United States District Court, D. New Mexico
December 5, 2016
MICHAEL TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
ANTHONY ROBINSON AND JORDAN BURD, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
24, 2015, Plaintiff Michael Taylor (Plaintiff) filed a
COMPLAINT FOR NEGLIGENCE AND VIOLATION OF THE FOURTH
AMENDMENT (Doc. No. 1) (Complaint), alleging that Defendants
Anthony Robinson (Robinson) and Jordan Burd (Burd) (together,
Defendants) had caused Plaintiff's unlawful arrest
through Robinson's negligence and Burd's violation of
Plaintiff's civil rights. See Compl.
¶¶ 15-16, 19. Defendants moved for summary judgment
on October 31, 2016. See DEFENDANTS ANTHONY ROBINSON
AND JORDAN BURD'S OPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(Doc. No. 52) (Defendants' Motion); DEFENDANTS ANTHONY
ROBINSON AND JORDAN BURD'S MEMORANDUM BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF
THEIR OPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 53)
(Defendants' Memorandum). Plaintiff filed a cross-motion
for summary judgment the next day. See
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 54)
(Plaintiff's Motion). Each party responded in opposition.
See DEFENDANTS ANTHONY ROBINSON AND JORDAN
BURD'S RESPONSE TO PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSED MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 55) (Defendants' Response);
PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 56) (Plaintiff's
Response). The parties then replied in support of their
Motions. See DEFENDANTS ANTHONY ROBINSON AND JORDAN
BURD'S REPLY TO PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE TO THEIR MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 57) (Defendants' Reply);
PLAINTIFF'S REPLY SUPPORTING HIS MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 59) (Plaintiff's Reply). The Court
will deny Plaintiff's Motion and will grant summary
judgment in favor of Defendants.
facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. On December 2,
2014, Plaintiff was stopped for speeding by New Mexico State
Police Officer Robinson. Defendant's Memo. ¶ 1, Ex.
A Taylor Depo. 43:2-12, 36:6-8. Dispatch informed Robinson
that Plaintiff had a valid outstanding bench warrant.
Defendant's Memo. ¶ 2, Ex. A Taylor Depo. 34:15-23,
Ex. B Robinson Depo. 28:13-18. Robinson arrested Plaintiff
for the warrant and transported Plaintiff to the San Miguel
County Jail, where Plaintiff was booked into the facility.
Defendant's Memo. ¶ 4, Ex. A Taylor Depo. 34:22-25,
35:22-23; Ex. B Robinson Depo. 28:19, 40:10-41:24. Robinson
signed the warrant, gave it to dispatch at the jail, and
provided a copy to Plaintiff. Defendant's Memo. ¶ 5,
Ex. B Robinson Depo. 40:23-44:21. Plaintiff bonded out of the
San Miguel County Jail on December 4, 2014. Defendant's
Memo. ¶ 6, Ex. A Taylor Depo. 36:1.
December 16, 2014, Plaintiff was stopped again for speeding
by Officer Burd, also of the New Mexico State Police.
Defendant's Memo. ¶ 8, Ex. A Taylor Depo. 33:21-24.
Dispatch informed Burd that Plaintiff had a valid outstanding
bench warrant. Defendant's Memo. ¶ 9, Ex. G Burd
Depo. 19:17-24. Plaintiff told Burd that he had already been
arrested on the warrant and had been released on bond, and he
presented Burd with a bond receipt. Plaintiff's Mot.
¶ 14, Ex. 1 Taylor Depo. Ex. C, Ex. 3 Burd Depo
19:25-20:10. Plaintiff alleges that he also presented release
papers from San Miguel County Jail, but he did not submit
copies of these papers with his Motion because they are no
longer in his possession. Plaintiff's Mot. ¶ 14, Ex.
1 Taylor Depo. 46:10-47:12. Defendants acknowledge only the
bond receipt showing the amount paid. Defendants' Resp.
¶¶ 3-5. The bond receipt contained Plaintiff's
name, case number, and the amount and date of Plaintiff's
bond. Plaintiff's Mot. ¶ 14, Ex. 1 Taylor Depo. Ex.
C, Plaintiff's Resp. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff further
alleges that he called the bonding company for verification
of his release but that Burd refused to speak to them.
Plaintiff's Mot. ¶ 15, Ex. 1 Taylor Depo. 44:21-
45:15. Defendants dispute this allegation. Defendants Resp.
