Wilson v. Montano et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by District Judge Kenneth J. Gonzales granting 125 Defendant Joe Stidham's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief can be Granted and for Summary Judgment on Grounds of Qualified Immunity. (tah)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
MICHAEL WILSON, SR., et al.,
DEPUTY LAWRENCE MONTANO, et al.,
Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY
Civ. No. 11-951 KG/SCY
Civ. No. 11-1021 KG/SCY
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Joseph Vaughn’s1 Motion to Dismiss
for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted and for Summary Judgment on
Grounds of Qualified Immunity and Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof (Motion), 2 filed
August 20, 2015. (Doc. 125)3. Sarrett Plaintiffs filed a response4 on September 18, 2015, and
Stidham filed a reply on October 2, 2015. (Docs. 138 and 141). Having considered the Motion,
the accompanying briefs, and the relevant evidence, the Court grants the Motion.
Defendant Vaughn was formerly known as Joe Stidham. Because Plaintiffs Dustin Sarrett,
Oscar Leyva, Mark Sanchez, and Patrick Marquez (Sarrett Plaintiffs), Plaintiffs in Civ. No. 111021 KG/SCY, named Joe Stidham as a Defendant, and documents refer to “Joe Stidham,” the
Court will, likewise, refer to Vaughn as “Stidham.”
Stidham failed to comply with D.N.M. LR-Cv 7.1(a)’s concurrence requirement when he filed
the Motion. See Local Rule 7.1(a) (“a motion that omits recitation of a good-faith request for
concurrence may be summarily denied.”). Since Sarrett Plaintiffs would not have concurred
with the Motion, they are not prejudiced by Stidham’s failure to comply with Local Rule 7.1(a).
In the interest of justice, the Court will, therefore, decide the Motion on the merits.
Unless otherwise noted, citations to the record and pleadings refer to docket entries in Civ. No.
Sarrett Plaintiffs argue, inter alia, that the Motion is premature, because discovery has not
begun. (Doc. 138) at 6-7. Sarrett Plaintiffs, however, do not seek to defer ruling on the Motion
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). Having failed to seek relief under Rule 56(d), the Court will not
consider Sarrett Plaintiffs’ argument that the Motion is premature.
The Plaintiffs in these three consolidated cases, the Wilson, Ortiz, and Sarrett cases,
allege that in 2010 various law enforcement officers within Valencia County arrested them and
others similarly situated without warrants and booked them into the Valencia County Detention
Center (VCDC). Plaintiffs allege that VCDC wardens held Plaintiffs and others without criminal
charges having been filed by the officers or probable cause determinations having been made by
the magistrate courts.
1. Claims Relevant to the Motion
Sarrett Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Class Action Complaint against, inter alia,
Bosque Farms Police Department (BFPD) John Doe officers, BFPD Officer Steven Roberts, and
former BFPD Chief of Police Stidham. Sarrett Plaintiff Mark Sanchez alleges that Defendant
Roberts arrested him on July 1, 2010, without a warrant, for misdemeanor crimes and booked
him into VCDC that same day. (Doc. 5), filed in Civ. No. 11-1021 KG/SCY, at ¶¶ 84 -86.
Plaintiff Sanchez asserts that although Defendant Roberts wrote a criminal complaint prior to
booking Plaintiff Sanchez into VCDC, Defendant Roberts did not file a criminal complaint at the
time of the booking, or at any time during Plaintiff Sanchez’s detention at VCDC, which ended
on July 8, 2010. Id. at ¶¶ 86, 87, and 88. Plaintiff Sanchez further asserts that at no time during
that detention did Defendant John Doe booking officer arrange to take him before a judge for a
probable cause determination. Id. at ¶¶ 89 and 95. Finally, Plaintiff Sanchez alleges that
Defendant John Doe booking officer did not release him from VCDC “when it became apparent
no charges were filed.” Id. at ¶ 96. In Count I of the First Amended Class Action Complaint,
Sarrett Plaintiffs bring a Section 1983 claim against Defendant Roberts, in his individual
capacity for violating the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for “a prompt probable cause
determination by an impartial judge.” Id. at ¶¶ 23, 31, and 120. Generally, a probable cause
determination is sufficiently prompt if it occurs within 48 hours of an arrest. Cty. of Riverside v.
McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 56 (1991).
In Count IX of the First Amended Class Action Complaint, Sarrett Plaintiffs allege that
Stidham, in his individual and official capacities as BFPD Chief of Police, “established a policy
or custom of allowing officers to arrest people and wait before filing charges,” and that this
policy or custom “in some circumstances … resulted in the arrest and detention of citizens with
charges never being filed.” Id. at ¶¶ 211 and 212. Sarrett Plaintiffs also allege that Stidham
failed to train and supervise his staff not to violate the Fourth Amendment5 by arresting citizens
who would “routinely [be] incarcerated without pending charges.” Id. at ¶¶ 213 and 216. Sarrett
Plaintiffs further contend that Stidham acted with deliberate indifference to violations of the
Fourth Amendment and that his policy “was a significant moving force behind” the illegal
detentions. Id. at ¶ 214 and 218. These allegations substantially mirror Plaintiff Michael
Wilson, Sr.’s allegations against former Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera in the Wilson case.
(Doc. 1-1) at ¶¶ 61-72.
2. Facts Relevant to the Motion
a. Stidham’s Affidavit
Stidham was BFPD Chief of Police from July 2003 to May 10, 2010, prior to Plaintiff
Sanchez’s alleged unlawful detention in July 2010. (Doc. 125-1) at ¶ 3. While Stidham was
BFPD Chief of Police, officers were trained “to file criminal complaints immediately after
making warrantless arrests.” Id. at ¶ 4. To the best of Stidham’s knowledge, BFPD officers
The Court notes that although Count IX originally included references to violations of the Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendments, the Court has dismissed the claims based on those alleged
violations. (Doc. 159).
acted in accordance with that training. Id. at ¶ 5. Moreover, while Stidham was BFPD Chief of
Police, he was not “made aware of any instance where a Bosque Farms Police Officer failed to
promptly file a criminal complaint after making a warrantless arrest.” Id. at ¶ 6.
b. Correspondence to Stidham
Valencia County magistrate judges sent a letter dated November 28, 2007, to law
enforcement officials, including Stidham, stating that it came to their attention that VCDC “does
not require a Criminal Complaint/Probable Cause Statement at the time of intake to the facility.”
(Doc. 126-3) at 6. That failure on the part of VCDC apparently became a problem over the
Thanksgiving weekend. Id. The magistrate judges noted that they could not make probable
cause determinations within 48 hours after custody commences, as required by Rule 6-203,
NMRA 1998, without probable cause statements and criminal complaints being “filed” at the
time of intake at VCDC. Id. Consequently, the magistrate judges asked the law enforcement
officials to instruct their officers “to file the probable cause statement, at the very least, if not the
full criminal complaint at the time of intake.” Id. The magistrate judges also noticed that “many
complaints take several days to get” filed in magistrate court. Id.
In a letter dated July 8, 2008, Sarrett Defendant former VCDC warden Derek Williams
wrote to law enforcement officials, including Stidham, that officers must present a criminal
complaint and a statement of probable cause to VCDC’s records department at the time of intake
or the defendant will not be processed. (Doc. 126-3) at 9. Defendant Williams explained that
the purpose of this requirement is “to ensure that defendants are afforded due process under the
law, to facilitate a probable cause determination and reduce Valencia County’s exposure to
liability.” Id. Defendant Williams decided to write this letter after receiving the magistrate
judges’ November 28, 2007, letter and after it came to Defendant Williams’ “attention that some
law enforcement personnel was [sic] not leaving the criminal complaints and the probable cause
statement at the detention center for each and every detainee.” Id. at 3, ¶ 14.
c. Plaintiffs’ Research
Plaintiffs employed Alejandra Quijano to research the filing of untimely criminal
complaints in Valencia County magistrate courts. She produced a list of felony, DWI, and
misdemeanor cases “filed between November 2008 and November 2011 in Los Lunas and Belen
magistrate courts where complaints were filed more than 48 hours after the listed charge date.”
