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Christian Lefer and Allison Lefer v. James W. "Jim" Murry

May 14, 2013

CHRISTIAN LEFER AND ALLISON LEFER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES W. "JIM" MURRY, COMMISSIONER OF POLITICAL PRACTICES, STATE OF MONTANA AND STATE OF MONTANA, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

Before the Court are Defendant State of Montana's Motion to Dismiss (doc. 16) and Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand (doc. 22).

I. Motion to Dismiss

Defendant State of Montana moves to dismiss Counts I-VI of Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. After the State's motion was filed, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint within the time allotted by order of the Court. The State's arguments are considered in the context of the now-operative Second Amended Complaint, which limits Plaintiffs' claims against the State to declaratory judgment and return of personal property. This differs substantially from the First Amended Complaint, where Plaintiffs alleged more claims against the State, including liability for state-law torts committed by Defendant Murry. The narrowing of claims for relief asserted by Plaintiffs in the Second Amended Complaint render many of the State's arguments in its Motion to Dismiss moot.

Furthermore, the Second Amended Complaint's statement of the parties is more complete than the First Amended Complaint. The First Amended Complaint alleged "Montana is the principal of Defendant Murry, and is responsible for the state-law torts he has committed while acting in the course and scope of his agency." The Second Amended Complaint explains that the inclusion of the State and its agents as Defendants is necessary to afford complete relief to Plaintiffs and that "to the extent Defendant Murry and Defendant State do not have a principle-agent [sic] legal relationship, at all times relevant to this action, they acted in concert." The latter is a more complete characterization of Plaintiffs' view of the relationship between the Defendants in this matter.

A. Declaratory Judgment and Montana Constitution Claims

The State argues Counts I (Declaratory Judgment) and III (Montana Constitution) of the First Amended Complaint are subject to dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because each fails to allege a plausible claim for relief.

As to Plaintiffs' declaratory judgment claim (stated in Count I of the First Amended Complaint and Count I of the Second Amended Complaint), the State claims Plaintiff presents no allegation of wrongdoing by the State of Montana separate and distinct from the actions of the Commissioner of Political Practices. This defect is cured in the Second Amended Complaint, where Plaintiffs include the State in allegations of wrongdoing for which declaratory judgment is sought. Additionally, the State is included in allegations of wrongdoing common to all counts of the Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs' more complete statement of the parties stated at the outset of the Second Amended Complaint also cures this defect.

The State also asserts Plaintiffs' declaratory judgment claim is insufficiently pled because it states legal conclusions without supporting factual allegations. The State claims "[t]he plaintiff must provide factual allegations sufficient to allow '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).

Count I of the Second Amended Complaint does not present the type of "naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" the Supreme Court rejected in Iqbal. Id. Count I seeks declaratory judgment; it asserts the State and/or its agents have possession of the documents at issue or copies or reproductions of the documents at issue. This factual allegation based on information and belief is sufficient grounds on which to draw the inference that the State may be liable for misconduct alleged by Plaintiff and for which declaratory relief is sought.

The State argues Plaintiffs' Montana constitution claims (stated in Count I of the First Amended Complaint and Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint) is also insufficiently plead under the Iqbal standard. Plaintiffs claim the State violated their rights under the Montana Constitution, Article II § 6 (freedom of assembly), § 10 (privacy), § 11 (freedom from unreasonable search and seizure), and § 17 (due process). Plaintiffs begin recitation of these claims by incorporating by reference allegations common to all counts, including allegations that the State and/or its agents retain the documents or copies of the same.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a pleading that states a valid claim for relief to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). On a party's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6), a reviewing court accepts factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). Commonly known as notice pleading, the standard for pleadings set by the Federal Rules dictates that, in order to be entitled to the presumption of truth, "a complaint . . . may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice to enable the opposing party to defend effectively." Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

Plaintiffs' Montana constitution claims are sufficiently plead as to the State of Montana under this standard. Allegations common to all counts of the Second Amended Complaint present factual disputes as to the State's retention of the documents or copies of the same. Although limited, these facts give the State sufficient notice of the claim at issue and sufficient information to present a defense.

B. Federal Constitution Claim Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The State argues Plaintiffs' federal constitution claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (stated in Count II of the First Amended Complaint and Count III of the Second Amended Complaint) are not properly asserted against the State of Montana. The State correctly recites the law on this point, that "a State is not a person within the meaning of § 1983." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64 (1989). The Second Amended Complaint reframes Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim as against only Defendant Murry. ...


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