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Montoya v. Ramos

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 28, 2017

MAX MONTOYA, Plaintiff,


         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Max Montoya's First Amended Motion for Summary Judgment on His 4th Amendment Claims Under Section 1983 Claims [sic] for the Unreasonable Siezure [sic] of Max Montoya, as Well as His 4th Amendment Claims Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, filed on June 2, 2017 (Doc. 71). Having reviewed the relevant pleadings and the applicable law, and the argument and evidence presented at the hearing on August 25, 2017, the Court finds Plaintiff's Motion is not well-taken, and is therefore DENIED.[1] Furthermore, the Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's claim regarding reasonable suspicion on the grounds of qualified immunity.


         This litigation stems from an encounter between Plaintiff and Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Officers Kacy Ramos and Michael Rico.[2] On August 27, 2011, shortly after 10:00 p.m., Officers Ramos and Rico were dispatched to 510 Dartmouth Dr. SE in reference to an anonymous 911 call regarding a disturbance on Dartmouth Dr. SE. Officers Ramos and Rico were advised that there were two males in an argument and one of the males mentioned a gun. An unidentified individual told Officers Ramos and Rico that the argument had come from 511 Dartmouth, Plaintiff's residence. Officer Rico pointed his flashlight at the front of 511 Dartmouth. Plaintiff was in the front yard with a beer in his hand. Officers Ramos and Rico approached Plaintiff at the front door to the residence, announcing themselves as police. Defendants state that the officers were concerned Plaintiff might be armed with the gun that had been mentioned during the argument. It was dark and late at night, so Officer Ramos asked Plaintiff to step towards him. Defendants assert Plaintiff was reluctant to go near the officers and became aggressive. The officers also stated they could smell alcohol and Plaintiff was behaving erratically. For example, Plaintiff laughed when the officers told him they were there to investigate a disturbance.

         The parties have drastically different versions of what happened next. Defendants state that Plaintiff moved towards Officer Ramos and stumbled, so Officer Ramos placed his right hand up and braced it against Plaintiff's shoulder to keep Plaintiff from bumping into him. Officer Rico testified that he saw Plaintiff stumble into Officer Ramos, and he thought Plaintiff had committed a battery on Officer Ramos. Officer Ramos explained that Plaintiff said, “don't f-k with me like that” and he became louder and more aggressive. Officer Ramos told him that if he continued to be aggressive then he was going to put him in handcuffs. Plaintiff stated that he had just been injured and that he had a lawyer. Officer Ramos asked Plaintiff who was in the residence and Plaintiff stated “I don't give a f-k.” Plaintiff then said, “You want to shoot me, go ahead and shoot me.”

         Officer Ramos testified that Plaintiff stepped forward, closing the distance between himself and Officer Rico, with his fists balled up. Officer Ramos feared that Officer Rico was in danger of an immediate battery. At that point, each officer reached for one of Plaintiff's arms, fearing they were in danger because of Plaintiff's aggression and erratic behavior. Once Plaintiff was in custody, and after he calmed down, Plaintiff admitted to Officer Ramos that he had been in a verbal dispute with two males before the officers arrived. On further investigation, a witness told Officer Ramos that it was Plaintiff who had mentioned a gun during the initial dispute with the two males.

         In stark contrast to the facts as relayed by Defendants, Plaintiff claims that Officers Rico and Ramos were the aggressors, and they attacked him without justification, escalating the encounter into a violent exchange. Plaintiff claims he repeatedly told officers he had just been injured, which was why he was reluctant to go near them when they approached his front door. Plaintiff states he was pulled from the porch of his house for no reason, and hit and kicked repeatedly as Officers Rico and Ramos attempted to handcuff him. He states he repeatedly asked the officers to stop hurting him, but they continued to use excessive force. Plaintiff claims to have suffered severe injuries as a result of the beating.

         Plaintiff relies on the deposition testimony of Teri Milner and Tommy Gallegos who were at his house on the night in question watching television. Their version of the encounter between APD and Plaintiff aligns with Plaintiff's own. Specifically, Ms. Milner explained that after Plaintiff saw the officers outside of his residence, he seemed scared and reluctant to go outside because of his recent injuries. Mr. Gallegos testified that he saw the officers grab Plaintiff from inside the house and drag him outside as they were attempting to place him in handcuffs.

         In support of their various positions, both parties rely on Officer Ramos' police lapel video, which documented part of the encounter between Plaintiff and the officers on August 27, 2011. The video is initially blurry and dimly lit, and goes completely dark shortly after it begins. The video shows the officers shine a flashlight onto Plaintiff, and they tell him they are there to investigate a disturbance. He laughs. Shortly thereafter, one of the officers tells Plaintiff that if he continues to be aggressive, they will have to place him in handcuffs. It is impossible to discern what is happening on the video thereafter, because it is completely dark.

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on August 20, 2013, and an Amended Complaint on February 26, 2016. In the operative Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings claims for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. See Doc. 41. He alleges Defendants subjected him to excessive force and unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In the instant Motion, Plaintiff claims he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law that Officers Rico and Ramos lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him and lacked probable cause to ultimately arrest him. Doc. 71. Defendants filed a Response on June 30, 2017 asserting the defense of qualified immunity. Doc. 75. Plaintiff filed a Reply on July 25, 2017. Doc. 81.


          I. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . show that 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). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Shapolia v. Los Alamos Nat'l Lab., 922 F.3d 1033, 1036 (10th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must show that genuine issues remain for trial “as to those dispositive matters for which it carries the burden of proof.” Applied Genetics Int'l Inc. v. First Affiliated Secs., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted).

         A fact is material if it could have an effect on the outcome of the suit. Smothers v. Solvay Chems., Inc., 740 F.3d 530, 538 (10th Cir. 2014). A dispute over a material fact is genuine if the evidence presented could allow a rational jury to find in favor of the nonmoving party. EEOC v. Horizon/CMS Heathcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000). A court is to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Shero v. City of Grove, 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007). A court cannot weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but instead determines whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 243 (1986).

         Under normal circumstances, the party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991). Once the movant meets this burden, the nonmoving party must designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See, e.g., Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The existence of some alleged, immaterial factual dispute between the parties or a mere “scintilla of evidence” supporting the nonmoving party's position will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 256.

         “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial, ” and thus, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         II. ...

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