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Torres v. Madrid

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 22, 2017

ROXANNE TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
JANICE MADRID et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LAURA FASHING, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on defendants Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson's Motion to Dismiss or Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, which was fully briefed on May 30, 2017. Docs. 32, 34, 36, 37. Defendants' motion is based on qualified immunity and the doctrine announced in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which held that a plaintiff cannot bring a § 1983 civil rights claim based on actions whose unlawfulness would render an existing criminal conviction invalid. Id. at 486-87. Because the information contained in the complaint-even when combined with the information in the plea and disposition agreement attached to defendants' motion-is insufficient to conclude that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, or that the Heck doctrine bars plaintiff Roxanne Torres's claims, the Court DENIES defendants' motion.

         I. Relevant Facts

         This case arises out of an incident that occurred in July, 2014. The facts are taken from the allegations in Ms. Torres's complaint, which the Court assumes are true for the purpose of this motion. On the morning of Tuesday, July 15, 2014, New Mexico State Police officers went to an apartment complex in Albuquerque to serve an arrest warrant on a person named Kayenta Jackson. Doc. 1 ¶ 5. Defendants Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson[1] were two of the police officers involved. See Id. ¶¶ 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10.

         Officer Madrid and another officer parked their unmarked patrol vehicle in front of a 2010 black and white Toyota FJ Cruiser. Id. ¶ 6. Officers Madrid and Williamson were in tactical vests and dark clothing, which made it impossible for Ms. Torres to identify them as police officers. See Id. ¶ 7.

         Officers Madrid and Williamson attempted to open the locked door of the car in which Ms. Torres had been sleeping. Id. ¶ 8. (Although it is not clear from the complaint whether this car is the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Court assumes it was based on the background information contained in the defendants' motion. See Doc. 32 at 2.) Ms. Torres thought she was the victim of an attempted car-jacking, so she attempted to leave the parking lot in her car (presumably the FJ Cruiser). Doc. 1 ¶ 8. Ms. Torres was not armed, and she did nothing to suggest she was armed or had any type of weapon. Id. ¶ 9. When Ms. Torres attempted to exit the parking lot, both Officer Madrid and Officer Williamson were standing beside her car, not in front of it. Id. Nonetheless, both officers drew their duty weapons and shot at Ms. Torres. Id. ¶ 10. Ms. Torres was hit twice in her back. Id. Her vehicle also was struck multiple times. Id. Ms. Torres managed to get to a hospital where she was treated for gunshot wounds to her back in addition to other injuries. Id. ¶ 11. These injuries caused Ms. Torres pain, suffering, disfiguration, and scarring, and will result in future medical expenses. Id. ¶ 10.

         According to the plea and disposition agreement attached to defendants' motion (hereafter “plea agreement”), in March 2015, Ms. Torres pled no contest to aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer, in violation of N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-22-1.1, and also to assault upon a peace officer, in violation of N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-22-21. Doc. 32-1 at 1. The events that gave rise to these two charges took place “on or about the 15th day of July, 2014.” Id. Neither the law enforcement officer nor the peace officer involved in either offense is identified in the plea agreement. See id.

         II. The Complaint

         In counts I and III of the complaint, Ms. Torres alleges that Officer Madrid and Officer Williamson, respectively, through the intentional discharge of their weapons, “exceeded the degree of force which a reasonable, prudent law enforcement officer would have applied under these same circumstances.” Id. ¶¶ 14, 21. In counts II and IV, [2] Ms. Torres alleges that Officers Madrid and Williamson conspired together to use excessive force against her. Id. ¶¶ 17, 24.

         III. Discussion

         The defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity on all of Ms. Torres's excessive force claims under the Heck doctrine. Doc. 32 at 5-9. They contend that her March 2015 convictions for assault on a peace officer and aggravated fleeing bar her § 1983 claims because her claims, if successful, would render her convictions invalid. Id. Ms. Torres counters that the Court should not consider Ms. Torres's no-contest pleas, but even if it does, her convictions are not necessarily inconsistent with her excessive force claims. See Doc. 34 at 7-8, 13-15. Because I agree that Ms. Torres's convictions are not necessarily inconsistent with her excessive force claims, I deny defendants' motion.

         A. Motions to Dismiss Generally

         “To withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must have enough allegations of fact, taken as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir .2011) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While “‘a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint, '” this rule does not apply to legal conclusions. Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “[A] plaintiff must offer specific factual allegations to support each claim.” Id. (citation omitted). A complaint survives only if it “states a plausible claim for relief.” Id. (citation omitted).

         “Generally, a court considers only the contents of the complaint when ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion.” Berneike v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 708 F.3d 1141, 1146 (10th Cir. 2013). In determining whether to grant the motion, the Court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Alvarado v. KOB-TV, LLC, 493 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2007). “[A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very ...


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