Benavidez v. Bigej
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by Senior District Judge C. LeRoy Hansen denying 9 MOTION for Joinder and dismissing for failure to state a claim re 1 Complaint. (bap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
ERNESTO J. BENAVIDEZ,
No. CV 17-00471 LH/KBM
STATE OF NEW MEXICO DISTRICT
ATTORNEY BRIANNE BIGEJ,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL
THIS MATTER is before the Court sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on the Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint filed April 19, 2017 by Plaintiff
Ernesto J. Benavidez. (Doc. 1) (“Complaint”). Also before the Court is the Motion for Joinder
Claim(s) filed by Benavidez on June 19, 2017. (Doc. 9). The Court concludes that the Complaint
fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted and dismisses Plaintiff’s claims. The Court
also denies the Motion for Joinder of Claim(s) as moot in light of dismissal of the Complaint.
Plaintiff Benavidez is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis. The Court has the
discretion to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint sua sponte for failure to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted under either Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) the Court must accept all well-pled factual allegations, but not
conclusory, unsupported allegations, and may not consider matters outside the pleading.
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1190 (10th Cir.
1989). The court may dismiss a complaint under rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if “it is
‘patently obvious’ that the plaintiff could not prevail on the facts alleged.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935
F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991) (quoting McKinney v. Oklahoma Dep’t of Human Services, 925
F.2d 363, 365 (10th Cir. 1991)). A plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A claim should be dismissed where it is
legally or factually insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Under § 1915(e)(2)(B) the court may dismiss the complaint at any time if the court
determines the action fails to state a claim for relief or is frivolous or malicious. 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The authority granted by § 1915 permits the court the unusual power to pierce
the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions
are clearly baseless. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). See also Hall v. Bellmon,
935 F.2d at 1109. The authority to “pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations” means
that a court is not bound, as it usually is when making a determination based solely on the
pleadings, to accept without question the truth of the plaintiff's allegations. Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992). The court is not required to accept the truth of the plaintiff's
allegations but, instead, may go beyond the pleadings and consider any other materials filed by
the parties, as well as court proceedings subject to judicial notice. Denton, 504 U.S. at 32-33.
In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court liberally construes the factual allegations. See
Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1520-21 (10th Cir. 1992). However, a pro se plaintiff’s
pleadings are judged by the same legal standards that apply to all litigants and a pro se plaintiff
must abide by the applicable rules of court. Ogden v. San Juan County, 32 F.3d 452, 455 (10th
Cir. 1994). The court is not obligated to craft legal theories for the plaintiff or to supply factual
allegations to support the plaintiff’s claims. Nor may the court assume the role of advocate for
the pro se litigant. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1110.
In deciding whether to dismiss the complaint, in whole or in part, the court is to consider
whether to allow plaintiff an opportunity to amend the complaint. Pro se plaintiffs should be
given a reasonable opportunity to remedy defects in their pleadings. Reynoldson v. Shillinger,
907 F.2d 124, 126 (10th Cir. 1990). The opportunity to amend should be granted unless
amendment would be futile. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109. An amendment is futile if the
amended claims would also be subject to immediate dismissal under the rule 12(b)(6) or §
1915(e)(2)(B) standards. Bradley v. Val-Mejias, 379 F.3d 892, 901 (10th Cir. 2004).
Plaintiff Benavidez asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of New
Mexico District Attorney Brianne Bigej. (Doc. 1). Benavidez claims that Defendant Bigej
violated his constitutional rights by wrongfully prosecuting and incarcerating him in two New
Mexico State criminal proceedings. (Doc. 1 at 2). Benavidez contends that, because he was
acquitted in one proceeding and the charges were dismissed in the other proceeding, Defendant
Bigej subjected him to false imprisonment and unlawful incarceration. (Doc. 1 at 2-3).
Benavidez states the factual basis for his claims against Defendant Bigej as follows:
“For allowing false charges to be procured in and at indictment and Grand Jury
involving one case, and for the pretrial over encarceration (sic) time, unlawful
confinement and false imprisonment.”
(Doc. 1 at 3). Benavidez seeks compensatory and punitive damages for each day “of being false
imprisoned and unlawfully confined.” (Doc. 1 at 5).
Benavidez’s Complaint fails to state a claim for relief. The only claims asserted in this
case are against District Attorney Brianne Bigej in her capacity as a criminal prosecutor. (Doc. 1
at 1-3). Like judges, prosecutors are entitled to immunity in the performance of their
prosecutorial functions. Miller v. Spiers, 434 F.Supp.2d 1064 (2006); Johnson v. Lally, 118 N.M.
795, 796, 887 P.2d 1262, 1263 (Ct. App. 1994). The common law has long recognized
prosecutors must be given immunity from the chilling effects of civil liability. Burns v. Reed,
500 U.S. 478, 485 (1991); Griffith v. Slinkard, 146 Ind. 117, 44 N.E. 1001, 1002 (1896); Collins,
111 N.M. at 396, 806 P.2d at 45. Prosecutors are absolutely immune from damages for their
advocacy and activities “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.”
Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976).
Benavidez seeks to hold Bigej liable for damages for her actions as prosecutor in two
State criminal proceedings. All claims against District Attorney Bigej for actions taken in
connection with prosecution of Benavidez are barred by prosecutorial immunity. Burns v. Reed,
500 U.S. at 485. The Court will dismiss the Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint for failure to state
any claim on which relief can be granted under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6). Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327.
The Court also declines to grant Benavidez leave to amend his Complaint because the
Court determines that any amendment would be futile. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1109.
Because Benavidez seeks to impose liability against a prosecutor, any amendment would still be
subject to immediate dismissal on the grounds of prosecutorial immunity. Burns v. Reed, 500
U.S. at 485.
Because the Court concludes that Benavidez’s Complaint fails to state a claim for relief
under § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court will impose a strike against him as provided in the “three
strikes” rule of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Court
reminds Benavidez that if he accrues three strikes, he may not proceed in forma pauperis in civil
actions before federal courts unless he is under imminent danger of serious physical injury. 28
U.S.C. § 1915(g).
IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Joinder Claim(s) filed by Plaintiff Ernesto J.
Benavidez on June 19, 2017 (Doc. 9) is DENIED as moot, the Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint
filed by Plaintiff, Ernesto J. Benavidez on April 19, 2017 (Doc. 1) is DISMISSED for failure to
state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), and the Court imposes a STRIKE against
Benavidez under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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