Martinez v. Brown et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 37 Opposed MOTION for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity by Chief Judge M. Christina Armijo. (vv)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
GARY J. MARTINEZ
JASON C. BROWN, individually
and in his official capacity with the
Albuquerque Police Department;
CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE,
a municipal entity organized under
the laws of the STATE OF NEW MEXICO,
and its Subsidiary, the ALBUQUERQUE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion [for] Summary
Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity, filed August 29, 2016. [Doc. 37] This Court
has considered the Motion, the briefs, the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed.
For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ Motion.
The following facts are undisputed. The events underlying this lawsuit were
precipitated by a report to the Albuquerque Police Department that Plaintiff had crashed
his vehicle into the center median at an intersection.
[Doc. 37 ¶¶ 1-2; Ex. C.]
Albuquerque Police Officer Jerry Arnold was the first officer to arrive on the scene.
[Doc. 37 ¶ 1; Ex. A-1] Officer Arnold found Plaintiff sitting in the driver’s seat of his
vehicle with the door open. [Doc. 37 ¶¶ 1-3; Doc. 37-1 ¶¶ 5-6] When Officer Arnold
asked Plaintiff how much he had been drinking, Plaintiff replied “not much.” [Doc. 37 ¶
4; Ex. A-1] Later, Plaintiff told the officer that he had not been drinking and later still, he
told the officer that the last time he had a drink was in the afternoon. [Id.] Plaintiff’s
answers to Officer Arnold’s other questions were given in slurred speech, and were
uncertain—for example Plaintiff said that he did not know where he was, and he stated
that he was headed “nowhere.” [Doc. 37 ¶ 5; Doc. 37-1 ¶¶ 9-10; Ex. A-1] After Plaintiff
told Officer Arnold that he was not injured and that he did not need an ambulance,
Officer Arnold informed the EMTs who had arrived on the scene that they were not
needed. [Doc. 37 ¶ 6; Doc. 37-1 ¶ 11; Ex. A-1; see Doc. 44 p. 3, ¶ 3] Based upon his
observations, which he construed as signs of impairment, Officer Arnold requested a
DWI unit. [Doc. 37 ¶ 8; Doc. 37-1 ¶ 13]
Officer Jason Brown, one of the Defendants in this matter, responded to the
request of a DWI unit. [Doc. 37 ¶ 10; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 4] When Officer Brown arrived,
Plaintiff was standing outside of his vehicle speaking with Officer Arnold. [Doc. 37 ¶
11; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 5] Officer Arnold told Officer Brown that Plaintiff was “probably
intoxicated.” [Doc. 44 ¶ 4; Ex. A-1] Officer Brown noticed an inoperable ignition
interlock device on the driver’s side floor of Plaintiff’s vehicle. [Doc. 37 ¶ 11; Doc. 37-2
¶ 6; Ex. B-1] When Officer Brown questioned Plaintiff, Plaintiff gave varying and
conflicting answers in response to questions regarding his alcohol consumption—stating
first that he had a beer in the afternoon and subsequently stating that he had a beer the
previous day. [Doc. 37 ¶13; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 8; Ex. B-1] Plaintiff also gave conflicting
answers regarding his intended destination—stating that he was going to work at city
hall, at the hospital, and at UNM. [Doc. 37 ¶¶ 12, 16; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 11]
After conversing with Plaintiff, Officer Brown decided to administer field sobriety
tests. [Doc. 37 ¶ 14; Doc. 37-2 ¶¶ 7-9; Ex. B-1] Before administering the tests, Officer
Brown asked Plaintiff whether he had any medical conditions that would interfere with
his ability to perform the tests. [Doc. 37 ¶ 14; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 9; Ex. B-1] Plaintiff denied
having any such conditions. [Doc. 37 ¶ 14; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 9; Ex. B-1]
Officer Brown administered five tests. [Ex. B-1] Although Plaintiff said that he
understood the instructions for the tests, the officer had to repeat them several times.
[Doc. 37 ¶ 15; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 10; Ex. B-1] And, ultimately, Plaintiff performed poorly on
each test. [Doc. 37 ¶ 17; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 12; Ex. B-1]
Officer Brown arrested Plaintiff and took him to the Prisoner Transport Center.
[Doc. 37 ¶ 18; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 14; Ex. B-1] There, he gave Plaintiff a breath test which
yielded a negative result for alcohol. [Doc. 37 ¶ 19; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 14] Officer Brown then
requested that Officer Matt Trahan, a drug recognition expert (DRE), evaluate Plaintiff.
