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Eglise Baptiste Bethanie De Ft. Lauderdale, Inc. v. Seminole Tribe of Florida

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

January 3, 2020


          Valle, Judge



         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant Seminole Tribe of Florida's (“Defendant Seminole Tribe”) Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [28] (the “Seminole Tribe's Motion”), Defendant Aida Auguste's (“Defendant Auguste”) Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [26] (“Auguste's Motion”), and Plaintiffs'[1] Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. [25] (“Motion to Amend”), (collectively, the “Motions”). The Court has carefully reviewed the Motions, all opposing and supporting submissions, the record in this case, and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, the Seminole Tribe's Motion is granted; Auguste's Motion is granted; and Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs initiated this action on October 17, 2019, asserting claims against Defendants Aida Auguste and the Seminole Tribe of Florida (collectively, “Defendants”). ECF No. [1]. On December 1, 2019, and with the Court's permission, see ECF No. [15], Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint, ECF No. [21], which asserts eighty-three counts: Counts 1 and 4-83 assert violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances, 18 U.S.C. § 248(a)(2) (“FACE Act”) by each individual Plaintiff against Defendants; Count 2 asserts a claim of Interference with Business Relationships by Plaintiff Eglise Baptiste Bethanie De Ft. Lauderdale, Inc. (“Eglise Baptiste”) against Defendant Seminole Tribe; and Count 3 asserts a claim of Trespass by Eglise Baptiste against Defendant Seminole Tribe. See generally ECF No. [21].

         The Amended Complaint alleges that on July 26, 2014, the then-Pastor of Eglise Baptiste, Reverend Usler Auguste (“Pastor Auguste”), passed away. ECF No. [21] ¶ 7. Since then, the Board of Directors of Eglise Baptiste and Defendant Auguste, Pastor Auguste's widow, have contended for the leadership of Eglise Baptiste. Id. On September 22, 2019, the congregation convened for a meeting to approve the process for the selection and installation of Pastor Auguste's successor. Id. ¶ 8. The congregational meeting ultimately “devolved into a pushing, shoving and punching affair between the supporters of the Board of Directors and the supporters of [Defendant] Auguste, ” which necessitated police intervention to restore order. Id. On September 24, 2019, based on the events that occurred at the congregational meeting, Eglise Baptiste filed a civil action for declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendant Auguste and her supporters in the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, which is ongoing. Id. ¶ 9.

         On September 29, 2019, “Eglise Baptiste conducted its weekly Sabbath services in the religious structure located on the Church Property.” Id. ¶ 10. While those services were in progress, Defendant Auguste and her supporters, escorted by six armed officers from the Seminole Police Department, and without judicial authorization entered church property, “disabled the Church Property's surveillance cameras, ” “expelled from the Church Property all the worshipers who opposed Auguste, ” “changed the locks to the doors of the religious structure located on the Church Property, ” “seized the business records of Eglise Baptiste, ” and “locked the gates to the Church Property.” Id. Defendant Auguste and her supporters continue to occupy the church property and control Eglise Baptiste's personal property, including its bank accounts. Id. Further, Defendant Auguste and her supporters have continued to exclude Plaintiffs from the church property. Id.

         The Amended Complaint also contains the following allegation:

The judicial doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity does not insulate [Defendant Seminole Tribe] from the claims which Plaintiffs have asserted against [it] in this civil action because: (a) the actions of [Defendant Seminole Tribe's] police officers took place more than eleven (11) miles from [Defendant Seminole Tribe's] Hollywood, Florida, reservation, (b) prior to September 29, 2019, Plaintiffs had not had an opportunity to negotiate with [Defendant Seminole Tribe] for a waiver of [its] tribal sovereign immunity; and (c) other than through this civil action, Plaintiffs have no means by which to secure monetary compensation for [Defendant Seminole Tribe's] infringements of Plaintiffs' rights under Federal and Florida law.

Id. ¶ 11.

