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Taylor v. Robinson

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 5, 2016



         On July 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The 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.

         On 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. 49:2-50:7.


         Plaintiff 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.

         Summary 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. 2000).

         However, 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).


         Plaintiff 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.

         A. Fourth Amendment

         The 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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 ...

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