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Vasquez v. Paso Fino Horse Association Incorporated

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

June 26, 2019

CLARA VASQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
PASO FINO HORSE ASSOCIATION INCORPORATED, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DANNY. C. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises out of a dispute between sisters regarding the registration of a Paso Fino horse named Paz Del Suroeste (“the Mare”). [Record No. 1');">1-1');">1] Plaintiff Clara Vasquez (“Clara”) asks this Court to declare the rights, status and legal relations between the parties regarding registration of the Mare. [Id.] She contends that the Paso Fino Horse Association Incorporated (“PFHA”) unilaterally voided registration of the Mare. [Id.] Following discovery, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. [Record Nos. 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">59, 60, 61');">1] For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted and the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         I.

         Clara and Patricia Vasquez were engaged in a business involving the Mare. The PFHA is a private association that maintains a registry of purebred Paso Fino horses in the United States. PFHA-registered horses are eligible to participate in Paso Fino horse shows and PFHA members are part of a community that provides a forum to learn about, breed, show, and compete Paso Fino horses. A constitution and rule book govern the PFHA and its members.

         The Mare is a purebred Paso Fino horse whose sire (father) is Joyero and dam (mother) is Carinosa Del Suroeste. The parties have not asserted who is the registered owner of Carinosa Del Suroeste. The Mare was born in Colombia and brought to the United States in September 2007 to participate in competitions. She also was registered with the La Federacion Nacional Colombiana De Asociaciones Equinas Fedequinas Y La Asociacion De Criadores De Caballos Criollos Colombianos de Silla Asdesilla (the “Fedequinas”). Like the PFHA, the Fedequinas is a private association that provides a registry for Paso Fino horses in Colombia. The Fedequinas registration identifies the Mare's owner as Criadero Villa Del Suroeste (the “farm”). The farm is owned by Defendant Patricia Vasquez (“Patricia”).

         To register a horse with the PFHA, an applicant must submit a registration application which provides basic information about the horse such as its owner and lineage. Additionally, a registrant must provide a DNA sample which enables the PFHA to verify bloodlines. The PFHA's rules provide that if the applicant horse, its sire, and/or its dam, is already registered with another association recognized by the PFHA Board of Directors, copies of the certificates of registration from the accepted registry must be provided with the application. [Record No. 61');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, 1');">161');">1');">p. 1');">161');">1] Further, “the applicant horse must be registered in the name of the recorded owner or lessee of the dam at the time of foaling.” [Id. at 1');">166.] The PFHA also maintains ownership of the certificate of registration and the certificate is issued in reliance on the information provided by the written application. Submitting an application is dependent on the express condition that the PFHA has the privilege to correct and/or cancel the certificate for cause under its rules. [Id. at 49.] The original registration certificate endorsed by the seller must be provided to the PFHA to transfer the recorded ownership of a horse that is already registered with the PFHA. [Id. at 1');">176-77.] Alternatively, to transfer the record of ownership at the time of registration, a transfer of ownership must be provided as part of the application. [Id.]

         A. Initial Registration of the Mare with PFHA

         Clara submitted a registration application to the PFHA for the Mare to allow the Mare to participate in PFHA exhibitions in the United States. Because Clara submitted a registration application and is a member of the PFHA, she agreed to be bound by all rules, decisions, and actions of the PFHA. This included the rules regarding registration. [Record No. 61');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, p. 1');">15');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">58]

         Because the Mare was already registered in Colombia with the Fedequinas, the Fedequinas certificate was provided together with the application. [Record No. 61');">1-3, p. 4-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5] While the Fedequinas certificate listed the farm as the owner of the Mare, Clara's application to the PFHA listed both Clara and Patricia as original co-owners but did not include the farm. [Id. at p. 3.] Further, the transfer section on the application for registration was blank. [Id.] However, the PFHA rule book indicates the transfer section is to be completed if the recorded owner of the dam at the time of foaling is different from the current owner of the foal. [Record No. 61');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, 1');">176');">p. 1');">176]

         After reviewing the application, the PFHA issued a certificate of registration in January 2008, recognizing the Mare as having proper Paso Fino lineage. While it is undisputed that Clara did not own the Mare's dam at the time of foaling and no transfer of ownership was provided in the PFHA application, the certificate listed Clara and Patricia as co-owners.

