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James v. District Attorney's office

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 24, 2017

DARREN L. JAMES, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Defendants.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          GREGORY B. WORMUTH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Doc. 8. For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the Court grant Defendants' motion and dismiss this action.

         I. Background

         In 2013, Defendant Andrea Reeb was employed as an Assistant District Attorney for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney's Office and prosecuted Plaintiff in three methamphetamine-trafficking cases. Doc. 1 at 1-3; doc. 8 at 3; doc. 8-1 at 1. On October 2, 2013, Plaintiff pled guilty to all three charges pursuant to a plea agreement, which was signed by Plaintiff, Plaintiff's attorney, and Defendant Reeb. Doc. 8 at 3; doc. 8-1 at 1-5. While Plaintiff's Complaint does not directly identify these criminal cases as the subject of this suit, it does refer to his “pending motion in district court, ” which likely refers to Plaintiff's Motion to Vacate in these cases. See doc. 8 at 3-4; doc. 8-1 at 9-11. In addition, it appears that no criminal cases involving Plaintiff have been filed other than these three trafficking cases. See https://caselookup.nmcourts.gov/caselookup/app. Therefore, I recommend that the Court construe Plaintiff's Complaint as alleging constitutional violations relating to his transportation to the Curry County Detention Center on October 2, 2013.

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on October 27, 2016. Doc. 1. The Complaint alleges that by improperly ordering Plaintiff's transportation to the Curry County Detention Center, Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth, Fourteenth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Id. On January 5, 2017, Defendants filed this Motion to Dismiss, alleging that: (1) Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations; (2) Defendants are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment; (3) Defendant Reeb is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity; and (4) Defendant Reeb is entitled to qualified immunity. Doc. 8 at 2-10. For the following reasons, I recommend that the Court grant Defendants' motion and dismiss this action.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which the court can grant relief. When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and must view them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Id. (quoting Miller v. Glanz, 948 F.2d 1562, 1565 (10th Cir. 1991)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Thus, the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint 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).

         While a complaint challenged by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations, a complaint does not “suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal alterations, citations, and quotations omitted); see also Bixler v. Foster, 596 F.3d 751, 756 (10th Cir. 2010). The court is not required to accept conclusions of law, conclusory allegations, or the asserted application of law to the alleged facts. Hackford v. Babbitt, 14 F.3d 1457, 1465 (10th Cir. 1994).

         Where, as here, a party is proceeding pro se, the Court is to liberally construe his pleadings. Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1125 (10th Cir. 2010). “But the court [is] not [to] ‘assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant.'” Baker v. Holt, 498 F. App'x 770, 772 (10th Cir. 2012) (unpublished) (quoting Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991)). Accordingly, the Court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997). In other words, “[t]he broad reading of the plaintiff's complaint does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. Prisoners are particularly well-situated to plead facts outlining their treatment since they experienced it first-hand. See Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1185 (10th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         A. Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

         Defendants first allege that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Doc. 8 at 2-4. The Supreme Court has held that because “§ 1983 claims are best characterized as personal injury actions . . . the 3-year statute of limitations governing actions ‘for an injury to the person or reputation of any person'” applies to such claims brought in New Mexico. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 280 (1985) (quoting N.M.S.A. § 37-1-8).[1] Therefore, in order to satisfy the statute of limitations, Plaintiff must have brought the lawsuit within three years of his alleged injury. See N.M.S.A. § 37-1-8.

         Plaintiff claims that he was injured by Defendants' act of transporting Plaintiff back and forth between the Department of Corrections and the Curry County Detention Center. Doc. 1 at 2-3. As explained above, Plaintiff appears to be referring to his transportation immediately preceding the signing of his plea agreement on October 2, 2013. See doc. 8-1 at 1-5. Under the three-year statute of limitations, any action filed in regard to such injury must have been filed by October 2, 2016. Plaintiff filed the instant action on October 27, 2016, and thereby missed the deadline under the statute of limitations by 25 days. See doc. 1. Although Plaintiff did not identify the date on which he signed his Complaint, the envelope in which the Complaint was sent to the Court was postmarked October 26, 2016. Doc. 1 at 4-5. Therefore, as all evidence suggests that Plaintiff failed to file his Complaint within the time limits established by the statute of limitations, I recommend that Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice on that ground.

         B. Defendant District Attorney's Office and Defendant Reeb, in her official capacity, are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

         Even if the Court were to find that Plaintiff filed his Complaint within the applicable statute of limitations, the Court should grant Defendants' Motion as to Defendant Ninth Judicial District Attorney's Office and Defendant Reeb, in her official capacity, on the basis of Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign state.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. The Supreme Court has explained that “the Constitution does not provide for federal jurisdiction over suits against nonconsenting States.” Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73 (2000).

         The Ninth Judicial District Attorney's Office is a state entity. See N.M.S.A. § 36- 1-11; State ex rel. Attorney General v. Reese, 78 N.M. 241, 249 (1967); State ex rel. Ward v. Romero, 17 N.M. 88, 97-99, 125 P. 617, 619-20 (1912). Consequently, it and its employees (when sued in their official capacities) are protected by the Eleventh Amendment. See Macias v. Griffin, 612 Fed. App'x 532, 534 (10th Cir. 2015) (holding that New Mexico's Fifth Judicial District Attorney's Office is protected from suit by the Eleventh Amendment); Jacks ...


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