Gutierrez v. Luna Cnty. Sheriff Raymond Cobos

Decision Date23 September 2014
Docket NumberCiv. No. 12-980 JH/GBW
PartiesANNA GUTIERREZ and PATSY FLORES, Plaintiffs, v. LUNA COUNTY SHERIFF RAYMOND COBOS, in his individual and official capacity; LUNA COUNTY SHERIFF DEPUTY GABRIEL MAYNES, DEPUTY MIKE EBY, DEPUTY TRINI GARCIA, DEPUTY JOSE OJEDA, DEPUTY ISRAEL SAENZ, Jr., in their individual and official capacities; LUNA COUNTY CENTRAL DISPATCH DIRECTOR MIRNA GRADO and DISPATCH EMPLOYEE LUHANA VILLALBA, in their individual and official capacities; LUNA COUNTY MANAGER JOHN SUTHERLAND, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the following motions: (I) Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave To Amend Complaint, attaching a "Second Amended Complaint" [Doc. 126]; (II) Defendant Sutherland's Motion To Dismiss Count IV [Doc. 58]; (III) Defendant Mirna Grado's Motion To Dismiss or for Summary Judgment [Doc. 56]; (IV) Defendant Villalba's Amended Motion To Dismiss for Failure To State a Claim [Doc. 91]; (V) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I, II, IV, V, VI, and VII of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [Doc. 85]; and Defendant Mirna Grado's Second Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 95]; (VI) Defendants' Motion To Strike [Doc. 99]; Plaintiffs' Motion To Amend Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I, II, IV, V, VI and VII [Doc. 103]; Defendants' Motion To Strike Plaintiffs'Motion To Amend Response (Doc. 103) [Doc. 105]; Plaintiffs' Motion To Exceed Page Limit for Exhibits and for Plaintiffs' Response to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment [Doc. 104]; and Defendants' Motion To Strike Plaintiffs' Motion To Exceed Page Limit (Doc. 104) [Doc. 107]; and (VII) Plaintiffs' Motion and Memorandum in Support of Counsel's Affidavit To Allow Discovery Pursuant to Rule 56(d) [Doc. 80]; and Plaintiffs' Third Motion and Memorandum in Support of Counsel's Affidavit To Allow Discovery Pursuant to Rule 56(d) [Doc. 113].

BACKGROUND

The incident giving rise to this case occurred on July 4, 2009. Plaintiff Gutierrez was charged in state court with two felonies and four misdemeanors: Aggravated fleeing, Battery on a peace officer, Failure to maintain traffic lane, Careless driving, Concealing identity, and DWI. [Doc. 52, ¶ 48] The DWI charge was dismissed at a preliminary hearing by a State of New Mexico Magistrate Court Judge for lack of probable cause. [Doc. 52, ¶ 107] On March 31, 2011, the state filed a nolle prosequi dismissing the remaining charges. [Doc. 52, ¶ 105]

Almost three years after the incident, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Sixth Judicial District Court for the State of New Mexico. [Doc. 1-1] The case was removed to this Court on September 19, 2012. [Doc. 1]

The Court gave Plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint five and one-half months after removal to federal court. [Doc. 51] See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Plaintiffs filed the First Amended Complaint [hereinafter "FAC"] on March 6, 2013. [Doc. 52]

LEGAL STANDARDS

"The correct standard for reviewing a motion to dismiss in a qualified-immunity case is the same as for dismissals generally." Archuleta v. Wagner, 523 F.3d 1278, 1281 (10th Cir. 2008). The court assesses the legal sufficiency of the allegations contained within the four corners of the complaint. Id. Rule 8 requires the complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). All well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true; these facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and all reasonable inferences must be allowed in favor of the plaintiff. Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283; Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank, 226 F.3d 1138, 1160 (10th Cir. 2000) (motion under Rule 12(c) "is treated as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)" and same standard applies). These standards apply only to well-pleaded facts, however; legal conclusions and conclusory allegations do not merit any deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283. The court does not accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

The complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations," but the factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must go beyond "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory statements unsupported by factual allegations are not sufficient. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991); see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (stating that "'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement'" are not sufficient (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557)). The Tenth Circuit stated that the Twombly Court sought to "find a middle ground between 'heightened fact pleading,' which is expressly rejected," and"allowing complaints that are no more than 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action,'" which are insufficient.1 Robbins v. Okla., 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 555).

The allegations of fact must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Looking within the four corners of the complaint, the Court determines whether there are "sufficient facts, taken as true, to provide 'plausible grounds' that discovery will reveal evidence to support the plaintiff's allegations." Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1281, 1283 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Tenth Circuit observed that "plausible" cannot mean "likely to be true," but "must refer to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs 'have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The allegations must be enough that, if assumed to be true, the plaintiff plausibly (not just speculatively) has a claim for relief." Id. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. In addition to weeding out claims lacking a reasonable prospect of success, the requirement of plausibility serves to inform the defendant of the actual grounds of the claim. Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1248.

"Qualified immunity is designed to shield public officials from liability and ensure 'that erroneous suits do not even go to trial.'" Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531, 1534 (10th Cir.1995). In addition, qualified immunity is designed to prevent government officials from facing the other burdens of litigation. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 672. The Supreme Court "has directed the lower federal courts to apply qualified immunity broadly, to protect from civil liability for damages all officers except 'the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law,'" so that officers "might not be unduly 'inhibit[ed] . . . in performing their official duties.'" Wilson v. City of Lafayette, 510 Fed. Appx. 775, 780 (10th Cir. 2013) (unpublished)2 (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986), and Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1127 (10th Cir. 2001)). "The Twombly standard may have greater bite in [qualified immunity cases], appropriately reflecting the special interest in resolving the affirmative defense of qualified immunity 'at the earliest possible stage of a litigation.'" Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1249 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 646 n.6 (1987)).

To survive a motion to dismiss based on a claim of qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears a "heavy two-part burden." Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283. "First, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's actions violated a constitutional or statutory right." Id. § 1983 creates no substantive rights, but "merely provides 'a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). The validity of a claimed constitutional violation is judged "by reference to the specific constitutional standard which governs that right." Id. at 394. The second part of the plaintiff's burden is to "show that the constitutional or statutory rights the defendant allegedly violated were clearly established at the time of the conduct at issue." Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283. The "'contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.'" Albright, 51 F.3d at 1535 (quoting Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640). A plaintiff can carry his burden of showing that aright is clearly established by citing Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit cases on point, or by demonstrating that the weight of authority from other circuits shows the right to be clearly established. Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283; Albright, 51 F.3d at 1535. If the plaintiff fails to carry either part of this two-part burden, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283. If the complaint fails to properly allege a violation of a constitutional or statutory right, the court need not reach the question of whether the law was "clearly established." Butler v. Rio Rancho Pub. Sch. Bd. of Educ., 341 F.3d 1197, 1200 (10th Cir. 2003).

I. Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave To Amend Complaint [Doc. 126]

The Court first considers Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave To Amend Complaint. [Doc. 126] Plaintiffs attached a "Second Amended Complaint" [hereinafter "SAC"]. [Doc. 126-1] Defendants filed a response, arguing that the motion should be denied as untimely, dilatory, and prejudicial. [Doc. 127] Plaintiffs have filed no reply, and the time permitted has passed. The Court...

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