Martinez v. City of Rio Rancho, 1:14-cv-0841 RB/KBM

Citation197 F.Supp.3d 1294
Decision Date20 July 2016
Docket NumberNo. 1:14-cv-0841 RB/KBM,1:14-cv-0841 RB/KBM
Parties Mariah MARTINEZ, Plaintiff, v. The CITY OF RIO RANCHO, Defendant.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico

Colin Lambert Hunter, James E. Dory, Barnett Law Firm, P.A., Jason Bowles, Bowles Law Firm, Albuquerque, NM, for Plaintiff.

James P. Lyle, Law Offices of James P. Lyle P.C., Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT C. BRACK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

THIS MATTER came before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment to Dismiss All Remaining Claims. (Doc. 49.) Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Having considered the submissions of counsel and relevant law, the Court will GRANT the motion.

I. Background

On January 25, 2014, Plaintiff was driving in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, when she saw an oncoming vehicle that she thought had its high beam headlights turned on. Plaintiff flashed her headlights and sounded her horn to alert the other driver that she thought the vehicle's high beam headlights were turned on. The oncoming vehicle was a police patrol unit driven by Sergeant Brian Thacker of the Rio Rancho Police Department. The flashing lights and honking horn drew the attention of Sergeant Thacker. Additionally, Plaintiff's vehicle had a cracked rear taillight. After Sergeant Thacker initiated a traffic stop, he observed that Plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated. Subsequent test results established that Plaintiff's blood alcohol concentration was almost three times the legal limit. Sergeant Thacker arrested Plaintiff and charged her with aggravated driving while intoxicated, engaging in prohibited activities while driving, and driving with a broken taillight. Subsequently, Plaintiff's driver's license was revoked for driving while intoxicated and the criminal charges were dismissed.

On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court against Sergeant Thacker and the City of Rio Rancho, alleging that the traffic stop violated her constitutional rights. (Doc. 1.) Sergeant Thacker moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. (Doc. 10.) The Court granted the motion. (Doc. 18.) In its decision, the Court observed that Plaintiff had not challenged the constitutionality of the City of Rio Rancho's municipal ordinance that prohibits certain activities while driving. (Id. ) Thereafter, Plaintiff moved to amend her Complaint to drop her claims against Sergeant Thacker and allege that the ordinance violates the First Amendment. (Doc. 22-1.) The Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Amend her Complaint, finding that the proposed amendment would facilitate a decision on the merits. (Doc. 26.)

On April 22, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant City of Rio Rancho alleging that Rio Rancho Municipal Code Section 12-6-12.18(5) (hereinafter "Ordinance") is overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. (Doc 29.) The Ordinance states:

No person shall ... operate a motor vehicle's equipment, including but not limited to the vehicle horn or lights, in such manner as to distract other motorists on the public way or in such a manner as to disturb the peace.

Rio Rancho Mun. Code § 12-6-12.18(5).

In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff claims that the Ordinance chills her ability to exercise her First Amendment right of free speech by flashing her headlights or sounding her horn to convey messages to other motorists. (Doc. 29.) Plaintiff alleges both an as-applied and an overbreadth challenge to the Ordinance. (Id. ) Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. (Id. )

Plaintiff filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. 31.) The Court denied this motion on the grounds that Plaintiff's injuries were speculative, it was unclear whether the Ordinance restricts constitutionally-protected conduct, Plaintiff failed to establish irreparable harm, and Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the balance of equities and public interest weighed in her favor. (Doc. 36.)

Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all remaining claims, arguing that Plaintiff cannot show the Ordinance is substantially overbroad, Plaintiff cannot show that the Ordinance permits officers unfettered discretion, Plaintiff cannot show that the Ordinance regulates protected speech, Plaintiff cannot show irreparable harm,1 and the Ordinance promotes the significant public safety interests of preserving the safety of Defendant's roadways and maintaining the peace. (Doc. 49.) Plaintiff responds that the Ordinance is facially invalid, the Ordinance regulates protected speech, Plaintiff has standing to mount a facial challenge to the Ordinance, and the Ordinance is substantially overbroad. (Doc. 51.) In its reply, Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not meet her summary judgment burden, there is no specific case or controversy, Plaintiff's claims are not ripe, Plaintiff has not shown a risk of irreparable harm, and the authorities cited by Plaintiff do not support her premise. (Doc. 58.)

