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Thornton v. Kenneth J.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 27, 2019

JOHN F. THORNTON, Plaintiffs
v.
KENNETH J. and DEANNA L. BARRETT, a married couple residing in Michigan, LUKINS & ANNIS, P.S., a Washington Professional Services Corporation, MICHAEL SCHMIDT, an individual residing in Idaho, TERRI BOYD-DAVIS, a married woman residing in Idaho, BONNER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, a governmental agency, DARYL WHEELER, in his capacity as Bonner County Sheriff, SALLY MITCHELL, in her capacity as Bonner County Deputy Sheriff, and LEANNE BANKSON, in her capacity as Bonner County Deputy Sheriff, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Kenneth and Deanna Barretts' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 7), Defendants Terri Boyd-Davis, Lukins & Annis, P.S., and Michael Schmidt's Motion to Dismiss and Joinder in Barretts' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 13), and Defendants Bonner County Sheriff's Department, Daryl Wheeler, Sally Mitchell and Leanne Bankson's Motion to Dismiss and Joinder in Barretts and Terri-Boyd Davis, Lukins & Annis, P.S. and Michael Schmidt's Motions to Dismiss (Dkt. 17). Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal argument are adequately presented in the briefs. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court decides the Motions on the record without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS each Motion to Dismiss.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a 2013 state court case, Thornton v. Mary E. Pandrea and Kari A. Clark, CV 2013-1334 (“state court action”) and its aftermath. Because the history of the state court action (and its brief foray into federal court) provides the background for this case, some detail with respect to the state court action is necessary.

         On August 14, 2013, Plaintiff John F. Thornton (“Thornton”) sued Mary Pandrea and Kari Clark, two sisters who owned land bordering Thornton's property, to quiet title to his land and for damages. The dispute involved a “Well Piece, ” which was on land Thornton believed he owned and claimed to have exercised control over.[1] In 1993, prior to owning the land, Thornton rented the property from Mary Pandrea and Robert Wiltse, Pandrea's husband at the time. When Thornton first took possession of the property to rent, he claimed Wiltse and Pandrea described the physical boundaries of the property as including the Well Piece.

         In 1998, Thornton purchased the land he had been renting (hereinafter the “Property”) via a Warranty Deed, recorded May 7, 1998, in Bonner County. Thornton claims he believed the land he had purchased included the Well Piece, but that in December of 1993, without his knowledge, Wiltse and Pandrea deeded the Well Piece to Clark and Pandrea, as tenants in common, via a Quitclaim Deed. The Quitclaim Deed was recorded on December 27, 1993, in Bonner County, and reserved unto Clark and Pandrea “the right and use of the existing well.” Dkt. 2, ¶ 3.6. Despite this recording, Thornton claims he did not learn the Well Piece had been alienated from the Property until 2013, when he had the Property surveyed and discovered the Well Piece was also omitted from the property description contained in his 1998 Warranty Deed.

         Thornton subsequently filed the state court action against Pandrea and Clark to quiet title to the Well Piece, as well as to quiet title to an easement located on another area of the Property and designated by the parties as the “Driveway Piece.” Pandrea filed a Motion to Dismiss Thornton's Complaint on November 7, 2013. Because both the Motion to Dismiss and Thornton's Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss contained matters outside the pleadings which were not subject to judicial notice, the State Court treated Pandrea's Motion to Dismiss as a Motion for Summary Judgment. See, 2:17-cv-00367, Dkt. 1-6, p. 9.[2]

         In her Motion, Pandrea claimed Thornton was not a bona fide purchaser of the Well Piece because the 1993 Quit Claim Deed gave Thornton constructive notice of Pandrea's interest in it. In addition, Pandrea argued the Well Piece was not included in Thornton's 1998 Warranty Deed for the Property so he could not consider himself to be a bona fide purchased for value. Thornton responded that the physical property description contained in his deed did not, but should have, included the Well Piece, that he had no notice of Pandrea's 1993 conveyance of the Well Piece, and that his 1998 Warranty Deed did not include “any language reflecting the [1993] conveyance, or otherwise referring the right to use the water from the well.” Id., pp. 4-6. However, both Pandrea and Thornton failed to provide the state court with a copy of Thornton's 1998 Warranty Deed to the Property. Thus, the state court could not decide Pandrea's claim that “since the [Well Piece] is not contained in Thornton's property description, Thornton cannot consider himself to be a bona fide purchaser for value” on summary judgment. Id., p. 11. In addition to the parties' omission of Thornton's 1998 Warranty Deed, other issues of material fact, such as Pandrea's representations to Thornton regarding the Well Piece, precluded summary judgment on Thornton's claim that he had purchased the entire “removal action”). That removed federal action was No. 2:17-cv-00367-DCN. Ultimately, this Court remanded the case to state court. Much of the state court record was submitted with the removal action, rather than in the instant suit. As will be further discussed, the Court takes judicial notice of the record in both the state court and removal actions and will cite to the removal action for the state court records where such documents have not been submitted in this case. The Court references documents filed in the instant suit by docket number, and documents filed in the removal action by reference to both the case and docket number. Property in good faith and without constructive notice of Pandrea and Clark's ownership of the Well Piece.