¶ 4. When Plaintiff claimed the warrant was not active,
Burd called dispatch and asked for verification of the
outstanding warrant. Defendants Resp. ¶ 3, Ex. G Burd
Depo. 20:13-21. Dispatch informed Burd that the warrant was
indeed valid and active, and Burd placed Plaintiff under
arrest. Defendants' Resp. ¶ 3. Burd then transported
Plaintiff to Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center, where
Plaintiff was booked and held for multiple days before being
released again on bond. Plaintiff's Mot. ¶¶
18-19, Ex. 3 Burd Depo. 20:21-21:4, Ex. 1 Taylor Depo.
brings claims for unlawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment
and under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, NMSA 1978,
§§ 41-4-1 to -29 (1976, as amended through 2009)
(NMTCA). See Compl. ¶¶ 14-21. The Court
has original jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Fourth
Amendment claim, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and
supplemental jurisdiction over the related state-law claims,
see 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
judgment may be granted if the moving party shows
“there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter
of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “When applying this
standard, [the Court] view[s] the evidence and draw[s]
reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party.” Scull v. New Mexico,
236 F.3d 588, 595 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks
omitted). The court must analyze each motion individually and
on its own merits if both parties have moved for summary
judgment. See Buell Cabinet Co. v. Sudduth, 608 F.2d
431, 433 (10th Cir. 1979) (explaining that
“[c]ross-motions for summary judgment are to be treated
separately; the denial of one does not require the grant of
another.”). Cross-motions for summary judgment entitle
the Court “to assume that no evidence needs to be
considered other than that filed by the parties, but summary
judgment is nevertheless inappropriate if disputes remain as
to material facts.” Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm
Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir.
when a defendant raises qualified immunity as a defense, the
plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's actions
violated a clearly-established constitutional or statutory
right before the defendant will bear the traditional burden.
See Scull, 236 F.3d at 595. A right is clearly
established only if there is “a Supreme Court or Tenth
Circuit decision on point, or the clearly established weight
of authority from other courts [has] found the law to be as
the plaintiff maintains.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted).
contends that Burd unlawfully arrested him in violation of
the Fourth Amendment, which the Court will construe as a
claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that Burd is also
liable for false arrest under the NMTCA, although Plaintiff
acknowledges that his Complaint did not expressly bring an
NMTCA claim against Burd. See Compl. ¶¶
17-21; Plaintiff's Mot. at 8-11. Plaintiff asserts that
Robinson failed to fulfill his duty to cause Plaintiff's
warrant to be cleared from the system after Robinson arrested
Plaintiff, and therefore that Robinson is liable under the
NMTCA for his negligence that resulted in Plaintiff's
later false arrest by Burd. See Compl. ¶¶
14-16; Plaintiff's Mot. at 6. Defendants maintain that
Burd is entitled to absolute and qualified immunity for his
arrest of Plaintiff on a facially valid warrant, and that
neither Robinson nor Burd is liable under the NMTCA for
Burd's reasonable actions. See Defendant's
Memo. at 6-7, 12.
Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable seizures, including
unlawful arrests. See Koch v. City of Del City, 660
F.3d 1228, 1238-39 (10th Cir. 2014). But even if an arrest is
unlawful because it is based on an erroneous order, that
order may still be facially valid. See Turney v.
O'Toole, 898 F.2d 1470, 1473 (10th Cir.1990)
(“[E]ven assuming that an order is infirm as a matter
of state law, it may be facially valid, as ‘facially
valid' does not mean ‘lawful, ' and erroneous
orders can be valid.”). “Just as judges acting in
their judicial capacity are absolutely immune from liability
under section 1983, officials charged with the duty of
executing a facially valid court order enjoy absolute
immunity from liability for damages in a suit challenging
conduct prescribed by that order.” Id. at 1472
(internal brackets, quotation marks, and citations omitted).
“[L]aw enforcement officers are . . . entitled to
absolute ‘quasi-judicial' immunity for their
actions in executing facially valid warrants, writs, and
other court orders, such as bench warrants.” Zamora
v. City of Belen, 383 F.Supp.2d 1315, 1325-26 (D.N.M.
2005) (collecting cases).
argues that Burd is not entitled to absolute immunity because
he should have known from the information on the bond receipt
that the warrant was no longer valid. See
Plaintiff's Resp. at 11-12. But “[u]nless a warrant
is facially invalid an officer has no constitutional duty to
independently determine its validity.” Hill v.
Bogans, 735 F.2d 391, 393 (10th Cir. 1984) (officer
acted reasonably in relying on routine police procedures for
establishing the existence of an outstanding warrant and
should not be held responsible for the failure of county
personnel to clear the warrant from the records). See
also Scull, 236 F.3d at 597-98 (Jailers had no duty to
independently investigate claims that a defendant should be
released on writ of habeas corpus when facility was not named
in writ and the warrant for arrest was facially valid).
