Morales v. Puerto Rico, Crim. No. 15-1096 (GAG)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtGUSTAVO A. GELPI United States District Judge
Docket NumberCrim. No. 15-1096 (GAG)
PartiesJOSE B. DIAZ MORALES, Plaintiff, v. COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO et. al, Defendants.
Decision Date11 August 2015

al, Defendants.

Crim. No. 15-1096 (GAG)


August 11, 2015


On February 3, 2015, Plaintiff José B. Díaz filed a pro se complaint in this court against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Police Department ("PRPD"), and agent Adriel Jiménez Rivera ("Rivera"), alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights pursuant to § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Docket No. 1.) Plaintiff claims that the defendants violated his rights when Rivera shot him in his left arm following a confrontation between Plaintiff and another person at the Centro Medico Rio Piedras train station in San Juan. (Id.) On March 20, 2015, this court issued an Order that summarily dismissed Plaintiff's claim for damages against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Police Department, reasoning that the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution precludes such suits for damages in federal courts. (See Docket No. 5.) As such, only Plaintiff's claim against agent Adriel Jiménez Rivera survived. (Id.)

Thereafter, on March 23, 2015, the court appointed pro bono counsel for Plaintiff pursuant to Local Rule 83(L). (Docket Nos. 7 and 10.) Four months later, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the court's Order at Docket No. 5, in which it dismissed the Commonwealth and Puerto Rico Police Department from this case. (Docket No. 23.) In his motion presently before

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the court, Plaintiff argues that recent cases by the First Circuit and Puerto Rico Supreme Court have significantly eroded the established First Circuit case law which holds that Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity applies to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (Docket No. 23 at 8-15.) The recent cases that Plaintiff highlights respectfully hold that that the Tenth Amendment does not apply to the Commonwealth and that the same is not a dual sovereign for double jeopardy purposes. See Franklin California Tax-Free v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, ___ F.3d ___, No. 15-1218, 2015 WL 4079422 at *14 (1st Cir. June 6, 2015) ("[t]he limits of the Tenth Amendment do not apply to Puerto Rico, which is 'constitutionally a territory,'") (emphasis in original); Pueblo v. Sánchez Valle, No. 2013-68, 2015 TSPR 25, 2015 WL 1317010 at 2 (P.R. Mar. 20, 2015) ("pursuant to the constitutional protection against double jeopardy, and because Puerto Rico is not a federal state, a person who has been acquitted, convicted or prosecuted in federal court cannot be prosecuted for the same offense in the Puerto Rico courts") (official translation). Using these cases as support, Plaintiff contrasts the immunity granted to the States by the common-law doctrine of sovereign immunity and the immunity created by the Eleventh Amendment, arguing that although Puerto Rico enjoys the former, recent developments in the law reveals that it is no longer is entitled to the latter. (Docket No. 23 at 10-15.)

Upon reviewing Plaintiff's submission and the pertinent law along with the history of the unique relationship between the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the court DENIES the Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration at Docket No. 23.

I. Standard of Review

A motion for reconsideration cannot be used as a vehicle to re-litigate matters already litigated and decided by the court. Villanueva-Mendez v. Vazquez, 360 F. Supp. 2d 320, 322 (D.P.R. 2005). It is also a long-standing rule that motions for reconsideration cannot be used to

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bring forth new arguments. See Nat'l Metal Finishing Co., Inc. v. Barclays Am./Commercial, Inc., 899 F.2d 119, 123 (1st Cir. 1990) (holding that motions for reconsideration may not be used "to repeat old arguments previously considered and rejected, or to raise new legal theories that should have been raised earlier"). These motions are entertained by courts if they seek to correct manifest errors of law or fact, present newly discovered evidence, or when there is an intervening change in law. See Rivera Surillo & Co. v. Falconer Glass. Indus. Inc., 37 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 1994).

