), and five unidentified Racing Commission employees. See Complaint ¶¶ 5–9, 101, 107–109, at 2, 13–14. The Complaint appears to allege: (i) violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States' Due Process Clause; (ii) violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause; (iii) a prima facie tort under New Mexico state common law; and (iv) state common-law conspiracy. See Complaint ¶¶ 1124, at 1–17. Gerhardt seeks: (i) a declaration that the Defendants violated his right to due process; (ii) a declaration that the Defendants violated his right to equal protection under the law; (iii) attorney's fees and costs; (iv) a “declaration that the actions of identified Defendants...

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