“An officer on the highway is entitled to rely on an
accurate computer notification that there is an existing
warrant for an individual's arrest. The officer is not
required by the Fourth Amendment to obtain a copy of the
warrant, research supporting documentation, or go behind the
facial validity of a warrant before making the arrest.”
Smyth v. City of Lakewood, 83 F.3d 433, 1996 WL
194715, at *4 (10th Cir. 1996).
cites to Maresca v. Bernalillo County, 804 F.3d
1301, 1310 (10th Cir. 2015), for the proposition that
“in determining whether there is probable cause,
officers are charged with knowledge of any ‘readily
available exculpatory evidence' that they unreasonably
fail to ascertain.” But Maresca addressed a
warrantless arrest based on a stolen vehicle report, brought
up when the officer mistyped a license plate number, wherein
the description of the stolen vehicle clearly did not match
the vehicle occupied by the plaintiffs and the officer
ignored repeated requests to recheck the number. See Id
. at 1304-05. The Tenth Circuit held that the officer
was not entitled to rely on her unreasonable mistake as
probable cause to arrest particularly due to the
officer's “failure to use readily available
information-already on the computer screen in front of her
and from the dispatcher-to verify that the [plaintiffs']
vehicle was reported stolen before arresting them.”
Id. at 1311.
contrast, Burd was not tasked with independently assessing
probable cause, but only with carrying out a court order for
Plaintiff's arrest. Burd testified in deposition that a
bond receipt does not prove that a warrant is not active and
that documents proving a defendant has been picked up on a
warrant are given to the defendant upon release, but that
Plaintiff did not have this documentation. See
Defendants' Memo. Ex. G Burd Depo. 20:2-13. Plaintiff
presents no evidence to contradict Burd's testimony
beyond his assertion that “Burd had all the information
necessary and sufficient to know that the warrant was no
longer valid.” See Plaintiff's Resp.
¶ 10. Plaintiff states that dispatch from the arresting
agency communicates with the issuing agency, which has access
to the relevant court records. See Id . Yet
Plaintiff does not dispute that dispatch informed Burd that
the warrant was valid. See Id . Burd contacted
dispatch when presented with Plaintiff's bond receipt and
confirmed the active status of the warrant for
Plaintiff's arrest. See Defendants Resp. at 4.
Nothing in Maresca requires an officer to question
the veracity of official information obtained through routine
police procedures for establishing the existence of an
Court therefore finds that the warrant was facially valid
when dispatch confirmed to Burd that there was a valid and
active warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. Because Burd
relied on the facially valid warrant as the basis for
arresting Plaintiff, the Court concludes that Burd is
entitled to absolute immunity on Plaintiff's Fourth
Burd were not entitled to absolute immunity, he would be
protected by qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields
government officials from liability when they reasonably
perform their duties. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 231 (2009). To defeat Burd's assertion of qualified
immunity, Plaintiff must demonstrate that Burd's actions
violated a constitutional right that was clearly established
at the time of the alleged misconduct. See Id . at
clearly established that an arrest must be supported by
probable cause, whether independently evaluated by the
officer or embodied in a valid warrant. See Malley v.
Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 345 (1986) (warrant does not
shield officer from liability when the officer had applied to
the court for a warrant and “a reasonably well-trained
officer in petitioner's position would have known that
his affidavit failed to establish probable cause and that he
should not have applied for the warrant.”). But a state
law enforcement officer is entitled to qualified immunity if
a reasonable officer could have believed that probable cause
to arrest existed at the moment the arrest was made. See
Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227-28 (1991). Because
dispatch informed Burd that there was an active warrant for
Plaintiff's arrest, the Court finds that it was
reasonable for Burd to rely on this information. See
Maresca, 804 F.3d at 1312 (deputy that assisted
arresting officer was entitled to qualified immunity because
deputy was entitled to rely on arresting officer's report
that the car was stolen). Plaintiff has not presented any
cases demonstrating that Burd's conduct in relying on
dispatch's statement that there was a valid warrant for
Plaintiff's arrest, rather than extrapolating contrary
information from Plaintiff's bond receipt, was a clear
violation of Plaintiff's rights. “[T]here is no
clearly established law to the effect that an arrest based on
execution of a court's bench warrant may constitute false
arrest.” Zamora, 383 F.Supp.2d at 1338. The
Court therefore concludes that Burd is also entitled to
qualified immunity. The Court will grant summary judgment for
Burd on the Fourth Amendment claim.
