William Spencer & Spencer Bros. LLC v. Doran

Citation2020 DNH 147
Decision Date20 August 2020
Docket NumberCivil No. 18-cv-1191-LM
PartiesWilliam Spencer and Spencer Brothers LLC v. Michael Doran, et al.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of New Hampshire

2020 DNH 147

William Spencer and Spencer Brothers LLC
v.
Michael Doran, et al.

Civil No. 18-cv-1191-LM

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

August 20, 2020


ORDER

Plaintiffs William Spencer ("William") and Spencer Brothers LLC ("Spencer Brothers") filed a second amended complaint bringing two claims against five current and former employees of the New Hampshire State Police (collectively "the state defendants"), three employees of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration ("FMCSA"), and two employees of the United States Department of Transportation (collectively "the federal defendants"). Plaintiffs bring substantive and procedural due process claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a claim under the civil remedy provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c), each arising from the circumstances of a traffic stop and subsequent investigations of Spencer Brothers' business practices. The state and federal defendants move separately under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the claims against them. Doc. nos. 36 & 37. In this order, the court will address the

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motion to dismiss filed by the state defendants Michael Doran, William Burke, Kenneth Chaput, Steven Kace, and David Hilts.1

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true, construe reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, and "determine whether the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint set forth a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted." Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 772 F.3d 63, 71 (1st Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

On a motion to dismiss, the court ordinarily must not consider any documents not attached to the complaint or not expressly incorporated therein. See Ironshore Specialty Ins. Co. v. United States, 871 F.3d 131, 135 (1st Cir. 2017). There are, however, narrow exceptions to this rule allowing the court to consider documents the authenticity of which is not disputed

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by the parties, official public records, documents central to plaintiffs' claims, or documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint. Id. The official public records exception includes documents that the court could take judicial notice of under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, such as records of administrative decisions. See Freeman v. Town of Hudson, 714 F.3d 29, 36-37 (1st Cir. 2013); O'Hara v. Diageo-Guinness, USA, Inc., 306 F. Supp. 3d 441, 457 (D. Mass. 2018).

In support of their objections to both motions, plaintiffs submitted an administrative order issued by the Department of Transportation. Doc. nos. 43-1 & 44-1. Similarly, the federal defendants submitted in support of their motion to dismiss certain administrative and judicial orders and pleadings filed in those proceedings. Doc. nos. 36-2 through 36-9. Plaintiffs do not object to the court's consideration of these materials or contest their authenticity. In fact, the second amended complaint refers to and relies upon certain of the official public records submitted by the federal defendants—namely an out-of-service order issued by FMCSA. See doc. no. 36-2 at 102-04. Accordingly, the court will consider the official public records submitted in support of all parties' pleadings in deciding the instant motion to dismiss. But the court relies on these official public records only to a limited extent: to establish the existence of those administrative and judicial

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proceedings and their legal effect. See O'Hara, 306 F. Supp. 3d at 457. The court does not, however, rely on the facts as recited in any of those orders, rulings, pleadings, or exhibits. See id.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background

The following facts are drawn from the second amended complaint and from the existence of official public records attached to the parties' pleadings as explained above. Spencer Brothers is a family-owned business located in Laconia, New Hampshire that removes, installs, cleans, transports, and properly disposes of cleaned and purged oil tanks and various other tanks. Spencer Brothers employs William as its only driver. William holds no ownership interest in the company.

On April 29, 2016, William was driving the company's truck. The truck held four tanks containing a small amount of rusty water, one properly cut, cleaned, and purged oil tank, one discarded oil-fired hot water tank, and five five-gallon pails. The truck did not contain hazardous materials.

New Hampshire State Police ("NHSP") Trooper Michael Doran effected a traffic stop of William's vehicle. After examining his license and registration, Trooper Doran informed William in a hostile manner that he believed William was operating a

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commercial motor vehicle. William disagreed based on the weight of the truck. William made a phone call to a state trooper he knew in an attempt to deescalate the situation. In response, Trooper Doran told William not to make any more phone calls and threatened to arrest William and take away his commercial driver's license.

