Spencer v. State of New Mexico et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 32 Amended MOTION to Dismiss. State of New Mexico, Eleventh Judicial District Court and Sandra Price (District Court Judge, individually and in her official capacity) terminated by Chief Judge M. Christina Armijo. (vv)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
DAVID A. SPENCER,
No. 16cv841 MCA/KK
STATE OF NEW MEXICO, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL
THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Eleventh Judicial District Court and
Honorable Sandra Price’s Amended Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 32, filed May 12, 2017. For the
reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT the Motion.
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint names the State of New Mexico, the Eleventh Judicial
District Court, and State District Court Judge Sandra Price, individually and in her official
capacity, and others as defendants. See Doc. 8. The Amended Complaint asserts claims under
federal law for violation of an automatic bankruptcy stay, violations of constitutional rights and
conspiracy, and under state law for malicious prosecution, tortious interference with business
practices, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Eleventh Judicial District Court and the Honorable Sandra Price seek dismissal of the
Amended Complaint as against them on jurisdictional and judicial immunity grounds. Plaintiff
has not filed a response opposing the motion.
Plaintiff lists the State of New Mexico as a defendant in the caption of his Amended
Complaint, but does not list the State of New Mexico in the section of the Amended Complaint
titled “The Parties and Jurisdiction.” Amended Complaint at 2-3. There are very few allegations
which mention the “State of New Mexico.” See Amended Complaint at 17 (Plaintiff “prays for
Judgment against . . . The State of New Mexico”), ¶ 133 at 19 (stating Defendant Price “was a
State of New Mexico . . . employee”). Although the Eleventh Judicial District Court and
Honorable Sandra Price’s Amended Motion to Dismiss does not seek dismissal of the Amended
Complaint as against the State of New Mexico, the Court will address whether it has jurisdiction
over the claims against the State of New Mexico because the State of New Mexico is listed as a
defendant in the caption of the Amended Complaint. See Oklahoma Turnpike Authority v.
Bruner, 259 F.3d 1236, 1241 (10th Cir. 2001) (“[i]f the parties do not raise the question of lack of
jurisdiction, it is the duty of the federal court to determine the matter sua sponte”) (quoting Basso
v. Utah Power & Light Co., 495 F.2d 906, 909 (10th Cir.1974)).
Violation of Bankruptcy Stay Claim
Plaintiff asserts that:
State of New Mexico San Juan County District Judge Sandra Price blatantly
violated the Federal code 11 U.S.C. § 362 Stay of proceedings by incarcerating
[Plaintiff] on civil Contempt after the Bankruptcy was filed on March 12, 2015, for
not paying a debt listed in his bankruptcy thus violating the Plaintiff’s Federal and
Amended Complaint ¶ 112 at 16.
The District of New Mexico has referred “all cases under Title 11 and all proceedings
arising under Title 11 or arising in or related to a case under Title 11 . . . to the bankruptcy judges
for the district to the extent permitted by law.” In the Matter of Reference to Bankruptcy Judges
and Local Bankruptcy Rules, Admin. Order, Misc. No. 84-0324 (D.N.M. March 19, 1992)
(Burciaga, C.J.). The Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s violation of bankruptcy stay claim and grant
Plaintiff leave to seek relief in the Bankruptcy Court. See Lester v. United States, 208 F.3d 226,
*2 (10th Cir. 2000) (dismissal of plaintiff’s . . . violation of bankruptcy stay claim [arising under
Title 11] with leave to seek relief in the bankruptcy court was not an abuse of the district court’s
As the party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court, Plaintiff bears the burden of
alleging facts that support jurisdiction. See Dutcher v. Matheson, 733 F.3d 980, 985 (10th Cir.
2013) (“Since federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, we presume no jurisdiction exists
absent an adequate showing by the party invoking federal jurisdiction”).
The Court does not have jurisdiction over this matter with respect to Defendant State of
New Mexico. With certain limited exceptions, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a citizen from
filing suit against a state in federal court.” Ruiz v. McDonnell, 299 F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir.
