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Mora v. Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 23, 2017

MATTHEW R. MORA, Plaintiff,
v.
BERNALILLO COUNTY METROPOLITAN DETENTION CENTER; SERGEANT C. OWENS and SERGEANT C. GRIEGO, Defendants.

          Matthew R. Mora Plaintiff Pro Se

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the Prisoner's Civil Rights Complaint, filed December 23, 2014 (Doc. 14)(“Complaint”). Plaintiff Matthew R. Mora appears pro se and is proceeding in forma pauperis. The primary issues are: (i) whether the Complaint's Claim I, which alleges that Defendant Sergeant C. Owens and Defendant Sergeant C. Griego stripped Mora naked and made graphic sexual comments to him, states a claim for sexual harassment; (ii) whether the Complaint's Claim II, which alleges that Owens and Griego refused Mora access to various necessities and to requested medical attention, states a claim for cruel and unusual punishment; and (iii) whether the Complaint's Claim III, which alleges that Owens and Griego refused Mora access to medical attention in response to his exercise of a protected right, states a claim for retaliation. After carefully reviewing the Complaint's allegations, the Court will allow Claim I and Claim II to proceed, and will dismiss Claim III.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Complaint's factual allegations are as follows. Mora alleges that, on February 2, 2014, during his incarceration at Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Defendants Owens and Griego placed him in the “Pac 2” unit where they stripped him and another inmate, Randall Parker, naked, and then taunted, mocked, and subjected them to “graphic” and “disgusting” sexual comments. Complaint at 2-3. Mora alleges that this incident “went on for over a week.” Complaint at 6. Mora asserts that he was “treated worse than an animal, ” and that this incident was dehumanizing, embarrassing, and traumatic. Complaint at 6. Mora further alleges that he was “not given a shower for multiple days nor let out for exercise” and that Owens and Griego refused him use of the telephone. Complaint at 2-3. Finally, Mora alleges that he “asked C. Owens and C. Griego to see the doctor at PSU, ” but that Owens and Griego refused him medical attention as “punish[ment]” for “exercising a protected right.” Complaint at 3. Proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Mora asserts claims for (i) sexual harassment; (ii) cruel and unusual punishment; and (iii) retaliation. See Complaint at 2-3.

         LAW REGARDING IN FORMA PAUPERIS COMPLAINTS

         The Court has discretion to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint sua sponte pursuant to § 1915(e)(2) “at any time if the action . . . is frivolous or malicious; [or] fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” The Court also has discretion to dismiss a complaint sua sponte 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, and allowing him an opportunity to amend his complaint would be futile.” 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)). To survive dismissal under rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In the context of a pro se complaint, the Court applies the same legal standards that apply to pleadings that counsel draft, but liberally construes the complaint's allegations. See Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1520-21 (10th Cir. 1992).

         LAW REGARDING RULE 12(b)(6)

         Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The nature of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994)(Brorby, J.). The sufficiency of a complaint is a question of law, and when considering a rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint, view those allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007)(“[O]nly if a reasonable person could not draw . . . an inference [of plausibility] from the alleged facts would the defendant prevail on a motion to dismiss.”); Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009)(Briscoe, J.)(“[F]or purposes of resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in a complaint and view these allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”)(citing Moore v. Guthrie, 438 F.3d 1036, 1039 (10th Cir. 2006)(McKay, J.)).

         A complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations, yet a “pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's complaint must contain sufficient facts that, if assumed to be true, state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Mink v. Knox, 613 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2010). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Thus, the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complainant must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007)(Kelly, J.) (emphasis omitted). The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has stated:

“[P]lausibility” in this context must refer to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs “have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” The allegations must be enough that, if assumed to be true, the plaintiff plausibly (not just speculatively) has a claim for relief.

Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008)(McConnell, J.) (citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Although affirmative defenses must generally be pled in the defendant's answer, not argued on a motion to dismiss, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c), there are exceptions. First, a defendant can argue an affirmative defense on a motion to dismiss where the defendant asserts an immunity defense -- the courts handle these cases differently than other motions to dismiss. See Glover v. Gartman, 899 F.Supp.2d 1115, 1137-39, 1141 (D.N.M. 2012)(Browning, J.)(citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009)); Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d at 1247. Second, the defendant can raise the defense on a motion to dismiss where the facts establishing the affirmative defense are apparent on the face of the complaint. See Miller v. Shell Oil Co., 345 F.2d 891, 893 (10th Cir. 1965)(Hill, J.)(“Under Rule 12(b), a defendant may raise an affirmative defense by a motion to dismiss for the failure to state a claim. If the defense appears plainly on the face of the complaint itself, the motion may be disposed of under this rule.”). The defense of limitations is the affirmative defense that the complaint's uncontroverted facts is most likely to establish. See 5 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure: Civil § 1277, at 643 (3d ed. 2004). If the complaint sets forth dates that appear, in the first instance, to fall outside of the statutory limitations period, then the defendant may move for dismissal under rule 12(b)(6). See Rohner v. Union P. R. Co., 225 F.2d 272, 273-75 (10th Cir. 1955)(Wallace, J.); Gossard v. Gossard, 149 F.2d 111, 113 (10th Cir. 1945)(Phillips, J.); Andrew v. Schlumberger Tech. Co., 808 F.Supp.2d 1288, 1292 (D.N.M. 2011)(Browning, J.).

         The plaintiff may counter this motion with an assertion that a different statute of limitations or an equitable tolling doctrine applies to bring the suit within the statute. The Tenth Circuit has not clarified whether this assertion must be pled with supporting facts in the complaint or may be merely argued in response to the motion. Cf. Kincheloe v. Farmer, 214 F.2d 604 (7th Cir. 1954)(Major, J.)(holding that, once a plaintiff has pled facts in the complaint indicating that the statute of limitations is a complete or partial bar to an action, the plaintiff must plead facts establishing an exception to the affirmative defense). It appears that, from case law in several Courts of Appeals, the plaintiff may avoid this problem altogether -- at least at the motion-to-dismiss stage -- by refraining from pleading specific or identifiable dates. See Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 465-66 (4th Cir. 2007)(Niemeyer, J.); Hollander v. Brown, 457 F.3d ...


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