Figueroa-Flores v. Acevedo-Vila

Citation491 F.Supp.2d 214
Decision Date04 June 2007
Docket NumberCivil No. 06-1939 (SEC).
PartiesCarmen FIGUEROA-FLORES, Plaintiff v. Hon. Anibal ACEVEDO-VILA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

Carlos Rodriguez-Garcia, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiff.

Anabelle Quinones-Rodriguez, Department of Justice, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Jorge E. Perez-Diaz, Leilani Torres-Roca, Pietrantoni Mendez & Alvarez, Milagros Rivera-Guadarrama, Puerto Rico Office of Court Administration, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.


CASELLAS, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Co-defendants Federico Hernández Denton's and Ivelisse Salazar-Napeoleoni's Motion to Dismiss (Docket # 12). Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion (Docket # 19) and the moving Co-defendants replied (Docket # 22). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED.

Standard of Review

Under Rule 12(b)(6) in assessing whether dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate, "the trial court, must accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor, and determine whether the complaint, so read, limns facts sufficient to justify recovery on any cognizable theory." LaChapelle v. Berkshire Life Ins. Co., 142 F.3d 507, 508 (1st Cir.1998) (citations omitted). But "[a]lthough this standard is diaphanous, it is not a virtual mirage." Berner v. Delahanty, 129 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir.1997) citing Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 515 (1st Cir.1988). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must set forth `factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.'" Id. In judging the sufficiency of a complaint, courts must "differentiate between well-pleaded facts; on the one hand, and `bald assertions, unsupportable conclusions, periphrastic circumlocution, and the like,' on the other hand; the former must be credited, but the latter can safely be ignored." LaChapelle, 142 F.3d at 508 (quoting Aulson v. Blanchard, 83 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1996)). See also Rogan v. Menino, 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir.1999). Courts, moreover, "will not accept a complainant's unsupported conclusions or interpretations of law." Wash. Legal Found. v. Mass. Bar Found., 993 F.2d 962, 971 (1st Cir.1993).

Factual Background

Given the case's procedural stance, we review the facts as alleged in the complaint. Plaintiff, a sixty year old social worker, is a party to a case pending before the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance, Caguas section (hereinafter the Caguas court). On September 22, 2005, Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to a warrant for civil contempt. Plaintiff claims that this warrant was sought by Co-defendant Maribel Sánchez-Muñoz, a Family Law Special Prosecutor, and illegally issued by Co-defendant Salazar-Napoleoni, a Superior Court judge. Prior to the issuance and execution of the warrant, Plaintiff was not given an opportunity to contest the propriety of the contempt determination; Plaintiff was not advised that a civil contempt hearing would be held on September 21, 2005 nor was she served with an order to show cause why the warrant for contempt should not issue.

Plaintiffs arrest took place in the marshals' office at the Caguas court. Upon such arrest, Co-defendant Sánchez-Muñoz instructed Co-defendant Rivera-Reyes, a deputy marshal at the Caguas court, to place Plaintiff in a holding cell. Once Plaintiff was in the holding cell, Codefendant Rivera-Reyes, acting pursuant to instructions received from Co-defendants Salazar-Napoleoni and Sánchez-Muñoz, ordered her to fully undress. Co-defendant Rivera-Reyes then went on to conduct a strip search and visual cavity inspection of Plaintiff. Because the holding cell where the search took place was visible from the marshals' office, several male marshals who were at the office were able to observe the search as it was conducted. It bears noting that Plaintiff was not a suspect of contraband or drug-dealing, nor were there any indications that she was a threat to herself or any other person.

During the search, Plaintiff was nervous; as a result thereof, she lost control of her bodily functions. Plaintiff was later taken to the afternoon court session, still soiled from the search and attendant consequences. There she obtained legal counsel who successfully argued for the withdrawal and vacation of the civil contempt order and arrest warrant. Unsurprisingly, as a result of these events, Plaintiff suffered emotional distress and mental anguish.

