Cyeef-Din v. Rio Rancho Police Dep't Lieutenant Onken, 21-CV-00133 JFR/LF

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
Writing for the CourtJOHN F. ROBBENHAAR U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Decision Date23 February 2022
PartiesABDUL WAKIL CYEEF-DIN, and QUAN TRAN, Plaintiffs, v. RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT LIEUTENANT NICHOLAS ONKEN, RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT SERGEANT JAMES LA PORTE, RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICERS, AARON, BROWN, AARON BRICK, LANCE ROMERO, BRIAN MARTINEZ, JONATHAN HICKERSON, ARION HAYES, DYLAN GLENN, JASON FLEMING, AND PATRICK ROBINSON, Defendants.
Docket Number21-CV-00133 JFR/LF

ABDUL WAKIL CYEEF-DIN, and QUAN TRAN, Plaintiffs,
v.

RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT LIEUTENANT NICHOLAS ONKEN, RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT SERGEANT JAMES LA PORTE, RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICERS, AARON, BROWN, AARON BRICK, LANCE ROMERO, BRIAN MARTINEZ, JONATHAN HICKERSON, ARION HAYES, DYLAN GLENN, JASON FLEMING, AND PATRICK ROBINSON, Defendants.

No. 21-CV-00133 JFR/LF

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 23, 2022


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON THE BASIS OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

JOHN F. ROBBENHAAR U.S. Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on “Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the Basis of Qualified Immunity.” Doc. 28. Plaintiffs filed their response, to which Defendants replied. Docs. 39, 41. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b), the parties have consented to me serving as the presiding judge and entering final judgment. Docs. 13-16.

Plaintiffs allege in their lawsuit a violation of their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when they were unlawfully detained and searched by Defendants while pursuing work-related activities. See Doc. 1-1 (Complaint). Plaintiffs initially filed their lawsuit in the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, County of Sandoval, State of New Mexico, which suit

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was removed to federal court by the Defendants. Doc. 1. Defendants move for summary judgment, and argue that the Defendants are protected by the defense of qualified immunity. Having considered the parties' arguments and all relevant authority, the Court agrees and GRANTS Defendants' summary judgment motion.

BACKGROUND

The Court will view all facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the non-moving parties. On December 13, 2017, Plaintiff Cyeef-Din was employed as a “drive test engineer” for a T-Mobile vendor, whose duties required him to check cellular tower signal strength for indoor and outdoor analysis. Doc. 39 at 3. Plaintiff first went to Hewlett Packard (“HP”) to test their signals, and then proceeded next door to the Sandoval Regional Medical Center (“SRMC”) campus. Id. at 4. There he was approached by security from SRMC, and after some discussions security allowed Mr. Cyeef-Din to proceed with his testing. Plaintiff then went up to the 6th floor of the facility and tried to enter a nurses' station, id. at 5, presumably a ward that housed patients, but a nurse refused his entry and alerted the on-duty security guard. After further discussion, the security guard decided to escort Plaintiff for the rest of the testing. See Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 20-31.

The security guard documented Plaintiff's activities, and the next day the SRMC Director of Security reviewed the report and became alarmed that Plaintiff appeared to have been taking photographs of the hospital, had no T-Mobile credentials or uniform, and was found in areas of the hospital that the public typically did not access. Doc. 28 at 2. The security director reported the incident to the Rio Rancho Police Department (“RRPD”), which sent officers to SRMC to investigate. Doc. 1-1, ¶ 38.

Defendant Brown, a detective with the RRPD, testifies in his Affidavit that he received a report of a suspicious person who was encountered on the hospital campus, and in his

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investigation learned that the individual, Plaintiff Cyeef-Din, was listed on the federal terrorist watchlist, that he had a violent criminal past, that he was known to be armed, and that he was subject to an “FBI hold.” Doc. 28 at 3 (Plaintiffs' Undisputed Material Fact 4). The Detective also notes in his Affidavit that the National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) notes an “FBI hold” in Plaintiff's file, which meant that “local law enforcement was required to notify the FBI if they came in contact with Cyeef-Din and detain Cyeef-Din until the FBI authorized his release.” Doc. 28-1 at ¶ 5.

