212 F.3d 617 (1st Cir. 2000), 99-1675, Cruz-Erazo v. Rivera-Montanez

Docket Nº:99-1675
Citation:212 F.3d 617
Party Name:MARITZA CRUZ-ERAZO; JUAN R. GASCOT-VAZQUEZ; CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP GASCOT-CRUZ; KORAL GASCOT-CRUZ; JUAN R. GASCOT-CRUZ; KASSANDRA JAANAI GASCOT-CRUZ; Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. CARLOS JAVIER RIVERA-MONTANEZ, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; CARI RUIZ-MCANALLEN, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HER INDIVIDUAL AND
Case Date:May 02, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 617

212 F.3d 617 (1st Cir. 2000)

MARITZA CRUZ-ERAZO; JUAN R. GASCOT-VAZQUEZ; CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP GASCOT-CRUZ; KORAL GASCOT-CRUZ; JUAN R. GASCOT-CRUZ; KASSANDRA JAANAI GASCOT-CRUZ; Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

CARLOS JAVIER RIVERA-MONTANEZ, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; CARI RUIZ-MCANALLEN, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HER INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP RIVERA RUIZ, MEMBERS OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; HUMBERTO THILLET-GUZMAN, CAPTAIN, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; HECTOR QUINONES, LIEUTENANT, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; HECTOR MORALES-SILVA, MEMBER OF THE PR POLICE FORCE IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; JOHN DOE, 97CV1758; RICHARD ROE, 97CV1758; Defendants, Appellees.

No. 99-1675

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 2, 2000

        Heard March 7, 2000

Page 618

        Jane Becker Whitaker, with whom Troncoso & Becker was on brief, for appellants.

        Sylvia Roger Stefani, Assistant Solicitor General, Department of Justice, with whom Gustavo A. Gelp¡, Solicitor General, and Edda Serrano-Blasini, Deputy Solicitor General, were on brief, for appellees Hector Quinones and Hector Morales.

        Before: Torruella, Chief Judge, Coffin, Senior Circuit Judge, and Lipez, Circuit Judge.

        TORRUELLA, Chief Judge.

        Appellants Maritza Cruz-Erazo, Juan R. Gascot-Vazquez, Koral Gascot-Cruz, Juan R. Gascot-Cruz, and Kassandra Jaanai Gascot-Cruz allege that appellees police officers Carlos Javier Rivera-Montanez, Cari Ruiz-Mcanallen, Humberto Thillet-Guzman, Hector Quinones, Hector Morales-Silva, and John Doe, in their individual and official capacities, engaged in ongoing harassment and intimidation of appellants in violation of their rights to due process of law. The district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that appellants had failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although we find appellees' alleged conduct disgraceful, it does not sufficiently "shock the conscience" so as to state a claim under § 1983. Because this is the only argument advanced on appeal, we affirm the decision of the district court.

        I. FACTS

         The following is a summary of the facts alleged in appellants' complaint, presented in the light most favorable to the appellants. Our summary largely tracks that of the district court. See Cruz-Erazoav. Rivera-Montanez, Civ. No. 97-1758, slip op. at 3 (D.P.R. Mar. 31, 1999) (hereinafter "Opinion").

         On September 3, 1995, appellant Cruz-Erazo was approached by appellees Ruiz-Mcanallen and her husband Rivera-Montanez. Stating that they were concerned about the oncoming Hurricane Luis, Ruiz-Mcanallen and Rivera-Montanez asked Cruz-Erazo whether they could store some personal property at an unoccupied house owned by Cruz-Erazo and her husband, appellant Gascot-Vazquez. Cruz-Erazo agreed and gave Ruiz-Mcanallen and Rivera-Montanez a key to the house, which was located on San Gregorio Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

         For approximately four months following Hurricane Luis, Cruz-Erazo tried on several occasions to retrieve the key to the house from appellees, without success. She eventually learned that Ruiz-Mcanallen and Rivera-Montanez were not merely storing items at the house but actually residing there with a third person. When Cruz-Erazo went to the house to confront appellees, Ruiz-Mcanallen told her that if she "did not like the situation[,] she could call the police, but Officer Rivera[-Montanez] told her to remember that he was a member of the force."

         Cruz-Erazo sought the assistance of a local district attorney, who advised her to file a complaint for damages. However, when she went to the police station, the officers there refused to accept the complaint when they learned that it was against fellow police officers.

         Cruz-Erazo next sought the advice of a local judge, who informed her that nothing prevented her, as the legitimate owner of the house, from retaking possession and changing the locks, etc. When Cruz-Erazo

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then returned to the district attorney's office, she was told that the office would not involve itself in civil matters and that she should retain counsel to help her resolve the situation. Cruz-Erazo then went to another courthouse, where she spoke with a marshal on duty and with yet another judge, who confirmed that, as rightful owner of the property, she could lawfully enter the house and change the locks.

         On the morning of January 5, 1996, appellant Cruz-Erazo called the Bayamon South police precinct and requested that the police witness her entrance into the house on San Gregorio Street. She was told that a Sergeant D¡az would meet her at her home. Instead, however, appellees Thillet-Guzman and Quinones, from the Bayamon North precinct, appeared at appellants' home. This raised suspicions with Cruz-Erazo, who asked her husband to accompany her to the house and to bring a camera.

         Once at the San Gregorio Street residence, Officers Thillet-Guzman and Quinones refused to accompany Cruz-Erazo into the house. Cruz-Erazo tried to phone Sergeant D¡az, but she was unable to reach him and decided to enter the house anyway. Once inside, she removed some blinds and other items belonging to her and her husband, and she changed the locks. When Cruz-Erazo and her husband tried to drive away from the house, appellee Ruiz-Mcanallen and her son stood in the road to block their way and began to insult and threaten them. During this exchange, Officer Thillet-Guzman approached Cruz-Erazo and told her "this won't end here."

         That same day Cruz-Erazo received a citation for disturbing the peace from appellee Rivera-Montanez, apparently in response to the day's events on San Gregorio Street. Cruz-Erazo and her husband also filed a complaint against Ruiz-Mcanallen's son for disturbing the peace, but no action was ever taken on it.

         Two days later, on January 7, 1996, appellants were informed that the new locks on the San Gregorio Street house had been broken. Cruz-Erazo drove to the house and photographed...

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