         In the Seminole Tribe's Motion, Defendant Seminole Tribe argues that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because it is a federally recognized Indian tribe that is entitled to tribal sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition. ECF No. [31]. Defendant Seminole Tribe filed a Reply. ECF No. [35].

         In Auguste's Motion, Defendant Auguste seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, arguing that it (1) fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6); (2) involves non-justiciable questions of internal church governance; and (3) improperly attempts to split causes of action. Plaintiffs filed their Response in Opposition, ECF No. [30], to which Defendant Auguste filed a Reply. ECF No. [33].

         Finally, in the Motion to Amend, Plaintiffs request leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. [25-1] (“Second Amended Complaint”), to correct typographical mistakes, drop the claims of tortious interference and trespass, add a claim for injunctive relief, drop and add certain individuals as Plaintiffs, and name seventeen additional individuals as Defendants. Defendants each filed their respective Responses in Opposition, ECF Nos. [27] & [29], to which Plaintiffs filed a Reply, ECF No. [32]. In addition, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority in support of their Motion to Amend, ECF No. [34], which cited to Crawford's Auto Center, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., No. 17-12583, 2019 WL 6974428, at *1 (11th Cir. Dec. 20, 2019).


         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the district court's subject-matter jurisdiction and takes one of two forms: a “facial attack” or a “factual attack.” Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990). “A ‘facial attack' on the complaint ‘require[s] the court merely to look and see if [the] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion.'” McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529). “A ‘factual attack,' on the other hand, challenges the existence of subject matter jurisdiction based on matters outside the pleadings.” Kuhlman v. United States, 822 F.Supp.2d 1255, 1256-57 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (citing Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529); see Stalley ex rel. U.S. v. Orlando Reg'l Healthcare Sys., Inc., 524 F.3d 1229, 1233 (11th Cir. 2008) (“[A] factual attack on a complaint challenges the existence of subject matter jurisdiction using material extrinsic from the pleadings, such as affidavits or testimony.”). Further, the “[p]laintiff bears the burden of proving the existence of subject matter jurisdiction.” Desporte-Bryan v. Bank of Am., 147 F.Supp.2d 1356, 1360 (S.D. Fla. 2001) (citing Boudreau v. United States, 53 F.3d 81, 82 (5th Cir. 1995)).

         “In assessing the propriety of a motion for dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), a district court is not limited to an inquiry into undisputed facts; it may hear conflicting evidence and decide for itself the factual issues that determine jurisdiction.” Colonial Pipeline Co. v. Collins, 921 F.2d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir. 1991). As such, “[w]hen a defendant properly challenges subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) the district court is free to independently weigh facts, and ‘may proceed as it never could under Rule 12(b)(6) or Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.'” Turcios v. Delicias Hispanas Corp., 275 Fed.Appx. 879, 880 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Morrison v. Amway Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 925 (11th Cir. 2003)).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” it must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8(a)(2)'s pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). In the same vein, a complaint may not rest on “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. These elements are required to survive a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6) that requests dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         When reviewing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, as a general rule, must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and evaluate all plausible inferences derived from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. S. Everglades Restoration All., 304 F.3d 1076, 1084 (11th Cir. 2002). However, this tenet does not apply to legal conclusions, and courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Thaeter v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 449 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2006). Moreover, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint ‘obvious alternative explanations,' which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682).

         A court, in considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “may consider only the complaint itself and any documents referred to in the complaint which are central to the claims.” Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 959 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997)); see also Maxcess, Inc. v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 433 F.3d 1337, 1340 n.3 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[A] document outside the four corners of the complaint may still be considered if it is central to the plaintiff's claims and is undisputed in terms of authenticity.” (citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1135 (11th Cir. 2002))).

         C. Motion to Amend

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 governs amended pleadings generally and provides that “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave, ” which “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). A plaintiff should be afforded the opportunity to test his claim on the merits as long ...

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