         However, in his Complaint, Thornton also appeared to claim ownership of the Well Piece by adverse possession. The State Court determined Thornton failed to present material facts to establish he had occupied the Well Piece for the twenty-year statutory period required for adverse possession under Idaho Code section 5-210. Id., pp. 20-23. Because he could not satisfy each element of adverse possession, the Court held as a matter of law that Thornton had not adversely possessed the Well Piece. Id., p. 23. The State Court granted Pandrea summary judgment on this issue, and Thornton did not appeal the Court's ruling.

         Following Thornton's Complaint, Clark counterclaimed against Thornton for interference with her easement rights, for permanent injunction, to quiet title, and for damages. Shortly after the State Court issued its decision on Pandrea's Motion to Dismiss, Clark filed her own “Motion for Summary Judgment of Dismissal of Thornton's Complaint and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Clark's Counterclaims.” Dkt. 9-1. The primary focus of Clark's claims against Thornton was her right to use the Driveway Piece as an easement, and the allegation that Thornton had interfered with this right when he erected a locked gate to block Clark's access to the Driveway Piece. However, in deciding Clark's Motion for Summary Judgment, the State Court noted:

When this Court issued its Memorandum Decision and Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant Pandrea's Motion to Dismiss (Motion for Summary Judgment) on February 14, 2014, the Court had not at that time been provided a copy of Thornton's [1998 Warranty Deed to the Property]. Two weeks after that decision was issued, when Clark filed the instant motion for summary judgment, was the first time the Court was provided a copy of Thornton's deed…. It is now apparent that at all times Thornton was deeded this parcel, the metes and bounds description . . . did not include the ‘Well Piece.'

Id., p. 7.

         In deciding Clark had an easement appurtenant to the Property, the State Court also explained Thornton's 1998 Warranty Deed contained clear language granting Clark an easement to use the Driveway Piece. Id., p. 18. The Warranty Deed thus put Thornton on notice that Clark had an easement, and Thornton did not have a right to erect a locked gate to attempt to keep Clark from using the easement. The State Court accordingly granted Clark's Motion for Summary Judgment.[3] Id., p. 22. The State Court entered Judgment in favor of Clark on April 30, 2014. 2:17-cv-00367-DCN, Dkt. 1-8.

         Thornton and Pandrea stipulated to dismiss Thornton's claims against Pandrea on May 21, 2014. Id., Dkt. 1-9. On June 30, 2014, the State Court entered its Amended Judgment awarding Clark $41, 530.17 jointly and severally against Thornton and his attorney/wife, Val Thornton. Id., Dkt. 1-10. The award was granted to Clark as the prevailing party and included sanctions against Thornton and his wife based on the State Court's conclusion that Thornton brought the case frivolously because his 1998 Warranty Deed both referenced Clark's easement for the Driveway Piece and did not include the Well Piece. The State Court held Thornton and his wife had not been candid with the Court and should have produced the deed, instead of waiting for Clark to produce it, to resolve the case much sooner. Dkt. 9-8, p. 8. The $41, 530.17 Amended Judgment was recorded with the Bonner County Recorder the same day it was entered, on June 30, 2014. Dkt. 9-3. Thornton filed a Notice of Appeal with the Idaho Supreme Court the same day. Dkt. 9-4. Mrs. Thornton also filed a Motion to Intervene in order to appeal the award of sanctions against her. Dkt. 9-6.

         Before the appeal was decided, but after Clark recorded her Amended Judgment of $41, 530.17 against Thornton and his wife, Defendants Kenneth and Deanna Barrett purchased Clark's property and Clark assigned her rights in the state court action to them. On August 4, 2014, the State Court substituted the Barretts in Clark's stead and entered an order assigning the Barretts Clark's right to collect the Amended Judgment. Dkt. 9-5. The substitution was also approved by the Idaho Supreme Court. Dkt. 9-8, p. 8.