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the Court, viewing the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, determines that "there is no genuine dispute over a material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In cases where the moving party will not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of identifying an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

Once the moving party meets this burden, Rule 56(e)"requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,’ designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’ " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

In considering a summary judgment motion, the Court determines "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. , 477 U.S. 242, 251–52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Although the material submitted by the parties in support of and in opposition to the motion must be construed liberally in favor of the party opposing the motion, Taylor v. Roswell Indep. Sch. Dist. , 713 F.3d 25, 34 (10th Cir.2013), the burden on the moving party may be discharged by demonstrating to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex , 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. On summary judgment, the Court must view the record in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Taylor , 713 F.3d at 34.

III. Statement of Facts

On January 25, 2014, at approximately 9:41 p.m., Plaintiff was driving on Tulip Road in Rio Rancho when she saw an oncoming car she thought had its high beam headlights turned on. (Doc. 11-1, Martinez Aff. ¶¶ 3–4; Doc. 10-1, Thacker Aff. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff flashed her headlights and honked her horn to alert the other driver that she thought that the vehicle's high beam headlights were turned on. (Martinez Aff. ¶4; Thacker Aff ¶ 3.) The oncoming vehicle was a police patrol unit driven by Sergeant Thacker. (Thacker Aff. ¶¶ 1–2.) Plaintiff's actions attracted Sergeant Thacker's attention as she was continuously flashing her headlights and honking her horn. (Thacker Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 1.) The flashing lights and honking horn distracted Sergeant Thacker as he was driving. (Id. )

According to Defendant, as Plaintiff's vehicle passed Sergeant Thacker and Plaintiff slowed down for a stop sign, Sergeant Thacker noticed that Plaintiff's right rear taillight emitted a glaring white light and appeared to be broken. (Thacker Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 1.) Rio Rancho City Ordinance 12-10-1.7(D) prohibits any taillight from emitting a glaring or dazzling light as otherwise prohibited by N.M. Stat. Ann. § 66–3–828. (Id. )

Plaintiff acknowledges that her vehicle had a small crack in the passenger side taillight. (Martinez Aff. ¶ 11.) However, Plaintiff believes that given the crack's location, no oncoming car could have seen the crack. (Id. ) Plaintiff provided a photograph showing the rear of her vehicle from the driver's side and no taillight crack is visible from this vantage point. (Doc. 11-2, Ex. 2 at 2.) Based on this fact, Plaintiff argues that Sergeant Thacker could not have initiated the stop because of the broken taillight, because he would not have seen the crack until after he had already pulled her over. (Martinez Aff. ¶ 10.)

According to Plaintiff, Sergeant Thacker initiated the traffic stop because Plaintiff flashed her headlights and honked her horn. (Martinez Aff. ¶ 8.) After Plaintiff's arrest and before her license revocation hearing, Sergeant Thacker made statements indicating that he pulled over Plaintiff because she used her lights and honked her horn, not because of the crack in her taillight. (Thacker Aff. Ex. 1 at 2.) Plaintiff avers that the only reason Sergeant Thacker stopped her was because she communicated to Sergeant Thacker that he should check his high beam headlights. (Martinez Aff. ¶¶ 7–11.) This factual dispute is immaterial to the legal issues at hand, as the Court has determined that Sergeant Thacker is entitled to qualified immunity because he observed an arguable violation of the Ordinance. (Doc. 18.)

It is undisputed Sergeant Thacker initiated a traffic stop. (Thacker Aff. ¶¶ 3–4.) Sergeant Thacker asked Plaintiff why she was honking her horn and flashing her lights. (Thacker Aff. Ex. 1 at 2.) Plaintiff advised Sergeant Thacker that she thought his high beam...

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