United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JUSTIN L. GARCIA, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL GEIER, individually, and in his official capacity; KEITH RIESBERG, individually, and in his official capacity; RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT; and GOVERNING BODY FOR THE CITY OF RIO RANCHO. Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS'
MOTION TO DISMISS CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANT CITY OF RIO
RANCHO, INCLUDING THE RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss filed on May 3, 2017 (Doc. 28). Having reviewed the
relevant pleadings and the applicable law, the Court finds
Defendants' Motion is well-taken, and is therefore
relevant background facts are set forth in the Court's
Memorandum Opinion and Order Granting Defendants Michael
Geier's And Keith Riesberg's Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
21) and will not be repeated here. Plaintiff Justin L. Garcia
brought this lawsuit against four defendants: former Chief of
Police Michael Geier and City Manager Keith Riesberg both
individually and in their official capacities and the Rio
Rancho Police Department and the City of Rio Rancho. On
February 24, 2017, the Court dismissed Defendants Geier and
Riesberg with prejudice because Plaintiff failed to state
claims under the First Amendment, Procedural Due Process
Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
See generally Doc. 21. The only remaining claims are
those asserted against the City, including the Rio Rancho
argue the Complaint does not allege the City acted by any
means other than through Geier and Riesberg to violate
Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Moreover, the
Complaint contains no allegations of any City policy or
custom that directly caused Plaintiff's alleged injuries.
The crux of Defendants' argument is that a municipality
may not be held liable where there was no underlying
constitutional violation by any of its officers. See
Apodaca v. Rio Arriba County Sheriff's Dept., 905
F.2d 1445, 1447-48 (10th Cir. 1990); Watson v. City of
Kansas City, 857 F.2d 690, 697 (10th Cir. 1988);
Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782
(10th Cir. 1993).
responds that “the City had several customs and
policies in effect which were directly violated in this
case.” Doc. 29 at 2. But Plaintiff does not identify
any of such customs or policies. Citing a New Mexico state
case, Trujillo v. City of Albuquerque,
1979-NMCA-127, 93 N.M. 564, 603 P.2d 303 (1979), Plaintiff
argues where there is a direct relationship between a victim
and the police, a municipality can be liable for the
victim's injuries. The core of Plaintiff's argument
is that the actions of Defendants Geier and Riesberg can be
“imputed to the City for liability purposes.”
Doc. 29 at 2.
same reasons articulated in its order dismissing Geier and
Riesberg (Doc. 21), the Court concludes Plaintiff has not
alleged any specific City custom or policy that directly
caused his alleged constitutional deprivations. Plaintiff
argues the alleged unconstitutional acts of City employees
may be “imputed to the City for liability purposes,
” but Monell and its progeny make it
explicitly clear that a city may not be held liable for its
employees' acts under a respondeat
superior theory. Rather, in order to prevail on a
claim of municipal liability, a plaintiff must, in addition
to showing a constitutional violation, prove that his or her
constitutional injury was “inflicted pursuant to
government policy or custom.” Monell v. New York
Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). A
municipality may be liable for acts officially sanctioned or
ordered by its final policy-making authority. Pembauer v.
City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986)
(plurality opinion); see Trigalet v. City of Tulsa,
Oklahoma, 239 F.3d 1150, 1154 (10th Cir. 2001)
(municipality cannot be held liable for the actions of its
employees if those actions do not constitute a violation of a
plaintiff's constitutional rights); Hinton, 997
F.2d at 782 (“A municipality may not be held liable
where there was no underlying constitutional violation by any
of its officers. Rather, to establish municipal liability, a
plaintiff must show 1) the existence of a municipal policy or
custom, and 2) that there is a direct causal link between the
policy or custom and the injury alleged.”). Fatal to
Plaintiff's claims is that the actions complained are
attributed to either Geier or Riesberg, and the Court already
found neither Defendant committed any constitutional, injury
to this Plaintiff. See Doc. 4 ¶¶ 32-95.
has not directed the Court to any allegations that describe
acts by the City through a City policy or custom as opposed
to acts by the individual Defendants or other employees.
Plaintiff asks the Court to impute liability to the City
because of the acts of the individuals Defendants, but the
City cannot be held liable for constitutional violations by
Geier or Riesberg, had any occurred, solely because it
employed Geier and Riesberg. See Monell, 436 U.S. at
689. When a defendant's conduct does not violate the
constitution, such a finding precludes liability against the
city solely because the city employed the defendant. See
Hinton, 997 F.2d at 782.
above principals were considered in depth by the Supreme
Court in City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S.
796, 799 (1986). There, the Court reasoned that when a city
is “sued only because [it was] thought legally
responsible” for the actions of its officers, it is
“inconceivable” to hold the city liable if its
officers inflict no constitutional injury, even when the
city's policies might have “authorized” such
injury. See Id. In other words, when liability
against a city is derived solely from an officer, and a court
finds that the officer has not violated any of the
plaintiff's constitutional rights, the claims against the
city are properly dismissed. See Id. Crucial to the
Court's reasoning in Heller was the fact that
the city's liability, if any, was solely based on the
conduct of the named individual defendant. Here, Plaintiff
has not alleged the conduct of any other officials caused his
alleged injury and Plaintiff has not identified any City
custom or policy that caused the injuries he complains of.
reliance on Trujillo is inapposite. First,
Trujillo is a state court decision thus holds little
persuasive value. Second, Trujillo is not relevant
to the issues at hand, because it dealt with common law
claims asserted against a city rather than federal
constitutional claims. See Trujillo, 1975-NMCA-127,
¶ 3. There, the New Mexico Court of Appeals discussed
whether the city owed the plaintiff a “special
duty” of care in the context of a plaintiff who was not
an employee of the city. See Id. ¶¶ 10-11.
Third, the case is of no relevance factually and may be
distinguished entirely on that basis, because it involved a
plaintiff's decedent who was shot and killed in a city
park by a private person, not a city employee. See
Id. ¶¶ 2-3.
it is worth noting that “Monell does not
require that a jury find an individual defendant liable
before it can find a local governmental body liable.”
Garcia v. Salt Lake County, 768 F.2d 303, 310 (10th
Cir. 1985). But in Garcia, unlike the present
matter, there was an identified policy that itself
substantially contributed to the violation of the
plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Id.
305-07. Moreover, in Garcia the plaintiff had
identified specific policies of the county jail and the
plaintiff identified specific provisions from those policies.
See Id. at 306. The Plaintiff here has not done so.
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 28) is GRANTED.
Plaintiffs claims against Defendants the Rio Rancho Police
Department and the ...