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Dowdall v. Downs Racing, L.P.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 16, 2020



          A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.

         Presently before me are motions to dismiss plaintiffs, Michael Dowdall, Coleen Dowdall, Freedom Ranch Farms, LLC, and Phoenix Rising Stables, LLC, (collectively “the Plaintiffs”) complaint against the Defendants, Downs Racing, L.P. and Anthony Marchelli. (See Docs 2, 13). Marchelli filed a Motion to Dismiss the third count of the complaint, wrongful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, which was alleged against him, arguing that the Plaintiffs have failed to state a cognizable claim. (See Doc. 2). Because the Plaintiffs have not adequately plead count three, wrongful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, Marchelli's Motion to Dismiss will be granted. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367, the remaining counts, which came before me on the basis of supplemental jurisdiction, will be remanded to state court for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         The facts from the Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1-2), taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, are as follows:

         Michael Dowdall is a racehorse trainer with over thirty years of experience in the industry. (Doc. 1-2, at 8 ¶ 8). He has raced in over 4, 600 races in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. (Doc. 1-2, at 8 ¶ 8). From 2015 through 2017, he earned over $2, 700, 000 in purse winnings. (Doc. 1-2, at 8 ¶ 8). Dowdall has been racing horses at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs racetrack (“Pocono Downs”) for five years, which is incorporated as Downs Racing, L.P. (Doc. 1-2, at 8 ¶¶ 5, 9). Dowdall trains and races horses through his company Freedom Ranch Farms, LLC. (Doc. 1-2 at 8 ¶ 11).

         In spring 2018, Dowdall applied to race at Pocono Downs by filing an application for nine racehorses that he had trained. (Doc. 1-2, at 8 ¶ 12, 17-20). Pocono Downs accepted his application. (Doc. 1-2 at 9 ¶ 14). On April 10, 2018, Dowdall was preparing two of his horses, “Love Forbidden” and “Believe in the Spirit, ” for a race. (Doc. 1-2 at 9 ¶ 15). While in the stables at Pocono Downs, Dowdall was approached by Marchelli, who was acting as an agent of the State Horse Racing Commission, Bureau of Standardbred Horse Racing (the “commission”). (Doc. 1-2 at 9 ¶ 16). This Bureau is situated in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and is responsible for protecting the integrity of Standardbred Racing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1-2 at 9 ¶ 17). Marchelli approached Dowdall when he was feeding his horses “an all-natural supplement, ” designed to treat their allergies, and demanded permission to test the supplement. (Doc. 1-2 at 9 ¶ 17). He also insisted on searching Dowdall's person and the surrounding area for contraband. (Doc. 1-2 at 10 ¶ 21). Dowdall largely complied with Marchelli's requests, allowing Marchelli to confiscate the all-natural herbal supplement and search the premises, but not his person. (Doc. 1-2 at 10 ¶ 23). Marchelli refused to allow Dowdall's horses to compete, because he believed Dowdall had administered a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 narcotic to them and proceeded to initiate a proceeding before the Bureau of Standard Bred Horses. (Doc. 1-2 at 10 ¶ 25, 28). The proceeding resulted in Dowdall receiving a penalty. (Doc. 1-2 at 11 ¶ 29). Dowdall ultimately settled with the Bureau's Director and Marchelli by agreeing not to pursue an appeal in exchange for a $2, 000 fine and a fifteen day suspension among other stipulations. (Doc. 1-2 at 11 ¶ 29). Notwithstanding this agreement, Pocono Downs has (1) indefinitely barred Dowdall from racing any horses at its racetrack and (2) banned any of the horses previously entered by Dowdall from being entered and raced by a different trainer. (Doc. 1-2 at 11 ¶ 30-31).

         In summer 2018, Dowdall's wife Coleen Dowdall, the owner and operator of Phoenix Rising Stables, LLC, attempted to race a horse, which she owns and a non-party trains, at Pocono Downs . (Doc. 1-2 at 12 ¶ 34). The Director of Pocono Downs, however, refused the horse, explaining that any horse either trained by her husband or trained at a farm where her husband also trains other horses is banned from Pocono Downs. (Doc. 1-2 at 12 ¶ 35). Due to Pocono Downs's treatment of the Plaintiffs, specifically the ban imposed on their horses and/or horses that they have trained, the Plaintiffs claim that they have experienced significant financial detriment. (Doc. 1-2 at 12 ¶ 36).

         The Plaintiffs originally filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, and it was timely removed. (Doc. 1). Marchelli's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 2) has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). “A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of the grounds for the claim. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). While detailed factual allegations are not required, conclusory statements that allege the complainant is entitled to relief are inadequate. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Legal conclusions that provide the framework for a complaint must be supported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of his or her claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). A court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Id. The inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is “normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, then a court must assume their truthfulness in deciding whether they raise an entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 679 (2007). Dismissal is only appropriate when, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff has not plead enough factual allegations to provide a reasonable expectation that discovery will lead to evidence of each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008).

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court considers the allegations in the complaint and exhibits attached to the complaint. Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010). In addition to the complaint and any exhibits attached, a court may examine “legal arguments presented in memorandums or briefs and arguments of counsel.” Pryor v. NCAA, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted). A court may also consider a “document integral or explicitly relied upon in the complaint.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). At bottom, documents may be examined by a court when ruling on a motion to dismiss when the plaintiff had proper notice of the existence of the documents. Id. A court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's “‘bald assertions'” or “‘legal conclusions.'” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).

         III. Discussion

         The Plaintiffs allege three claims, counts one and two, breach of contract and promissory estoppel respectively, against Downs Racing, L.P. and count three, wrongful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, against Marchelli. (See Doc. 1-2, at 12-15). Marchelli moves separately to dismiss ...

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