[Doc. 37 ¶ 20; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 15; Doc. 37-3]
Officer Trahan’s “drug recognition
investigation” led him to conclude that Plaintiff was under the influence of a central
nervous system stimulant which rendered him unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
[Doc. 37 ¶ 20; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 15; Doc. 37-3]
Officer Brown learned that Plaintiff, who had seven or more DWI convictions, had
a revoked driver’s license and was on probation. [Doc. 37 ¶ 23; Doc. 37-2 ¶ 16; Doc. 374] The Probation and Parole Division of the New Mexico Corrections Department issued
an arrest order which prohibited Plaintiff from being released on a bond. [Doc. 37 ¶¶ 223
23; Doc. 37-4] Facts regarding Plaintiff’s detention, which are set forth in this Court’s
Memorandum Opinion and Order pertaining to Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment Requesting Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Claims Under the New Mexico Tort Claims
Act (Counts IV, V, and VI) Against Defendant City of Albuquerque (Doc. 19), are
irrelevant to the issue of qualified immunity and are not repeated here.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming, among other things, that Officer Brown violated
his Constitutional rights. [Doc. 1-1] Defendants’ present Motion pertains to Count I, a
Fourth Amendment based claim against Officer Brown of unreasonable search and
seizure; Count II, a Fourth Amendment based § 1983 claim against Officer Brown of
false arrest and false imprisonment; and Count III a § 1983 claim against the City for
failure to train and supervise Officers Brown and Trahan. Defendants argue that Officer
Brown is entitled to qualified immunity, and, therefore, the derivative claim against the
City fails as a matter of law. [Doc. 37 p. 10-20]
Standard of Review
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows summary judgment when
the evidence submitted by the parties establishes that no genuine issue of material fact
exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. An issue is
“genuine” when the evidence before the Court is such that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict in favor of the nonmovant as to that issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248-52 (1986). A fact is “material” if under the substantive law it is essential
to the proper disposition of the claim. Id. at 248. Judgment is appropriate as a matter of
law if the nonmovant has failed to make an adequate showing on an essential element of
its case, as to which it has the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322-23 (1986); Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir.
It is not the Court’s role to weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of witnesses, or
make factual findings in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Daniels v. United
Parcel Serv., Inc., 701 F.3d 620, 627 (10th Cir. 2012). Rather, the Court assumes the
admissible evidence of the nonmovant to be true, resolves all doubts against the movant,
construes all admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, and draws
all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541,
“Qualified immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of
The privilege is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to
liability[.]” Jiron v. City of Lakewood, 392 F.3d 410, 414 (10th Cir. 2004) (citation
“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from
liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Tenorio v. Pitzer, 802 F.3d 1160, 1163 (10th Cir. 2015).
When a defendant asserts qualified immunity, “[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of
establishing both (1) that the defendant violated a constitutional right and (2) that the
right [was] clearly established by the time of the violation.” Id. at 1164.
Count I, of the Complaint, “Unreasonable Search and Seizure” arises from Officer
Brown’s actions surrounding, but not including, his arrest of Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims
that after Officer Brown “stopped Plaintiff for a routine traffic violation” he violated
Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by
ordering Plaintiff out of the vehicle, detaining him “for an unreasonable amount of
time[,]” “interrogat[ing]” him, and searching and seizing his vehicle. [Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 2433]
As a point of clarification, the Court notes that Plaintiff has not produced evidence
supporting particular allegations in Count I, and further, that Plaintiff has abandoned
those allegations in his Response to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment Based on
Qualified Immunity (Doc. 44). The abandoned allegations are that Officer Brown stopped
Plaintiff for a routine traffic violation, that Officer Brown ordered Plaintiff out of the
vehicle, interrogated Plaintiff, or conducted an unlawful search or seizure of Plaintiff’s
vehicle. The lapel videos in this case show that it was Officer Arnold who first came
upon Plaintiff’s stopped vehicle and ordered Plaintiff out of his vehicle. Furthermore, it
is clear from Plaintiff’s Response that Officer Brown’s detention of Plaintiff to conduct
field sobriety tests is the basis of Plaintiff’s unlawful search or seizure claim.1 [Doc. 44
p. 5-8] Accordingly, as to Count I, the Court focuses on whether Officer Brown is
Furthermore, to the extent that Plaintiff intended to allege that Officer Brown
unlawfully searched and seized Plaintiff’s vehicle, Plaintiff’s allegations fall below the
pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 as set forth in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal. Id. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (stating that pleadings in a complaint must offer
more than “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertions devoid of . . . factual
entitled to qualified immunity for having detained Plaintiff in order to administer field
“The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and
seizures, including unreasonable investigatory stops or detentions.” U.S. v. McHugh, 639
F.3d 1250, 1255 (10th Cir. 2011) (alteration omitted)). An officer may subject a driver to
a field sobriety test without violating the Fourth Amendment when the officer has a
reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. Vondrak v. City of Las Cruces, 535
F.3d 1198, 1206 (10th Cir. 2008). “Under the reasonable suspicion standard, a police
officer must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting . . . criminal
“A reasonable suspicion analysis is based upon the totality of the
circumstances, and officers may draw on their own experience and specialized training to
make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to
Here, Officer Arnold’s observation of Plaintiff’s single-vehicle crash, along with
his observations of and conversations with Plaintiff led him to believe that Plaintiff was
“probably intoxicated” which led him, in turn, to call a DWI unit. When Officer Brown
arrived in response to that call, Officer Arnold’s suspicion that Plaintiff was intoxicated
could reasonably contribute to the totality of circumstances from which Officer Brown
formed his own reasonable suspicion to that effect. See U.S. v. Luginbyhl, 321 Fed.Appx.