         Pandrea subsequently quitclaimed the Well Piece to Thornton on October 23, 2014. Dkt. 9-7. The Barretts thereafter made several attempts to execute on their Amended Judgment, and, though they obtained partial satisfaction, were still owed $17, 779.74 as of February 18, 2016. 2:17-cv-00367, Dkt. 1-21. On February 26, 2016, the Barretts obtained a Writ of Execution permitting a Sheriff's sale of the Well Piece. Id., Dkt. 1-22.

         While the Barretts' collection efforts were proceeding, the Thorntons' appeal was pending before the Idaho Supreme Court. After the Sheriff's sale of the Well Piece on April 26, 2016, Thornton filed a “Motion to Set Aside the Sale of Exempt Homestead Property.” Id., Dkt. 1-24. In his Motion, Thornton claimed a number of irregularities with the Sheriff's sale-the same errors Thornton asserts in the instant suit-including that the Well Piece was sold in violation of his homestead exemption on the Property, that the Barretts did not object to his claimed homestead exemption, and that he had tendered payment of the full amount authorized on the Writ of Execution prior to the sale but that the Barretts and the Bonner County Sherriff refused to accept it. Id. The Barretts filed an objection to Thornton's motion pursuant to Idaho Appellate Rule 13(b) because the matter was then pending on appeal, depriving the State Court of jurisdiction to rule on the Motion to Set Aside Sale. Id., Dkt. 1-29. When the State Court set a hearing date for Thornton's Motion to Set Aside Sale, the Barretts also filed an Opposition to Thornton's motion. Id., Dkt. 1-33.

         In their Opposition, the Barretts challenged each of the purported defects Thornton claimed warranted setting aside the Sherriff's sale. Specifically, Thornton failed to submit a claim of homestead exemption after being served with the Writ on April 2, 2016, and instead relied on a Claim of Exemption he had provided to the Sheriff two years earlier when a previous writ had issued in the state court action.[4] Further, because Thornton failed to submit a claim of exemption within two weeks of issuance of the Writ, as required under Idaho Code section 11-203, the Barretts had no notice of Thornton's alleged claim of exemption and could not object to it. Id. Finally, the Barretts argued Thornton could not claim a homestead exemption for the Well Piece because Thornton did not acquire the Well Piece until October 23, 2014, when Pandrea quit claimed her interest in the Well Piece to Thornton. However, the Amended Judgment was recorded four months earlier, on June 30, 2014. Under Idaho Code section 55-1005, a homestead “is subject to execution or forced sale in satisfaction of judgments obtained . . . [b]efore the homestead was in effect, and which constitute liens upon the premises.” Idaho Code § 55-1005. As such, even if the Well Piece could be considered part of Thornton's homestead, it was nonetheless subject to a forced sale since the Amended Judgment was obtained and recorded before Thornton owned the Well Piece, and thus, before the homestead exemption could have come into effect.

         The State Court held a hearing on Thornton's Motion to Set Aside Sale on September 12, 2016. Id., Dkt. 39. In its September 13, 2016, Order denying the Motion to Set Aside Sale, the State Court stated: “Thornton's Motion is denied based on the District Court's lack of jurisdiction to rule on the Motion pursuant to I.A.R. 13(b)”; and “[a]ny and all statements of the Court placed on the record at the hearing of the Motion shall form the basis of, and shall serve as and in place of a written memorandum decision and order.” Id.

         The day after the State Court denied Thornton's Motion to Set Aside Sale, the Supreme Court issued its Decision in favor of the Barretts on each of the issues Thornton had appealed, including finding the State Court properly awarded a total of $41, 530.17 for attorney fees under Idaho Code Section 12-121 and Rule 11 sanctions. Dkt. 9-8, pp. 17-22. The Supreme Court also awarded the Barretts an additional $13, 386.76 in attorney fees pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-121 for having to defend against Thornton's frivolous appeal. Id., p. 27. Following the Supreme Court's decision, jurisdiction returned to the State Court and Thornton could have renewed his motion to set aside the Sherriff's sale, but did not. The State Court thereafter entered multiple orders in the case, including an order entered on November 2, 2016, awarding the Barretts' sanctions for Thornton's frivolous filing of the Motion to Set Aside Sale while the Supreme Court appeal was pending, a Third Amended Judgment on December 20, 2016, for the amount still owed the Barretts, and an Order for Examination of Judgment Debtors John and Val Thornton on August 14, 2017. 2:17-cv-00367-DCN, Dkt. 1-43; 1-47; 1-50. The State Court set the debtor's examination for September 6, 2017. While he did not file any objection with the State Court opposing the debtor's examination, Thornton did not appear for the scheduled examination. Dkt. 9, ¶ 13. Instead, Thornton filed a Notice of Removal to Federal Court on September 6, 2017, attempting to remove the state court action to this Court, and seeking an order from this Court quashing the State Court order for a debtor's examination. Dkt. 2:17-cv-00367-DCN, Dkt. 1; Dkt. 5.