(Doc. 134-9) at 2, ¶ 10. Quijano located “1075 cases where the criminal complaint was filed
more than 48 hours after the charge date.” Id. at ¶ 11. Sarrett Plaintiffs acknowledge that some
of those cases did not involve arrests. (Doc. 138) at 4, ¶ b.
d. Affidavits by Magistrate Court Managers
Teresa Chavez, the Belen magistrate court manager since June 2008, observed that law
enforcement agencies, including BFPD, failed to file criminal complaints within 48 hours of an
arrest. (Doc. 129-1) at 1, ¶¶ 1-4. Chavez noted that this failure to file timely criminal
complaints “happened frequently until sometime in 2011, when a procedure was put in place.”
Id. at ¶ 5. In fact, the clerks at the Belen magistrate court called the records departments of the
law enforcement agencies about the failure to file criminal complaints. Id. at ¶ 7.
Carla Gonzales, the Los Lunas magistrate court manager from the early 1990’s until
2013, also observed that law enforcement agencies, including BFPD, frequently failed to file
timely criminal complaints. (Doc. 129-2) at 1, ¶¶ 1-5. Gonzales further stated that “there was at
least one meeting held with the judges, the various law enforcement agency representatives, and
VCDC administrators prior to 2011 discussing the frequency of this problem and the need to stop
this practice.” Id. at 2, ¶ 15.
B. The Motion
Stidham argues first that the Court should dismiss Count IX of Sarrett Plaintiffs’ First
Amended Class Action Complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), because Stidham is entitled to
qualified immunity on the individual capacity claims, and Sarrett Plaintiffs fail to state plausible
official capacity claims against him. Second, Stidham argues, in the alternative, that the Court
should grant him summary judgment on Count IX under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), because he is,
once again, entitled to qualified immunity on the individual capacity claims, and to summary
judgment on the official capacity claims.
1. The Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded
allegations as true and must view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Zinermon
v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990); Swanson v. Bixler, 750 F.2d 810, 813 (10th Cir.1984). Rule
12(b)(6) requires that a complaint set forth the grounds of a plaintiff's entitlement to relief
through more than labels, conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim of
relief. Id. at 570. A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads facts sufficient for the court
to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
a. Individual Capacity Claims
Like Stidham, Defendant former Sheriff Rivera moved in the Wilson case to dismiss
individual capacity claims, claims almost identical to the individual capacity claims brought
against Stidham, on the basis of qualified immunity. In May 2013, the Tenth Circuit upheld the
Court’s decision to deny Defendant former Sheriff Rivera’s motion to dismiss. Wilson v.
Montano, 715 F.3d 847, 859-60 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 426 (2013). Because the
Tenth Circuit upheld the Court’s decision to deny a motion to dismiss individual capacity claims
almost identical to those brought against Stidham, the Court is compelled for the reasons stated
by the Tenth Circuit to, likewise, deny Stidham’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the Count IX
individual capacity claims on the basis of qualified immunity.
b. Official Capacity Claims
Suing an individual in his official capacity is essentially the same as suing a municipality.
Arden v. McIntosh, 622 F. App'x 707, 712 n.3 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Porro v. Barnes, 624
F.3d 1322, 1328 (10th Cir. 2010)). Therefore, the Court applies the municipal liability standard
to assess an official capacity claim. Id. (citing Porro, 624 F.3d at 1328)). To state a claim for
municipal liability, a plaintiff must allege the existence of (1) an official policy or custom; (2) a
direct causal link between the policy or custom and the constitutional injury alleged; and (3)
deliberate indifference on the part of the municipality. Schneider v. City of Grand Junction
Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 769 (10th Cir. 2013).