This lawsuit ensued. Plaintiff seeks redress in an amount of no less than $2,500,000 for Defendants' violations of her rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The named defendants are: (1) the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; (2) the General Court of Justice; (3) Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, the governor of Puerto Rico, in his personal and official capacity; (4) Federico Hernández-Denton, Chief Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, in his personal and official capacity; (5) Ivelise Salazar-Napoleoni, in her personal and official capacity; (6) Maribel Sánchez-Muñoz, in her personal and official capacity; and (7) Marta Rivera-Reyes, in her personal and official capacity.

Applicable Law and Analysis

Co-defendants Hernández-Denton and Salazar-Napoleoni move for dismissal of the complaint as to them, arguing that: (1) the Eleventh Amendment bars the claims against them in their official capacities; (2) in their personal capacities, they are entitled to judicial immunity; and (3) Plaintiff did not plead any cognizable § 1983 claim against either of the moving codefendants. We address each argument in turn.

I. Claims against moving Co-defendants in their official capacities

Co-defendants Salazar-Napoleoni and Hernández-Denton posit that the claims against them in their official capacities should be dismissed as barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State. U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. XI.

Despite the limited scope of the Amendment's text, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the Eleventh Amendment must be understood "to stand not so much for what it says, but for the presupposition ... which it confirms". Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (quoting Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 779, 111 S.Ct. 2578, 115 L.Ed.2d 686 (1991)). "That presupposition [...] has two parts: first, that each State is a sovereign entity in our federal system; and second, that lilt is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent.'" Id. (quoting Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890)). Stated succinctly, the general rule is that "the Constitution does not provide for federal jurisdiction over suits against nonconsenting States." Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 72-73, 120 S.Ct. 631, 145 L.Ed.2d 522 (2000).

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, along with the fifty states of the Union, is shielded by the Eleventh Amendment. See, Maysonet-Robles v. Cabrero, 323 F.3d at 48 n. 3, Jusino Mercado v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 214 F.3d 34, 39 (1st Cir.2000); Ortiz-Feliciano v. Toledo-Dávila, 175 F.3d 37, 39 (1st Cir. 1999).1 Furthermore, it is settled law that the protection afforded by the Amendment extends not only to the states themselves, but also to their instrumentalities and government officials acting in that capacity. See, Maysonet-Robles v. Cabrero, 323 F.3d 43, 48-49 (1st Cir.2003), Wojcik v. Mass. State Lottery Comm'n, 300 F.3d 92, 99 (1st Cir.2002).

Despite the Amendment's formidable protection, the state's sovereign immunity may be circumvented under some circumstances. In order to enforce compliance with federal law, the Federal Government can bring suit against a State in federal court. Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 71, n. 14, 116 S.Ct. 1114 (citing United States v. Texas, 143 U.S. 621, 644-645, 12 S.Ct. 488, 36 L.Ed. 285 (1892)). An individual may sue a state officer so as to "ensure that the officer's conduct is in compliance with federal law." Id. (citing Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908)). Additionally, a state may waive its immunity by consenting to suit, or Congress, in the exercise of its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, may authorize such suit. College Say. Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 119 S.Ct. 2219, 144 L.Ed.2d 605 (1999).

The Court finds the proposition that Co-defendants Salazar-Napoleoni and Hernández-Denton in their official capacities are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity remarkably uncontroversial. A suit against a government official in his official capacity is actually a suit against the entity for which the official works. Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-472, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985) ("... a judgment against a public servant `in his official capacity' imposes liability on the entity that he represents, provided ... the public entity received notice and an opportunity to respond."). As such, the official capacity claims against Co-defendant Salazar-Napoleoni, a Superior Court Judge, are really directed at the Court of First Instance. See, 4 P.R. Laws Ann. § 25b (Court of First Instance constituted by Superior Court Judges and Municipal Court Judges). By like token, official capacity claims against Co-defendant Hernández-Denton are claims against the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. See, 4 P.R. Laws Ann. §...

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