780, 785 (10th Cir. 2009) (“Under the ‘fellow officer’ rule, law enforcement officers may
pool their information and reasonable suspicion is to be determined on the basis of the
collective knowledge of all the officers involved.” (alterations omitted)). In addition to
having communicated with Officer Arnold, Officer Brown observed a disabled ignition
interlock device on the floor of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Then, when Officer Brown questioned
Plaintiff, Plaintiff gave conflicting answers about when he had last consumed alcohol.
Further, although Plaintiff stated that he was going to work, he gave conflicting answers
about where he worked.
Viewed in totality, these circumstances justified Officer
Brown’s reasonable suspicion that Defendant was driving under the influence of an
intoxicating substance, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-102 (2010). See Vondrak,
535 F.3d at 1206 (“A reasonable suspicion analysis is based upon the totality of the
Indeed, reasonable suspicion of intoxicated driving as a ground for conducting
field sobriety tests has been upheld under circumstances less compelling than those here.
For example, in Vondrak, our Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a driver’s
statement that he had “one beer three hours ago” provided the officer with reasonable
suspicion sufficient to conduct field sobriety tests. Vondrak, 535 F.3d at 1207. As well,
our Tenth Circuit has held that various forms of erratic driving, for example, weaving
between lanes; swerving from a lane and straddling the center lane; and drifting onto the
shoulder, provide reasonable suspicion of intoxicated driving. Amundsen v. Jones, 533
F.3d 1192, 1198-99 (10th Cir. 2008) (collecting cases). Under Vondrak and Amundsen,
Plaintiff’s single car crash into the center median or his admitted use of alcohol—albeit
within an uncertain time frame, taken alone would have adequately supported Officer
Brown’s reasonable suspicion of intoxication.
Here, considering the totality of the
circumstances, Officer Brown’s reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff was intoxicated
justified his decision to detain Plaintiff in order to conduct field sobriety tests.
Because an officer may subject a driver to a field sobriety test without violating
the Fourth Amendment when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver is
intoxicated, Vondrak, 535 F.3d at 1206, Officer Brown is entitled to qualified immunity
as to Count I.
Count II of the Complaint, “Deprivation of Civil Rights Under 42 U.S.C. 1983
False Arrest and False Imprisonment” stems from Officer Brown’s arrest of Plaintiff, and
Plaintiff’s subsequent detention. [Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 34-42] Plaintiff argues that Officer Brown
lacked probable cause to arrest him, rendering the arrest unconstitutional.
[Doc. 44 p. 5-
9] See Franklin v. Thompson, 981 F.2d 1168 n. 3 (10th Cir. 1992) (“A claim of false
arrest is premised on a lack of probable cause, a constitutional right under the Fourth
Amendment.”). Building on the premise that the arrest was unconstitutional, Plaintiff
argues that Officer Brown is liable for his resultant allegedly unconstitutional prolonged
detention. [Doc. 44 p. 9-10]
“When a warrantless arrest is the subject of a § 1983 action, the defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity if probable cause existed to arrest the plaintiff.” Wilder v.
Turner, 490 F.3d 810, 813 (10th Cir. 2007). “Probable cause to arrest exists if the facts
and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge are sufficient to justify a prudent
officer in believing the defendant committed or is committing an offense.”