         On January 5, 2018, this Court entered a Memorandum Decision and Order finding the removal improper, remanding the case to State Court, denying Thornton's Motion to Quash, and retaining jurisdiction for the sole purpose of determining the amount of fees and costs to award the Barretts. Id., Dkt. 13. This Court determined fees and costs were appropriate because the removal was meritless, frivolous, and done with the intent to delay the pending state court post-judgment proceedings. Id., pp. 7-8.

         On February 22, 2018, this Court awarded the Barretts $4, 103.00 in attorney fees they incurred in obtaining a remand of this case to state court. Id., Dkt. 18. Two months later, Thornton filed the instant suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Barretts, the Barretts' attorney, law firm and paralegal (“Attorney Defendants”), and the Bonner County Sheriff's Department, Sherriff, and two Deputy Sheriffs (“State Defendants”), alleging constitutional violations associated with the 2016 Sherriff's sale of the Well Piece.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Rule 12(B)(6) Standard

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim challenges the legal sufficiency of the claims stated in the complaint. Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1242 (9th Cir. 2011). To sufficiently state a claim to relief and survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the pleading “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” however, the “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Mere “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. Rather, there must be “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. 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 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but does require more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully. Id.

         In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), the Supreme Court identified two “working principles” that underlie Twombly. First, although a court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court need not accept legal conclusions as true. Id. “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief will survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         In light of Twombly and Iqbal, the Ninth Circuit has summarized the governing standard as follows: “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the nonconclusory factual content, and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). Apart from factual insufficiency, a complaint is also subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) where it lacks a cognizable legal theory, Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990), or where the allegations on their face show that relief is barred for a legal reason. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).

         A dismissal without leave to amend is improper unless it is beyond doubt that the complaint “could not be saved by any amendment.” Harris v. Amgen, Inc., 573 F.3d 728, 737 (9th Cir. 2009). The Ninth Circuit has held that “in dismissals for failure to state a claim, a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Cook, Perkiss and Liehe, Inc. v. N. California Collection Serv., Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990).

         B. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

         When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion. Indus. Tectonics, Inc. v. Aero Alloy, 912 F.2d 1090, 1092 (9th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). A party who brings a Rule 12(b)(1) challenge may do so by referring to the face of the pleadings or by presenting extrinsic evidence. See White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000) (“Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attacks can be either facial or factual.”). In the former, the challenger asserts that the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). “By contrast, in a factual attack, the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.” Id. In resolving a factual attack on jurisdiction, the court need not presume the truthfulness of the plaintiff's allegations and may review evidence beyond the complaint without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Id.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Judicial Notice

         As a threshold matter, Thornton suggests the Court should ignore any rulings or filings in both the state court action and the removal action as matters outside the pleadings. However, Thornton acknowledges that such court filings are documents subject to judicial notice. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 201(b), a court may take judicial notice of a fact not subject to reasonable dispute because it is either: (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court; or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. FRE 201(b). The Court “may take judicial notice of court filings and other matters of public record.” Reyn's Pasta Bella, LLC v. Visa USA, Inc., 442 F.3d 741, 746 (9th Cir. 2006).

         The Ninth Circuit has consistently held that courts may take judicial notice of documents filed in other court proceedings to establish the fact of such litigation and the face of averments made. U.S. v. Black, 482 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2007) (a federal court may take notice of “proceedings in other courts, both within and without the federal judicial system, if those proceedings have a direct relation to the matters at issue”) (internal quotation and citation omitted); Bryant v. Carleson, 444 F.2d 353, 357 (9th Cir. 1971) (taking judicial notice of proceedings and filings in other courts, including a decision of the California Supreme Court issued while the parties' appeal in the federal case was pending). Here, judicial notice of the record in both the state court action and the removal action is proper. The court documents are matters of public record from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. Additionally, those cases directly relate to the matters at issue here.

         The Court takes notice of the filings in the state court and removal actions for the limited purpose of recognizing the fact that certain court proceedings took place, the subject matter of the litigation, and the allegations and judicial acts recorded in them. The Court will consider such noticed documents for purposes of the pending Motions to Dismiss under 12(b)(6). U.S. v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 907-908 (9th Cir. 2003) (A court may consider matters of judicial notice without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment).

         B. Motions to Dismiss by Barretts and ...


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