Chavez v. Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by District Judge William P. Johnson GRANTING 7 Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum in Support. (mag)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
HENRY REYES CHAVEZ,
Case No. 1:17-cv-00534 WJ-SCY
BERNALILLO COUNTY METROPOLITAN
DETENTION CENTER, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING
DEFENDANTS’ PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Bernalillo County Metropolitan
Detention Center, the Board of County Commissioners of Bernalillo County, Donald Vigil,
Jessie Lara, Clinton Christison, and Tina Goebler’s Partial Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum
in Support, filed on May 24, 2017 (Doc. 7). Having reviewed the relevant pleadings and the
applicable law, the Court finds Defendants’ Motion is well-taken, and is therefore GRANTED.
Plaintiff Henry Reyes Chavez claims he was attacked by another inmate on January 19,
2014 while incarcerated in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center.
claims Defendants used excessive force in their attempts to break up the fight and they used
unreasonable or unnecessary force following the incident and during decontamination from the
use of pepper spray. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint alleging violations of the
Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and tort claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.
Plaintiff claims he was subject to excessive force and/or that Defendants failed to protect him
from another inmate at the Bernalillo County Detention Center on January 19, 2014. Plaintiff
filed the lawsuit on February 24, 2017.
Defendants argue Plaintiff’s state law claims are barred by the statute of limitations.
Defendants point out that Plaintiff filed the lawsuit on February 24, 2017, more than three years
from the date of the incident. Section 41–4–15(A) of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act provides
that “[a]ctions against a governmental entity or a public employee for torts shall be forever
barred, unless such action is commenced within two years after the date of occurrence resulting
in loss, injury or death…” NMSA 1978, § 41–4–15(A). Defendants also point out that Plaintiff
has already attempted to pursue this matter in state district court. See e.g. Henry Reyes Chavez v.
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center et al. No. D-307-CV-2016-00146. Plaintiff’s
previous complaint was dismissed without prejudice for improper venue on November 7, 2016.
Yet, that complaint was filed on January 27, 2016, more than two years after the date of the
Therefore, even Plaintiff’s prior lawsuit was barred by the statute of
limitations applicable to claims under State law.
In response, Plaintiff focuses primarily on the timeliness of his prior complaint filed in
the Third Judicial District Court.1 He asserts that for reasons beyond his control, his state
complaint was not filed until January 27, 2016, although he mailed it to the court on January 14,
2016. He states that he eventually believed that case was dismissed. Plaintiff attempted to file
another complaint in the proper venue (Second Judicial District Court) but, again, for reasons
beyond his control the complaint was lost or misplaced. Then, on February 24, 2017, Plaintiff
hand-delivered the instant complaint to Second Judicial District Court for filing, and the case
was subsequently removed to federal court. Plaintiff argues these circumstances show his case is
Plaintiff filed a “Declaration” on July 20, 2017, which Defendants and the Court interpreted as a Response to the
Partial Motion to Dismiss. See Docs. 20 and 27.
The Court is mindful of its duty to construe pro se pleadings liberally. See Ford v. Pryor,
552 F.3d 1174, 1178 (10th Cir. 2008) (“Because [plaintiff] is proceeding pro se, we construe his
pleadings liberally, but we do not act as his advocate.”); Ogden v. San Juan County, 32 F.3d 452,
455 (10th Cir. 1994) (finding that a litigant’s pro se status does not excuse the obligation to
comply with the fundamental requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). However,
Plaintiff has simply failed to bring his claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act within the
required two-year timeframe, so those claims must be dismissed. See NMSA 1978, § 41–4–
The New Mexico Tort Claims Act requires that “[a]ctions against a governmental entity
or a public employee for torts shall be forever barred, unless such action is commenced within
two years after the date of occurrence resulting in loss, injury or death…” NMSA 1978, § 41–4–
15(A) (emphasis added). In New Mexico, “[a] civil action is commenced by filing a complaint
with the court.” NMRA, Rule 1-003. Therefore, even if Plaintiff mailed his first complaint to the
Third Judicial District Court prior to the expiration of the limitations period, his first suit was not
commenced within the time period proscribed by the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. Likewise,
his second complaint was not filed until February 24, 2017. Plaintiff’s alleged injuries took
place on January 19, 2014. To be timely under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, his complaint
must have been filed on or before January 19, 2016. It was not. Therefore, Plaintiff’s claims
under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act must be dismissed.
The Court further agrees with Defendants that to the extent Plaintiff is arguing for
application of a “prisoner mailbox rule” there is no such rule for claims under state law. See
Adams v. LeMaster, 223 F.3d 1177, 1183 (10th Cir. 2000) (“We hold the New Mexico Supreme
Court would side with those state courts relying on the plain meaning of their respective state
procedural rules to reject the prison mailbox rule.”). Under the “prisoner mailbox rule,” a
prisoner’s habeas petition is deemed filed on the day the prisoner hands it over to prison
authorities for mailing to the court. See id. at 1180. The Court cannot locate any authority that
requires the Court to deem a complaint filed on the day a prisoner leaves it with prison staff in
order to be mailed.
Finally, the Court concludes that equitable tolling will not save Plaintiff’s state tort
claims. In Ocana v. Am. Furniture Co., 2004–NMSC–018, ¶ 15, 135 N.M. 539, 91 P.3d 58, the
New Mexico Supreme Court recognized that “[e]quitable tolling typically applies in cases where
a litigant was prevented from filing suit because of an extraordinary event beyond his or her
control.” Ocana, 2004–NMSC–018, ¶ 15. Under New Mexico law, the doctrine of equitable
tolling is quite limited. Casanova v. Cent. N.M. Corr. Dep’t, 502 F. App’x 774, 776 (10th Cir.
2012) (unpublished). Plaintiff has not identified any facts showing he was prevented from filing
suit because of “extraordinary” events beyond his control.
Regardless of whether Plaintiff’s original action was timely filed in the Third Judicial
District Court (and the facts show it was not), Plaintiff’s complaint in this lawsuit is untimely
under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. Therefore, Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. 7) is GRANTED. Plaintiff’s claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, as asserted
in Counts IV, V, and VI, are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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