A plaintiff may allege the existence of a municipal policy or custom in the form of (1) an
officially promulgated policy; (2) an informal custom amounting to a widespread practice; (3)
the decisions of employees with final policymaking authority; (4) the ratification by final
policymakers of the decisions of their subordinates; or (5) the failure to adequately train or
supervise employees. Bryson v. City of Oklahoma City, 627 F.3d 784, 788 (10th Cir. 2010). A
plaintiff must also allege that the municipality is the “moving force” behind the constitutional
violation. Smedley v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 175 Fed.Appx. 943, 946 (10th Cir.2005); City of
Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (“It is only when the ‘execution of the
government's policy or custom...inflicts the injury’ that the municipality may be held liable under
§ 1983.”). Furthermore, “where the policy relied upon is not itself unconstitutional, considerably
more proof than the single incident will be necessary in every case to establish both the requisite
fault on the part of the municipality, and the causal connection between the ‘policy’ and the
constitutional deprivation.” City of Okla. City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 (1985). In addition,
[t]he deliberate indifference standard may be satisfied when the municipality has actual
or constructive notice that its action or failure to act is substantially certain to result in a
constitutional violation, and it consciously or deliberately chooses to disregard the risk of
harm. In most instances, notice can be established by proving the existence of a pattern
of tortious conduct. In a narrow range of circumstances, however, deliberate indifference
may be found absent a pattern of unconstitutional behavior if a violation of federal rights
is a highly predictable or plainly obvious consequence of a municipality's action or
Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1307-08 (10th Cir.1998). Deliberate indifference for
municipal liability purposes is evaluated from an objective standpoint. Id. at 1308 n. 5.
Viewing the First Amended Class Action Complaint in the light most favorable to Sarrett
Plaintiffs, the Court can reasonably infer from the complaint that the municipal policy or custom
at issue takes the form of Stidham’s alleged failure to adequately train or supervise BFPD
officers on filing timely criminal complaints. See (Doc. 5), filed in Civ. No. 11-1021 KG/SCY,
at ¶¶ 213, 215-17. Sarrett Plaintiffs also clearly allege that this policy or custom to not
adequately train or supervise BFPD officers was the “moving force” behind the violation of
Plaintiff Sanchez’s Fourth Amendment rights, which Sarrett Plaintiffs contend encompasses
Plaintiff Sanchez’s right to a prompt probable cause determination. See id. at ¶¶ 211-12, 216-18.
However, Sarrett Plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that the policy or custom not to
train or supervise BFPD officers on filing timely criminal complaints constitutes a facially
unconstitutional policy so that a single incident, the incident alleged by Plaintiff Sanchez, is
enough to show a causal connection between that policy or custom and the deprivation of the
right to a prompt probable cause determination. As the Court discussed in another Memorandum
Opinion and Order (Doc. 158), the filing of a timely criminal complaint “is distinct from”
ensuring a prompt probable cause determination under the Fourth Amendment. See United
States v. Bueno-Vargas, 383 F.3d 1104, 1107-08 (9th Cir. 2004). Hence, a policy or custom not
to train or supervise BFPD officers to file timely criminal complaints does not necessarily
translate to a policy or custom not to train or supervise BFPD officers to otherwise ensure
prompt probable cause determinations. Consequently, Sarrett Plaintiffs cannot rely on only one
incident to demonstrate causation.
Finally, Sarrett Plaintiffs also do not sufficiently allege deliberate indifference based on a
single incident, because it is not “highly predictable” or “plainly obvious” that failing to train or
supervise BFPD officers on filing timely criminal complaints will result in a violation of the
right to a prompt probable cause determination. In other words, failing to train or supervise
BFPD officers on filing timely criminal complaints does not mean that it is “highly predictable”
or “plainly obvious” that those officers will not otherwise ensure prompt probable cause
determinations. Sarrett Plaintiffs, thus, cannot rely on a single incident to show deliberate
For the above reasons, the Court concludes that Sarrett Plaintiffs have not pled plausible
official capacity claims against Stidham. Accordingly, the Court grants the Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss the Count IX official capacity claims against Stidham and will dismiss those claims
2. The Rule 56(a) Motion for Summary Judgment: Individual Capacity Claims and
When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of a qualified immunity
defense, the Court “still view[s] the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and
resolve[s] all factual disputes and reasonable inferences in its favor.” Estate of Booker v. Gomez,
745 F.3d 405, 411 (10th Cir. 2014). Unlike other affirmative defenses, the plaintiff bears the
burden of overcoming the defense of qualified immunity. Id. At the summary judgment stage,
the Court “must grant qualified immunity unless the plaintiff can show (1) a reasonable jury
could find facts supporting a violation of a constitutional right, which (2) was clearly established
at the time of the defendant’s conduct.” Id. The Court may in its discretion decide which of the
two-parts of the qualified immunity test to address first. Id. at 412.
