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Anthony Adamo and Michael Gill v. Michael Dillon

March 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Rambo)


This is a civil rights action brought by Plaintiff Anthony Adamo ("Adamo"), a licensed race horse trainer, and Plaintiff Michael Gill ("Gill"), a licensed race horse owner, against several past and present officials of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission ("the Commission"). Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process and equal protection under the law when they were ejected from a race course without notice or a hearing. Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 8.) For the reasons set forth below, the court will deny Defendants' motion.

I. Background

The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' complaint and are taken as true for purposes of disposing of the instant motion. On February 2, 2010, Defendant Dillon issued orders ejecting Plaintiffs Adamo and Gill from Penn National Race Course in part due to complaints from several jockeys that "all Michael Gill['s] horses, trained by Adamo and other trainers, were somehow fundamentally unsound in a way that endangered the safety of all jockeys riding in a race against them." (Doc. 1, Complaint at ¶¶ 16, 29, 30, 59.) The orders were issued "pending final resolution of the matter" and without hearings. (Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30, 31.) Plaintiffs were given 48 hours to remove Gill's horses from the premises and were not allowed to participate in racing at Penn National. (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 33, 60, 61.) Adamo requested a hearing in front of the Commission regarding his ejection and also requested a supersedeas of the ejection order pending his hearing. (Id. at ¶¶ 35, 36.) The Commission never scheduled a hearing. (Id. at ¶ 39.) On March 5, 2010, Defendant Dillon issued an order rescinding the ejection order against Adamo. (Id. at ¶ 40.) That order stated, in part, that the "Commission hereby deems the February 2, 2010 Ejection matter and Anthony Adamo's request for an administrative hearing as moot. Accordingly, no hearing will be scheduled." (Id. at ¶ 41.) On May 18, 2010, Plaintiff Gill requested that the Commission rescind his ejection or, in the alternative, hold a hearing on the matter. (Id. at ¶¶ 79, 80.) On July 6, 2010, the Commission stated that Gill's ejection is final, no hearing will be held on the matter, and Gill remains barred from Penn National. (Id. at ¶ 81.)

II. Legal Standard

When presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions," Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009), and ultimately must determine "whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___U.S.___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009)). Additionally, the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). The complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief; it must "show such an entitlement with its facts." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129

S. Ct. at 1950 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (alterations in original)). In other words, a claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id.

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.") (internal quotation omitted). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a civil rights complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247,252 (3d Cir. 2007); Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion

In order to prevail on a procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show (1) that he possessed a life, liberty, or property interest within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (2) that he did not have procedures available to him that would provide him with "due process of law." Rockledge Dev. Co. v. Wright Township, 2011 WL 588068, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2011) (citing Robb v. City of Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 292 (3d Cir. 1984)). More specifically, a plaintiff must prove each of the following five elements in relation to a § 1983 procedural due process claim:

(1) that he was deprived of a protected liberty or property interest; (2) that this deprivation was without due process; (3) that the defendant subjected the plaintiff, or caused the plaintiff to be subjected to, this deprivation without due process; (4) that the defendant was acting under color of state law; and (5) that the plaintiff suffered injury as a result of the deprivation without due process.

Id. (citing Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1113-14 (3d Cir. 1989)).

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs failed to state a procedural due process claim because Plaintiffs do not have a property interest in their horse racing licenses. (Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss at 3.) In support, Defendants note that the state legislature enacted legislation specifically stating that no property interest exists in such licenses. 4 P.S. § 325.213(a) ("Each commission shall license trainers, jockeys, drivers, persons participating in thoroughbred and harness horse race meetings, horse owners and all other persons and vendors exercising their occupation or employed at thoroughbred and harness horse race meetings. The license gives its holder a privilege to engage in the specified activity, but the license does not give its holder a property right.") (emphasis added); see also 4 P.S. § 325.209(a) ("Any corporation desiring to conduct horse race meetings at which pari-mutuel wagering shall be permitted may ...

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