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Mohammad v. Metropolitan Court

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 31, 2017

THE METROPOLITAN COURT et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the following motions: (1) the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8) filed by Defendants the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court (“Metropolitan Court”) and the University of New Mexico (“UNM”) on May 31, 2016; (2) Defendant Metropolitan Detention Center's Motion to Dismiss and Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 11), filed May 31, 2016; and, (3) Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint (Doc. 23) (“Motion to Amend”), filed January 30, 2017. By an Order of Reference filed on May 25, 2017, the Court referred this matter to me to conduct hearings as warranted, and to perform any legal analysis required to recommend an ultimate disposition of the motions. (Doc. 26.) Having meticulously reviewed the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and being otherwise fully advised, I recommend that Defendants' Motions to Dismiss be GRANTED, that Plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, that Plaintiff's Motion to Amend be DENIED, and that Plaintiff be allowed twenty-one (21) days to file a motion to amend his complaint to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Khalid Mohammad initiated this action in state court on April 21, 2016, and Defendant the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”) removed it to this Court on May 24, 2016.[1] (Docs. 1, 1-3.) In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Mark Krueger, a law enforcement officer employed by Defendant UNM, accused him of damaging public property and filed a criminal complaint against him in Defendant Metropolitan Court. (Doc. 1-3 at 2.) Plaintiff asserts that he filed six motions for the issuance of subpoenas in the criminal case, on December 16, 2014, December 23, 2014, January 8, 2015, February 4, 2015, April 24, 2015, and May 16, 2015 respectively, all of which Metropolitan Court Judge Victor Valdez either denied or ignored. (Id. at 3-7.) Plaintiff also alleges that he filed a motion for a speedy trial on February 4, 2015, and that Judge Valdez ignored it as well. (Id. at 5-6.)

         According to Plaintiff, he appeared before Judge Valdez on four occasions in the course of the criminal proceedings against him. His first alleged appearance was in response to a criminal summons on December 29, 2014. (Id. at 3-4.) At this hearing, Plaintiff claims, Judge Valdez ordered him to be detained, causing him to be transported to Defendant MDC. (Id.) His second alleged appearance was on January 13, 2015; at this hearing, he claims, Judge Valdez imposed bail in the amount of $500 as a condition of his release. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that he objected to the bail as excessive and asked to be released on his own recognizance, and that Judge Valdez overruled his objections and denied his motion for release. (Id.) Plaintiff's third alleged appearance was by video conference from MDC on May 9, 2015, at which Plaintiff claims Judge Valdez refused to reduce Plaintiff's bail. (Id. at 6.) At his fourth and final alleged appearance before Judge Valdez, on February 24, 2016, Plaintiff claims that Officer Krueger declined to prosecute him, and that Judge Valdez therefore dismissed the charge against him. (Id. at 7.)

         Plaintiff further claims that Judge Valdez set trial dates of January 28, 2015 and June 9, 2015, but that on each date MDC officers refused to transport him to court despite his demands that they do so. (Id. at 4-7.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants acted pursuant to a scheme to imprison him without “prosecution, a court order, a sentence, an underlying conviction, verdict of guilty, plea of guilty, finding of guilty, admission(s) of guilty and/or any consent, ” from December 29, 2014 to February 24, 2016. (Id. at 1, 8.) Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendants under the New Mexico Governmental Immunity Act (“NMGIA”), N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 41-13-1 to 41-13-3, the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”), N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 41-4-1 to 41-4-30, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). (Id.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages against Defendants in the amount of $250, 000, 000.00. (Id. at 8.)

         On May 31, 2016, Defendants Metropolitan Court and UNM jointly, and Defendant MDC, filed motions to dismiss. (Docs. 8, 11.) Plaintiff responded in opposition to Metropolitan Court's and UNM's motion to dismiss on June 6, 2016, and to MDC's motion to dismiss on June 7, 2016. (Docs. 14, 15.) On June 14, 2016, the Court stayed discovery in this matter pending resolution of Defendants' motions. (Doc. 19.) Finally, Plaintiff filed his Motion to Amend on January 30, 2017. (Doc. 23.) In his proposed amended complaint, Plaintiff names the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”) as the sole Defendant, and alleges that an unknown APD officer arrested and imprisoned him at MDC from May 8, 2015 to February 24, 2016 without prosecution, a court order, a sentence, a conviction, a guilty verdict, a guilty plea, a finding of guilt, an admission of guilt, or consent, pursuant to a scheme, in violation of the same state and federal provisions on which he relies in his original complaint. (Doc. 23 at 3-7.) The Court will consider each of the parties' pending motions in turn.