To hold a supervisor individually liable under Section 1983, a plaintiff must establish
three elements: (1) personal involvement, (2) causation, and (3) the requisite mental state. See
Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 435 (10th Cir. 2014). At a minimum, to demonstrate
the requisite mental state, a plaintiff must establish “a deliberate and intentional act on the part of
the supervisor to violate the plaintiff’s legal rights.” Wilson, 715 F.3d at 858. Precisely what
state of mind is required for individual liability depends on the type of claim a plaintiff brings.
Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 769 (10th Cir. 2013). In this
case, the Court previously noted that it is not clear whether a deliberate indifference or
recklessness state of mind applies.6 (Doc. 98) at 7-8. “‘[D]eliberate indifference’ is a stringent
standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious
consequence of his action.” Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty., Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397,
Sarrett Plaintiffs do not dispute that it is unclear whether to apply a deliberate indifference or
recklessness state of mind standard.
410 (1997). “[R]eckless intent is established if the actor was aware of a known or obvious risk
that was so great that it was highly probable that serious harm would follow and he or she
proceeded in conscious and unreasonable disregard of the consequences.” Medina v. City &
Cnty. of Denver, 960 F.2d 1493, 1496 (10th Cir. 1992).
Sarrett Plaintiffs only argue that Stidham had the requisite mental state to be held
personally liable under Section 1983. The question, then, under the Fourth Amendment is
whether Stidham knew or should have known that his actions would result in the denial of
Plaintiff Sanchez’s right to a prompt probable cause determination, not whether Stidham knew or
should have known of untimely filed criminal complaints. The majority of Sarrett Plaintiffs’
evidence, such as the affidavits from the magistrate court managers and Quijano’s research,
however, concern the filing of criminal complaints, not whether arrestees received prompt
probable cause determinations. Moreover, the November 28, 2007, letter from the magistrate
judges, and the July 8, 2008, letter from former Warden Williams reflect conditions two or three
years before the arrest of Plaintiff Sanchez in 2010. Those letters also concern what
documentation to provide at the time of booking and the timely filing of criminal complaints,
issues “distinct from” whether Stidham trained and supervised Defendant Roberts and other
officers to ensure prompt probable cause determinations.
In sum, the Court concludes that Sarrett Plaintiffs have not provided facts from which a
reasonable jury could find that Stidham knew that his actions would result in the 2010
deprivation of Plaintiff Sanchez’s Fourth Amendment right to a prompt probable cause
determination, or that Stidham was aware that his actions created an obvious risk so great that it
was highly probable that Plaintiff Sanchez’s Fourth Amendment right to a prompt probable
cause determination would be violated. Sarrett Plaintiffs, therefore, have failed to present
sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Stidham acted with either
deliberate indifference or reckless disregard toward the Fourth Amendment right of Plaintiff
Sanchez to a prompt probable cause determination. Thus, Sarrett Plaintiffs have not carried their
burden of showing that a reasonable jury could find Stidham liable under Section 1983 in his
individual capacity. As such, Stidham is entitled to qualified immunity on the individual
capacity claims and so is entitled to summary judgment on those claims.
IT IS ORDERED that
1. Defendant Joe Stidham’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which
Relief can be Granted and for Summary Judgment on Grounds of Qualified Immunity and
Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof (Doc. 125) is granted;
2. the Section 1983 official capacity claims against Stidham raised in Count IX of Sarrett
Plaintiffs’ First Amended Class Action Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice;
3. summary judgment will be entered in favor of Stidham on the Count IX Section 1983
individual capacity claims;
4. those individual capacity claims will be dismissed with prejudice; and
5. Stidham will be terminated as a Defendant in the Sarrett lawsuit, Civ. No. 11-1021
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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