Accordingly, for a motion for reconsideration to be granted, the court recognizes only three possible grounds: "(1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available, and (3) the need to correct a clear error of law." See Torres v. Gonzalez, 980 F. Supp. 2d 143, 147 (D.P.R. 2013). "In practice, because of the narrow purposes for which they are intended, Rule 59(e) motions typically are denied." 11 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1 (2d ed.) (2012); Rivera v. Meléndez, 291 F.R.D. 21, 23 (D.P.R. 2013) (denying motion for reconsideration when "plaintiff's clear intention is to achieve yet another bite at the apple, and continue this litigation by ignoring and/or refusing this Court's ruling").

II. Discussion

The court finds that it need not correct any manifest error of law despite the recent developments in the law, nor is re-litigation of the same issue already analyzed in forming its Order at Docket No. 5 warranted. Nevertheless, the court will address Plaintiff's arguments, more so because the same are now raised by pro bono counsel in an elaborate manner.

In moving for reconsideration, Plaintiff argues that there is a difference between common-law sovereign immunity and the immunity granted by the Eleventh Amendment. (Docket No. 23 at 10-12.) He then recognizes that for decades the United States Supreme Court and First Circuit

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have held that Puerto Rico enjoys common-law sovereign immunity from private suit, and did so even before the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1952. (Id.) Plaintiff further emphasizes that the First Circuit has expressly held that Puerto Rico enjoys the shelter of Eleventh Amendment immunity just like the States, although the Supreme Court has never opined on this matter. (Id. at 11-12.) He then argues that in light of recent precedent, Puerto Rico is no longer a dual sovereign with respect to the United States and its powers are not those reserved to the States, but those specifically granted to it by Congress. (Id. at 12-14.) As such, Plaintiff posits that because Puerto Rico is no longer recognized as a sovereign entity, but rather is a mere territory of the United States, it cannot enjoy the rights specifically reserved to the States under the Eleventh Amendment. (Id. 13-15.) Therefore, Plaintiff argues that the intervening change in the law requires this court to reconsider its Order at Docket No. 5.

A. Sovereign Immunity and the Eleventh Amendment Generally

Since before the ratification of the United States Constitution, the States have enjoyed immunity from private suits. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 713, 119 S. Ct. 2240, 144 L. Ed. 2d 636 (1999). This fundamental principle of sovereignty has its roots in English common law, which holds that the Crown cannot be sued without consent in its own courts. Id. (citing Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, 437-446, 1 L. Ed. 440 (1793)); Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 414, 99 S. Ct. 1182, 59 L. Ed. 2d 416 (1979) ("The immunity of a truly independent sovereign from suit in its own courts has been enjoyed as a matter of absolute right for centuries. Only the sovereign's own consent could qualify the absolute character of that immunity."). The States' immunity from private suit is grounded upon "a defining feature of our Nation's constitutional blueprint," that being the principle of dual sovereignty. Fed. Mar. Comm'n v. S. Carolina State Ports Auth., 535 U.S. 743, 751, 122 S. Ct. 1864, 152 L. Ed. 2d 962 (2002). As such, upon ratification of the

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Constitution, the States "did not consent to become mere appendages of the Federal Government." Id.

Although, the Supreme Court now recognizes that the ratification of the Constitution "did not disturb States' immunity from private suits, thus firmly enshrining this principle in our constitutional framework," Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 535 U.S. at 752, this immunity "fell into peril in the early days of our Nation's history when [the Supreme Court] held in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, 1 L. Ed. 440 (1793), that Article III authorized citizens of one State to sue another State in federal court." Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 535 U.S. at 752. The Chisholm Court took a literal reading of Article III to mean that the Founders intended to permit a citizen of one state to sue a different state in federal court. Id. After all, the language does allow for cases "between a State and a citizen of another State." U.S. CONST. art. III., § 2.

The Court's decision "fell upon the country with profound shock," and, a result, Congress passed the Eleventh Amendment in a remarkably quick fashion, followed by the States' ratification with the same haste. See Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 535 U.S. at 752-53. In promulgating the Eleventh Amendment, Congress clarified that "[t]he 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. Const. amend. XI. Since then, the Supreme Court has recognized repeatedly that Chisholm...

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