         II. Analysis

         A. Metropolitan Court's and UNM's Motion to Dismiss

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether the plaintiff's complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The Court must consider “the complaint as a whole, along with the documents incorporated by reference into the complaint, ” and must construe all well-pled allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Nakkhumpun v. Taylor, 782 F.3d 1142, 1146 (10th Cir. 2015). “Well-pled” means that the allegations are “plausible, non-conclusory, and non-speculative.” Dudnikov v. Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts, Inc., 514 F.3d 1063, 1070 (10th Cir. 2008). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Courts “disregard conclusory statements and look only to whether the remaining[] factual allegations plausibly suggest the defendant is liable.” Mocek v. City of Albuquerque, 813 F.3d 912, 921 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012)). A court may resolve a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) on the basis of an affirmative defense when the facts establishing it are apparent on the face of the complaint. Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354, 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2014); Miller v. Shell Oil Co., 345 F.2d 891, 893 (10th Cir. 1965).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his pleadings liberally and hold them to a less stringent standard than is required of a party represented by counsel. Weinbaum v. City of Las Cruces, 541 F.3d 1017, 1029 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991)). The Court must make some allowance for a pro se party's “failure to cite proper legal authority, ” “confusion of various legal theories, ” “poor syntax and sentence construction, ” or “unfamiliarity with pleading requirements[.]” Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110). However, “the court cannot take on the responsibility of serving as the litigant's attorney in constructing arguments and searching the record.” Id.

         1. Plaintiff's Federal Constitutional Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         In their motion to dismiss, Defendants Metropolitan Court and UNM first argue that they are “arms of the state, ” and so are not “persons” who can be sued for monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2] (Doc. 8 at 3-4.) Section 1983 authorizes civil suits for money damages to redress deprivations of federal constitutional rights “by persons acting under color of any state statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991) (internal punctuation marks omitted). However, states, state agencies, and state officials in their official capacities cannot be sued for monetary relief under Section 1983. Id. at 25-26; Will v. Mich. Dep't of St. Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989). This is because “[n]either the state, nor a governmental entity that is an arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes, nor a state official who acts in his or her official capacity, is a ‘person' within the meaning of § 1983.” Harris v. Champion, 51 F.3d 901, 905-06 (10th Cir. 1995), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Knox v. Bland, 632 F.3d 1290, 1292 (10th Cir. 2011).

         In analyzing whether a governmental entity is an “arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes, ” courts consider whether the state would be “legally obligated to pay the judgment” sought against the entity, and also “other factors, ” including “local versus state control” of the entity, “the characterization and definition of the entity in its enabling and implementing legislation, ” “the functions of the entity, ” and “the fiscal independence of the entity.” Duke v. Grady Mun. Schs., 127 F.3d 972, 978, 981 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Regarding Defendant Metropolitan Court, “[a]s a general matter, state courts are considered arms of the state.” Large v. Beckham Cnty. Dist. Ct., 2014 WL 235477, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 22, 2014) (quoting 13 Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 3524.2, at 324-25 (3d ed. 2008)); see, e.g., Lewis v. Mikesic, 195 F. App'x 709, 710 (10th Cir. 2006) (Kansas probate judge in his official capacity is not a “person[] against whom a claim for damages can be brought pursuant to § 1983”)[3]; Callahan v. City of Philadelphia, 207 F.3d 668, 674 (3d Cir. 2000) (“[T]he district courts repeatedly have held that all components of the judicial branch of the Pennsylvania government are state entities and thus are not persons for section 1983 purposes.”); Harris, 51 F.3d at 906 (“[T]his and other circuit courts have held that a state court is not a ‘person' under § 1983.”); Coopersmith v. Supreme Ct., St. of Colo., 465 F.2d 993, 994 (10th Cir. 1972) (Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Court of Appeals, and Grand County, Colorado District Court “are not ‘persons'” as contemplated in 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986); Saavedra v. Griego, Civ. No. 08-240 WJ/LFG, Mem. Op. & Order at 4-5 (D.N.M. filed Feb. 19, 2009) (Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court is “arm of the state”); Heffington v. Dist. Ct. of Sedgwick Cnty., 2005 WL 1421530, at *5 (D. Kan. Jun. 17, 2005) (Sedgwick County, Kansas District Court is not a person under Section 1983).

         In New Mexico, metropolitan courts are established by statute as “state magistrate court[s]” within the meaning of Article 6 of the New Mexico Constitution. N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 34-8A-1, 34-8A-2. The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court in particular is specifically designated by statute as “an agency of the judicial department of state government.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 34-8A-8(B).

All money for the operation and maintenance of the metropolitan court shall be paid by the state treasurer upon warrants of the secretary of finance and administration, supported by vouchers of the presiding judge of the metropolitan court and in accordance with budgets approved by the administrative office of the courts ...

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