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Cowgill v. City of Pocatello

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 13, 2014



B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.


The Court has before it cross motions for summary judgment. The Court heard oral argument on August 13, 2014, and took the motions under advisement. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will (1) deny plaintiffs' motion, and (2) grant that part of the City's motion seeking to dismiss the equal protection claim, but deny the remainder of that motion.


Plaintiff Cowgill and her father, William Decker, incorporated "Kids, Inc." to operate a day care facility under a license granted by the defendant, City of Pocatello. Cowgill and Decker each own half of the shares in Kids, Inc. On June 13, 2012, two employees of Kids, Inc., Britny Toone and Crystal Chatterton, accidently left a four-year old child at a local park for over an hour.

About two weeks later, Cowgill received a letter from Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand informing her that the City Police Department was going to recommend to the City Council that Cowgill's day care license be "reviewed/revoked." The letter stated that the revocation recommendation would be based on three violations of the City Code, and it detailed those three violations. It closed with a notice that the hearing would be conducted on July 9, 2012, during a meeting of the City Council, and that "[y]ou will be afforded an opportunity to be heard at that time."

At the hearing, the City Police recommended that Cowgill's license be revoked. They discussed the three violations identified in the notice letter to Cowgill and another alleged incident - not identified in the notice letter - in 2007 involving a child left behind. The City Council heard from Cowgill and her attorney, and then decided to revoke the license and ban Cowgill from reapplying for a license for a year.

Cowgill brings this lawsuit along with her father William Decker and Kids, Inc., against the City under § 1983 alleging that the City violated their rights to (1) procedural due process, (2) substantive due process, and (3) equal protection. For ease of reference, the Court will refer to the three plaintiffs as "Cowgill" unless it is necessary to discuss them separately.

Cowgill has moved for partial summary judgment on her claim for a violation of her procedural due process rights. The City has filed a cross motion seeking summary judgment on all of Cowgill's claims. The Court will examine each of Cowgill's claims below.[1]


Procedural Due Process

In evaluating Cowgill's procedural due process claim, the Court must ask first whether the City has interfered with Cowgill's liberty or property rights. U.S. v. Juvenile Male, 670 F.3d 999, 1013 (9th Cir.2012). To determine whether a property right is involved, the Court must examine state law. Vandevere v. Lloyd, 644 F.3d 957 (9th Cir. 2011). In Pocatello, a day care license can only be revoked "for cause" after notice and a hearing. See City Code § 5.28.250. Conditioning the revocation on a finding of cause creates a constitutionally protected property interest. Dyack v. Commonwealth, 317 F.3d 1030, 1033 (9th Cir. 2003). Thus, Cowgill had a property right in her day care license.

The second step in the inquiry requires the Court to determine "whether the procedures attendant upon [the] deprivation were constitutionally sufficient." Juvenile Male, 670 F.3d at 1013. The Court must evaluate the process provided to Cowgill under the test set forth in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976). That test instructs the Court "to balance (1) the private interest affected by the official action; (2) the risk of erroneous deprivation and the probable value of additional procedural safeguards; and (3) the governmental interest, including the fiscal and administrative burdens of additional procedures. Id.

The City did give Cowgill an opportunity to be heard at a hearing held on July 5, 2012. But Cowgill alleges that the City misled her about the hearing, causing her to prepare inadequately. More specifically, she claims that her attorney was told that the City Police would recommend probation rather than revocation. To support this claim, she points to testimony from Rick Capell, an officer with the City Police who testified that he told Cowgill's attorney that the City Police would only be seeking probation, not revocation. See Capell Deposition (Dkt. No. 14) at pp. 6-11.[2] This is confirmed by Cowgill's attorney at the time, Kyle Hansen. See Hansen Affidavit (Dkt. No. 17) at ¶ 20. Kim Stouse, the Licensing Enforcement Officer for the City, ...

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