Trooper Doran then demanded that William open the rear door of the truck. William complied and the trooper took photographs of the interior of the vehicle. At some point during this interaction, Trooper Doran accused William of unlawfully transporting hazardous materials or "hazmat." Ultimately, Trooper Doran informed William that the truck was ordered "out of service" and that it would be towed from the scene. He also issued William a "fix-it" ticket requiring certain repairs to the truck.

William hired Extreme Auto to make the repairs necessitated by the "fix-it" ticket. On May 13, 2016, Trooper Doran and Kenneth Chaput, another state employee, visited Extreme Auto to inspect the premises.2 Plaintiffs contend that, during this

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inspection, Doran and Chaput damaged property at Extreme Auto and harassed its owner in an effort to harass and retaliate against plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs contend that this campaign of harassment continued when Trooper Doran requested that FMCSA investigate Spencer Brothers. On June 13, 2016, FMCSA employees Douglas Wood and Christopher Gray inspected and photographed Spencer Brothers' business location in Laconia. FMCSA agents also questioned Spencer Brothers' competitors and customers and informed them that Spencer Brothers was under investigation, thereby causing embarrassment and tarnishing its reputation in the business community.

Following the FMCSA agents' inspection of Spencer Brothers' property, one of the agents called NHSP Sergeant William Burke to report what they had found. Sometime thereafter, Sergeant Burke filed a purportedly false report to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services ("NHDES"). He reported to NHDES that the Spencer Brothers' office smelled of petroleum and that the company was rinsing petroleum tanks in the garage and discharging the rinsate into a floor drain. A NHDES employee subsequently inspected the Spencer Brothers premises and determined that Burke's complaints about Spencer Brothers were "unfounded."

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Also as a result of the FMCSA inspection of Spencer Brothers' premises, on August 3, 2016, FMCSA sent Spencer Brothers a Proposed Safety Rating. Doc. no. 44-1 at 2; see 49 C.F.R. § 385.11. That Proposed Safety Rating notified Spencer Brothers that FMCSA intended to give it an "Unsatisfactory" safety rating, based on several alleged regulatory violations, including two violations related to hazardous materials. On August 11, 2016, Spencer Brothers filed a petition for administrative review of the Proposed Safety Rating with the FMCSA that objected to the "Unsatisfactory" rating. See 49 C.F.R. § 385.15. On September 16, 2016, the FMCSA Assistant Administrator issued a final order denying Spencer Brothers' petition for administrative review of the Proposed Safety Rating. As a result of this denial, the "Unsatisfactory" safety rating became effective on September 18, 2016, and resulted in an "out-of-service order" directing Spencer Brothers to cease operating any commercial motor vehicles in interstate or intrastate commerce. Doc. no. 36-2 at 102-03.3 Spencer Brothers appealed FMCSA's assignment of the "Unsatisfactory" safety

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rating to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which dismissed the appeal on procedural grounds. See doc. no. 36-9.

On November 2, 2016, William attended a hearing at the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles regarding whether Spencer Brothers' state registration privileges should be suspended or revoked due to the FMCSA's out-of-service order. Retired NHSP Trooper Stephen Kace represented the state at that hearing.

After the hearing, William was driving the company truck to a work appointment and noticed that he was being tailgated by a truck. William eventually pulled off the road and the truck following him pulled over behind him. Trooper Kace exited the truck and informed William that he was "under arrest for operating an 'out of service' vehicle." Doc. no. 30 at ¶ 137. William explained to Trooper Kace that the truck he was operating was legal and not under an "out-of-service" order. William then left the scene. Plaintiffs allege that Trooper Doran then pursued William in his police cruiser.

Throughout the course of the above-described events, William made numerous complaints to governmental agencies, requested investigations into alleged misconduct, and attempted to enlist the help of various governmental institutions to put an end to the alleged campaign of harassment. For example, William initiated three complaints to the NHSP Internal Affairs

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and Standards and Practices Department about Trooper Doran's conduct during the...

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