On December 15, 2017, Plaintiff Cyeef-Din and Plaintiff Tran returned to HP and SRMC to continue signal strength testing. There they first met with HP's building manager, who informed Plaintiff that “some of the employees at [SRMC] called her to ask about Mr. Cyeef-Din's information.” Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 42. The building manager informed the Plaintiffs that some hospital employees were concerned that Mr. Cyeef-Din was a “terrorist.” Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 44. Plaintiff Tran proceeded to the hospital security desk to inform SRMC what they were doing, at which time Plaintiff Tran was asked to produce his qualifications. Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 46-48. Unable to do so, Mr. Tran was then taken upstairs, where he was held for thirty minutes by SRMC staff before speaking with the Chief of Nursing and Defendants Onken and Hayes. Doc. 1-1, at ¶¶ 5051. When Plaintiff Tran was leaving, he was detained a second time by Defendants, this time for an additional 10 minutes. For his part, Plaintiff Cyeef-Din was located and detained by Defendants for three and one-half hours and released when the FBI gave its approval. Doc. 28 at 4, H 10-11; Doc. 39 at 3. Plaintiff Cyeef-Din is currently on the federal terrorist watchlist, and that he and his companions are often treated as “known or suspected terrorists.” See Doc. 1-1, ¶¶ 14-76; Doc. 28 at 3-4; Doc. 28-2 at ¶ 1093; Doc. 39 at 2-3.

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Plaintiff disputes the Defendants' Undisputed Fact 4 (“UDF 4”), specifically objecting to Detective Brown's testimony “as to the contents of an NCIC report [are] hearsay and violative of the best evidence rule.” Doc. 39 at 2. Plaintiffs claim that there “is no such thing as an ‘FBI Hold', and dispute the claim that local law enforcement had to contact the FBI if they ever came into contact with Plaintiff Cyeef-Din and detain him until the FBI authorized his release, as not supported in law or fact. Id. Plaintiff states that the FBI Hold “does not comport with any known authority or activity of the FBI.” Id. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Detective Brown's testimony is impeached by a bulletin issued by the RRPD, which makes no mention of the “FBI Hold.”[1] Id.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriately granted when the movant shows, by the “materials in the record, including... affidavits or declarations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” that the there is no genuine dispute of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The requirement of a “genuine” issue of fact means that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,

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248 (1986). An issue of fact is “material” if it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim. See id. The inquiry is “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.” Id. at 251-52.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This burden may be met by showing that there is a lack of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. See id. at 325. Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact left for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. A party opposing a properly-supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere denials of the MSJ but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Any evidence tending to show triable issues will be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Black Hills Aviation, Inc. v. United States, 4 F.3d 968, 972 (10th Cir. 1994); also see Dorato v. Smith, 108 F.Supp.3d 1064, 1155 (D.N.M. 2015) (even in qualified immunity context, courts should still view all facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party) (citation omitted).

Here, the Defendants raise the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, so the Plaintiff assumes the burden of showing (i) that the Defendants' actions violated Plaintiffs' constitutional or statutory right(s); and (ii) that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct. See Riggins v. Goodman, 572 F.3d 1101, 1107 (10th Cir. 2009); accord Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531, 1534-35 (10th Cir. 1995). The court may decide which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first, “in light of the circumstances of the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

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To determine whether a right was clearly established, a court must consider whether the right was sufficiently clear that a reasonable government employee would understand that what he or she did violated a right. See Casey v. W. Las Vegas Indep. Sch. Dist., 473 F.3d 1323, 1327 (10th Cir. 2007). “A clearly established right is generally defined as a right so thoroughly developed and consistently recognized under the law of the jurisdiction as to be ‘indisputable' and ‘unquestioned.' ” Lobozzo v. Colo. Dep't of Corr., 429 Fed.Appx. 707, 710 (10th Cir. 2011) (unpubl.) (quoting Zweibon v. Mitchell, 720 F.2d 162, 172-73 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). “Ordinarily this standard requires either that there is a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or that the ‘clearly established weight of authority from other courts [has] found the law to be as the plaintiff maintains.'” Patel v. Hall, 849 F.3d 970, 980 (10th Cir. 2017) (quoting Klen v. City of Loveland, 661 F.3d 498, 511 (10th Cir. 2011)). “In determining whether the right was ‘clearly established,' the court assesses the objective legal reasonableness of the action at the time of the alleged violation and asks whether ‘the contours of the right [were] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.' ” Holland ex rel. Overdorff v....

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