New Mexico Tort Claims Act
both absolute and qualified immunity protect Burd from
liability on Plaintiff's constitutional claim, these
doctrines may not apply to Plaintiff's common-law tort
claims even though those claims are based on the same factual
circumstances. See Romero v. Sanchez, 1995-
NMSC-028, ¶ 25, 119 N.M. 690, 895 P.2d 212 (questioning
the parties' assumption that qualified immunity protects
an official sued under the NMTCA but declining to address the
question because it was not properly before the Court). Under
the NMTCA, “any public employee while acting within the
scope of duty [is] granted immunity from liability for any
tort except as waived.” Section 41-4-4(A). The NMTCA
waives immunity for an enumerated list of torts, including
false imprisonment and false arrest, “when caused by
law enforcement officers while acting within the scope of
their duties.” Section 41-4-12. A law enforcement
officer may be liable under the NMTCA both for perpetrating
any listed tort and for negligent acts that result in an
enumerated tort, even if that tort is actually committed by a
third party. See Weinstein v. City of Santa Fe ex rel.
Santa Fe Police Dept., 1996-NMSC-021, ¶ 21, 121
N.M. 646, 916 P.2d 1313. Therefore, if Robinson's
negligence caused Burd to falsely arrest Plaintiff, both
Defendants could be held liable. Plaintiff brought an NMTCA
claim against Robinson only, see Compl. ¶¶
14-16, but informally requests leave to amend his Complaint
to include an NMTCA claim against Burd as well, arguing that
he sufficiently pleaded state-law tort claims for false
arrest and false imprisonment against Burd, see
Plaintiff's Mot. at 11.
New Mexico law, false imprisonment consists of intentionally
confining or restraining another person without his consent
and with knowledge that he has no lawful authority to do
so.” Fuerschbach v. Southwest Airlines Co.,
439 F.3d 1197, 1207 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Romero, 1995-NMSC-028, ¶ 13) (internal
quotation marks omitted). “False arrest or unlawful
detention occurs when the facts available to a detaining
officer would not warrant a person of reasonable caution to
believe detention appropriate.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and brackets omitted). “A defendant
possessed of a good faith and reasonable belief in the
lawfulness of the action is not liable for false imprisonment
or false arrest.” Id.
arrested Plaintiff after dispatch informed Burd that there
was an outstanding warrant for Plaintiff's arrest.
See Defendants' Resp. ¶ 3. Plaintiff has
presented no evidence that Burd executed the arrest knowing
that he was without lawful authority to do so. As discussed
above, Burd's decision to arrest Plaintiff was reasonable
when, after Plaintiff stated that the warrant was not valid,
Burd contacted dispatch to verify the warrant and dispatch
confirmed that it was active. See Defendants'
Resp. ¶ 3. Even if the Court liberally construes
Plaintiff's Complaint to present a state-law tort claim
against Burd, Burd cannot be held liable for false
imprisonment or false arrest under these circumstances. The
Court will grant summary judgment in Burd's favor on
Plaintiff's claim under the NMTCA.
summary judgment must also be granted in Robinson's
favor. Plaintiff argues that Robinson was negligent because
New Mexico court rules require Robinson to have ensured that
the warrant was cancelled. See Plaintiff's Resp.
¶ 7; Rule 6-207 NMRA (“If the warrant has been
entered into a law enforcement information system, upon
arrest of the defendant, the person executing the warrant
shall cause it to be removed from the system.”). But
Defendants have presented evidence that the New Mexico
Department of Public Safety relies on dispatch personnel to,
“after service, . . . remove warrants from NCIC and
the file from the manual filing system, as quickly as
possible.” See Defendants Resp. Ex. A-1 at 7.
Plaintiff admits that Robinson signed the warrant and gave a
copy to dispatch and that Robinson himself was not
responsible for removing the warrant from the NCIC database.
See Plaintiff's Resp. ¶¶ 5, 7. There
is no basis for the Court to find that Robinson was
responsible for further actions in clearing the warrant after
he gave the copy to dispatch. See Gose v. Board of County
Comm'rs of County of McKinley, 778 F.Supp.2d 1191,
1199 n.6 (D.N.M. 2011) (“Neither the statute nor the
rule gives a correctional officer the power to cancel or
modify a bench warrant. From a logical standpoint, it would
seem that only a court could modify a court order.”).
But the Court need not decide this issue because, even if
Robinson had been negligent, Robinson is not liable under the
NMTCA when no false arrest resulted. See Weinstein,
1996-NMSC-021, ¶ 25 (law enforcement officer is not
liable under the NMTCA for negligence that does not result in
a listed tort or a statutory or constitutional violation).
Therefore, the Court will grant summary judgment to Robinson.
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 54) is
denied, 2) DEFENDANTS ANTHONY ROBINSON AND JORDAN BURD'S
OPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 52) is granted,
Plaintiffs COMPLAINT FOR NEGLIGENCE AND VIOLATION OF THE
FOURTH AMENDMENT (Doc. No. 1) will be dismissed with
prejudice by a summary judgment.