“[P]robable cause for a warrantless arrest is determined in terms of the circumstances
confronting the arresting officer at the time of the seizure, the validity of such an arrest is
not undermined by subsequent events in the suspects criminal prosecution, such as
dismissal of the charges[.]” Summers v. State of Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1166 (10th Cir.
1991) (citations omitted).
The totality of the circumstances confronting Officer Brown at the time that he
arrested Plaintiff gave the officer probable cause make the arrest. Combined with the
facts and circumstances that led Officer Brown to conduct the field sobriety tests,
Plaintiff’s poor performance on each of those tests could lead a prudent officer to believe
that Plaintiff was intoxicated. See U.S. v. Chavez, 660 F.3d 1215, 1224 (10th Cir. 2011)
(stating that poor performance on three field sobriety tests contributed to probable cause
to arrest a driver for DUI); Titus v. Ahlm, 297 Fed.Appx. 796, 798 (10th Cir. 2008)
(stating that poor performance on two field sobriety tests contributed to probable cause of
DWI). Following Plaintiff’s post-arrest breath test, Officer Trahan’s “drug recognition
investigation” led the officers to believe that a central nervous system stimulant, rather
than alcohol was the source of Plaintiff’s ostensible intoxication. See Foote v. Utah, 4
Fed.Appx. 687, 689 (10th Cir. 2001) (recognizing that a drug recognition expert’s
observations and tests, combined with other indicia of intoxication justify probable cause
for an arrest). Thus, although his suspicion shifted from alcohol to drugs, based upon the
facts circumstances at the time, Officer Brown reasonably suspected that Plaintiff had
been driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance. See Summers, 927 F.2d at
1166 (stating that probable cause is gauged by the facts and circumstances within the
officer’s knowledge at the time of the arrest).
Relying on Martinez v. Carson, 697 F.3d 1252, 1255 (10th Cir. 2012), for the
proposition that “defendants are liable for the harm proximately caused by their
conduct[,]” Plaintiff argues that Officer Brown is liable for his prolonged unconstitutional
detention. [Doc. 44 p. 9] In Martinez, our Tenth Circuit held that members of a police
task force who had, without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do so, arrested two
men (the plaintiffs) could be held liable for the subsequent prolonged detention of the
plaintiffs. Id. at 1253-56. The Martinez court reasoned that the “initial illegal detention
and transfer of custody was the but-for cause of [the] [p]laintiffs’ further detention[.]” Id.
at 1255. Because it could reasonably be inferred that the defendants “knew or should
have known [that] their illegal seizure and transfer of custody would result in [the]
[p]laintiffs’ prolonged detention after the transfer of custody” a jury could find the
defendants liable for the detention. Id. at 1256.
Plaintiff’s reliance on Martinez is unavailing. Unlike the task force defendants in
Martinez, Officer Brown did not perpetrate an unlawful seizure.
decision to arrest Plaintiff was founded upon his reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff had
committed the crime of driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance, contrary
to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-102 (2010). Plaintiff’s subsequent detention was not
caused by an illegal act by Officer Brown. Since Officer Brown’s decision to arrest
Plaintiff was supported by probable cause, he is entitled to qualified immunity as to
Count II of the Complaint.
Count III of the Complaint, titled “42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claim against City of
Albuquerque: Municipal Liability (Failure to Train and Supervise),” rests upon the
theory that the City’s failure to train and supervise Officers Brown and Trahan led to
Plaintiff’s unconstitutional arrest and detention. [Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 43-48] Our Tenth Circuit
“will not hold a municipality liable for constitutional violations when there was no
underlying constitutional violation by any of its officers.” Olsen v. Layton Hills Mall,
312 F.3d 1304, 1317-18 (10th Cir. 2002) (alterations omitted). Here, the Complaint does
not include allegations or claims to support the notion, raised only in Count III, that
Officer Trahan violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. See Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678
(stating that “naked assertions devoid of . . . factual enhancement” do not suffice to state
a claim). And, as set forth in the preceding portions of this Opinion, Officer Brown’s
actions in regard to Plaintiff were not unconstitutional. Accordingly, Count III shall be
dismissed pursuant to the principle stated in Olsen. Id.
For the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ Motion [for] Summary Judgment Based
on Qualified Immunity, (Doc. 37), is GRANTED.
SO ORDERED this 21st day of March, 2017, in Albuquerque New Mexico.
M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO
Chief United States District Judge
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