         B. The Ownership Dispute

         The PFHA rules provide that a hearing may be held if a complaint is filed and the PFHA determines that there is a significant likelihood that a violation of a rule has occurred. [Record No. 61');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, p. 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">50] PFHA President Sharon Londono traveled to a show in Colombia where Patricia informed her of an ownership dispute regarding the Mare. [Record No. 61');">1-1');">1, p. 8');">p. 8] Patricia gave Londono a partially-completed Official Charge/Protest along with other documents claiming that her signature on the application was forged. [Record No. 61');">1-9] Londono then submitted Patricia's documents to PFHA's Executive Director Bill Nelson for the purpose of investigating the allegation. [Record No. 61');">1-1');">11');">1, p. 1');">11');">1] Nelson reviewed the documents and passed them on to PFHA Registrar Rebecca Steigmeyer for further review. [Record No. 61');">1-2, p. 9] The inquiry into Patricia's documents led to the discovery of the error regarding ownership in the Mare's certificate of registration. Upon discovering the error, Steigmeyer recommended that the original certificate of registration be corrected and reissued as it should have been in 2008. [Record No. 61');">1-1');">13]

         After correcting the certificate of registration and changing the registered ownership to the farm, the PFHA wrote to the sisters to inform them of the error in the initial certificate and advise that a new certificate was being issued. [Record No. 61');">1-1');">15');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5] Clara subsequently filed a complaint with the PFHA and the PFHA scheduled a hearing before its internal hearing committee to address the registration issues. [Record No. 61');">1-1');">16] Prior to the hearing, however, Clara filed this action seeking a declaration that the original registration certificate be reinstated, naming the sisters as owners of the Mare. But pursuant to the policy of the PFHA, the internal hearing was canceled due to the pending litigation. [Record No. 61');">1-1');">18]

         C. PFHA Rules Regarding Hearings

         The PFHA rules provide that a member may request a hearing after cancellation of a certificate of registration or a decision to deny registration. [Record No. 61');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, p1');">176');">p. 1');">176, 1');">182] If a member requests a hearing under these circumstances, the rules indicate that a hearing will be held by the association's hearing committee. [Id.] Alternatively, the rules prove circumstances under which a hearing is required. Any person may file a complaint if he or she believes that another individual has violated any PFHA rule. [Record No. 61');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, p. 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">50] And following the filing of such complaint, the executive director or his staff is required to investigate the allegation to determine whether sufficient cause[1');">1" name="FN1');">1" id= "FN1');">1">1');">1] exists for a hearing. [Id.] If sufficient cause exists to convene a hearing, no other association entity may cancel the hearing, and the hearing committee must conduct it. [Id.]

         II.

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine disputes regarding any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 1');">17');">477 U.S. 31');">17, 322-23 (1');">1986); Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 285');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 F.3d 41');">15');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">285');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 F.3d 41');">15');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). In determining whether summary judgment is proper, the Court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Instead, the Court's role is to simply determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 242');">477 U.S. 242, 25');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">52 (1');">1986); see also Harrison v. Ash, 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">539 F.3d 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">10');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">539 F.3d 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">10, 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">16 (6th Cir. 2008).

         In conducting this inquiry, the Court must consider all reasonable inferences and view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 U.S. 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">574');">475');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 U.S. 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">574, 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">587 (1');">1986). However, a dispute over a material fact is not genuine unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 25');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">1-5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">52. The existence of a scintilla of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party is not enough to avoid summary judgment. Anwar v. Dow Chem. Co., 1');">1');">876 F.3d 841');">1, 85');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">1 (6th Cir. 201');">17) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 25');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">52). Finally, it is worth noting that the standard upon which the court evaluates a motion for summary judgment does not change simply because the parties present cross-motions. Taft Broad. Co. v. United States, 29 F.2d 240');">929 F.2d 240, 248 (6th Cir. 1');">1991');">1).

         III.

         A. Declaratory Judgment

         Clara seeks a declaratory judgment regarding the rights of the parties related to the Mare at issue. A court may declare the rights of any interested party whether other relief is or could be sought. 28 U.S.C. § 2201');">1. The question essentially is “whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interest, of sufficient immediacy [] to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.” Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 1');">103, 1');">108 (1');">1969). The Declaratory Judgment Act “created an opportunity, rather than a duty, to grant a new form of relief to qualifying litigants.” Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">15');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 U.S. 277');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">51');">15');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 U.S. 277, 288 (1');">1995');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5');">5 ...


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