2002). States enjoy sovereign immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment, but Eleventh
Amendment immunity is not absolute:
There are three exceptions. First, a state may consent to suit in federal court. [Port
Authority Trans–Hudson Corp. v. Feeney, 495 U.S. 299, 304, 110 S.Ct. 1868, 109
L.Ed.2d 264 (1990)]. Second, Congress may abrogate a state's sovereign
immunity by appropriate legislation when it acts under Section 5 of the Fourteenth
Amendment. See Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy, 131 S.Ct. at 1638 & n. 2.
Finally, under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908), a
plaintiff may bring suit against individual state officers acting in their official
capacities if the complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and the
plaintiff seeks prospective relief. Verizon Md. Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md.,
535 U.S. 635, 645, 122 S.Ct. 1753, 152 L.Ed.2d 871 (2002).
Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Pruitt, 669 F.3d 1159, 1166 (10th Cir. 2012). None of these
exceptions apply in this case. First, “the United States Supreme Court has previously held that
Congress did not abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment immunity when it enacted 42 U.S.C. §
1983.” Id. (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979)); Second, Plaintiff does not allege
in his complaint that the State of New Mexico waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in this
Finally, the Ex parte Young exception does not apply because Plaintiff has not alleged an
ongoing violation of federal law. See Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Pruitt, 669 F.3d 1159, 1167
(10th Cir. 2012) (for the Ex parte Young exception to state sovereign immunity to apply, a plaintiff
must show that he is: “(1) suing state officials rather than the state itself, (2) alleging an ongoing
violation of federal law, and (3) seeking prospective relief”).
The Court also does not have jurisdiction over this matter with respect to Defendant
Eleventh Judicial District Court, because it is an arm of the State; nor does it have jurisdiction over
the matter with respect to Defendant State District Judge Sandra Price, because she is a State
official acting in her official capacity. See Hull v. State of New Mexico Taxation and Revenue
Department’s Motor Vehicle Division, 179 Fed.Appx. 445, 446 (10th Cir. 2006) (“It is well
established that arms of the state, or state officials acting in their official capacities, are not
‘persons’ within the meaning of § 1983 and therefore are immune from § 1983 damages suits.”).
The Court will dismiss the Amended Complaint against the State of New Mexico, the
Eleventh Judicial District Court and the District Judge Sandra Price in her official capacity without
prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (“If the court determines at any
time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action”); Brereton v.
Bountiful City Corp., 434 F.3d 1213, 1218 (10th Cir.2006) (“[D]ismissals for lack of jurisdiction
should be without prejudice because the court, having determined that it lacks jurisdiction over the
action, is incapable of reaching a disposition on the merits of the underlying claims.”).
The Court will dismiss the Amended Complaint against District Judge Sandra Price, in her
individual capacity, without prejudice.
“[S]tate court judges are absolutely immune from
monetary damages claims for actions taken in their judicial capacity, unless the actions are taken in
the complete absence of all jurisdiction.” Sawyer v. Gorman, 317 Fed.Appx. 725, 727 (10th Cir.
2008) (quoting Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991)). Plaintiff’s allegations against District
Judge Sandra Price show that her actions were taken in the judge’s judicial capacity. Plaintiff
makes no allegations that the actions of District Judge Sandra Price were taken in the complete
absence of all jurisdiction. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356–57 (1978) (articulating
broad immunity rule that a “judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was
in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority”).
State Law Claims
The Court, having dismissed all of Plaintiff’s federal law claims against the State of New
Mexico, the Eleventh Judicial District Court and State District Judge Sandra Price, declines to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims against these defendants. See
Nielander v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs, 582 F.3d 1155, 1172 (10th Cir.2009) (“Under 28 U.S.C. §
1367(c), a district court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction if . . . the district court
has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction”).
IT IS ORDERED that the Eleventh Judicial District Court and Honorable Sandra Price’s
Amended Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 32, filed May 12, 2017, is GRANTED; the claims against the
State of New Mexico, the Eleventh Judicial District Court and the Honorable Sandra Price are
DISMISSED without prejudice.
M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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