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Martinez v. Salazar

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 2, 2016

JACKIE MARTINEZ, as Personal Representative on behalf of the Estate of Russell Martinez, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH SALAZAR, in his individual capacity, GREG ESPARZA, in his individual capacity, THE ESPANOLA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, LEO MONTOYA, and THE CITY OF ESPANOLA, Defendants.


         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Joseph Salazar, Greg Esparza, the Espanola Department of Public Safety, Leo Montoya, and the City of Espanola's (“Defendants'”) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and Memorandum of Law in Support (“Motion to Dismiss”), filed on July 14, 2015. (Doc. 93). Plaintiff filed a response on July 31, 2015, and Defendants filed a reply on August 14, 2015. (Docs. 96 and 97). Having reviewed the Motion to Dismiss and the accompanying briefs, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Background

         This is a police excessive force case arising from interactions between Russell Martinez (“Mr. Martinez”) and Defendants Joseph Salazar and Greg Esparza on May 11, 2012. Mr. Martinez originally filed this case on May 5, 2014, in the First Judicial District Court, County of Rio Arriba, New Mexico. (Doc. 1-1). Defendants later removed the case to this Court on June 6, 2014. (Doc. 1). Subsequently, Mr. Martinez filed his First Amended Complaint for Damages Resulting from Civil Rights Violations, Intentional Torts, Negligence, and Violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Amended Complaint”).[1] (Doc. 88).

         In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Martinez is paraplegic, has had his lower left leg amputated, and has no feeling in his lower body. Id. at 3:10. On May 11, 2012, Mr. Martinez and his wife, Mrs. Jackie Martinez, had an argument in their car in a parking lot. Id. at 3:11-12. During the argument, bystanders called the police, and Espanola Police Department Officer Joseph Salazar (“Defendant Salazar”) arrived at the scene. Id. at 3:12-13. Mrs. Martinez spoke to Defendant Salazar and told him that Mr. Martinez was paraplegic, immobile, and unable to drive. Id. at 3:14. Mr. Martinez remained in the car. Id. at 3:13. While investigating the incident, Defendant Salazar approached the car and asked Mr. Martinez to exit the vehicle. Id. at 3:16. Mr. Martinez responded that he is immobile. Id. Defendant Salazar then pulled Mr. Martinez from his car, beat him, and drive stunned him with a taser, despite the fact that he could not move his lower body. Id. at 4:17-18. During the encounter, Officer Greg Esparza (“Defendant Esparza”) arrived on the scene and shot Mr. Martinez in the chest with a taser. Id. at 4:21. As a result, Mr. Martinez suffered excruciating pain and injuries, and was transported to Espanola Hospital. Id. at 4:22-23. Although Defendant Salazar claimed in a police report that Mr. Martinez had committed the offense of Battery Upon a Peace Officer, neither Defendant Salazar nor Defendant Esparza ever brought charges against Mr. Martinez. Id. at 4:24.

         Based on these allegations, the Amended Complaint alleges four counts. In Count I, Plaintiff brings 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force claims against Defendants Salazar and Esparza. (Doc. 88) at 5. In Count II, Plaintiff brings New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”) claims against Salazar and Esparza for the intentional torts of assault, battery, false arrest, and violation of the United States and New Mexico constitutions. Id. at 5-6. In addition, the Amended Complaint alleges respondeat superior claims against the Espanola Department of Public Safety (“EDPS”) and the City of Espanola for the intentional torts allegedly committed by Salazar and Esparza. Id. In Count III, Plaintiff brings state negligence claims against Joe Montoya, the Director of the EDPS, for negligently hiring, training, and/or supervising Salazar and Esparza, and thereby causing Salazar and Esparza to commit the intentional torts listed in Count II. Id. at 6-7. The Amended Complaint also alleges that EDPS and the City of Espanola are liable for Montoya's negligent actions under respondeat superior. Id. at 7. Finally, in Count IV, Plaintiff asserts claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against the EDPS and the City of Espanola for failing to reasonably accommodate Mr. Martinez's disability in the course of questioning, interacting with, and detaining him. Id.

         Defendants now move to partially dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 93). As grounds for dismissal, Defendants first argue that Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the ADA under a “wrongful arrest” theory must be dismissed, since Plaintiff does not adequately allege that Defendants wrongfully arrested Mr. Martinez because they misperceived the effects of his disability as criminal activity. (Doc. 93) at 4-6. Second, Defendants contend that, to the extent Plaintiff asserts Section 1983 claims for Defendants' failure to accommodate Mr. Martinez's disability, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on that claim, because that right was not clearly established at the time of the encounter. Id. at 6-9. Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Dismiss in its entirety. (Doc. 96). In the event the Court finds Plaintiff's allegations insufficient to state a claim, Plaintiff asks that she be granted leave to amend the Amended Complaint. Id. at 8-9.

         II. Standard of Review

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion asserting a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and must view them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990). 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 formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint does not need to include detailed factual allegations, but “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. In other words, dismissal of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper only where it is obvious that the plaintiff failed to set forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Dismissal with prejudice is appropriate where a complaint fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) and granting leave to amend would be futile. Brereton v. Bountiful City Corp., 434 F.3d 1213, 1219 (10th Cir. 2006).

         III. Discussion

         Defendants move to partially dismiss two of the four counts alleged in the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court will address each in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Claims under the ADA

         Defendants first argue that this Court should partially dismiss Plaintiff's claims under the ADA in Count IV of the Amended Complaint. Under the ADA, two cognizable theories of liability exist: (1) “wrongful arrest;” and (2) “failure to accommodate” a disability. Defendants do not challenge Plaintiff's claims under the “failure to accommodate” theory. Rather, Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim under the “wrongful arrest” theory because Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants wrongfully arrested Mr. Martinez because they misperceived the effects of his disability as criminal activity. In response, Plaintiff argues that, under the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint, it is plausible that Defendant Salazar misperceived Mr. Martinez's inability to follow orders, as a result of his paraplegia, as unlawful conduct, which led to the assault and detention of Mr. Martinez. Thus, Plaintiff contends that she has plausibly alleged a “wrongful arrest” claim under the ADA.

         1. ADA Claims Based on Police Conduct During an Arrest or Investigation

         Under Title II of the ADA, “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of such services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. In the Tenth Circuit, a plaintiff must prove three factors to establish a claim under Title II: (1) that he or she is a qualified individual with a disability; (ii) that he or she was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of some public entity's services, programs, or activities, or the public entity otherwise discriminated against the plaintiff; and (iii) that such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination was by ...

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