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Gallegos v. Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 22, 2017

MARTIN GALLEGOS, Plaintiff,
v.
BERNALILLO COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS; BERNALILLO COUNTY DETENTION CENTER; NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and JOHN DOES 1 through 5, Defendants.

          Stephen F. Lawless Grisham & Lawless, P.A. Attorneys for the Plaintiff

          Carlos M. Quiñones Quiñones Law Firm Attorneys for Defendants Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center

          Debra J. Moulton Deborah D. Wells Kennedy, Moulton & Wells P.C. Attorneys for Defendant New Mexico Department of Corrections

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center's Motion to Dismiss, filed November 1, 2016 (Doc. 34)(“Motion”). The Court held a hearing on January 18, 2017. The primary issues are: (i) whether Plaintiff Martin Gallegos may assert claims for federal constitutional violations against the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (“BCMDC”)[1]; and (ii) whether BCMDC is a suable entity under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 41-4-1 to 41-4-30 (“NMTCA”). The Court concludes that: (i) Gallegos may not assert claims for federal constitutional violations against BCMDC; and (ii) BCMDC is not a suable entity under the NMTCA. Accordingly, the Court grants the Motion to Dismiss.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court draws its facts from Gallegos' Amended Complaint, filed February 1, 2016, in Gallegos v. Bernalillo Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, et al., No. CIV 2015-06829 (Second Judicial District Court, County of Bernalillo, State of New Mexico), filed in federal court February 22, 2016 (D.N.M. Doc. 1-2)(“Amended Complaint”). The Court draws its facts from the Amended Complaint to provide a factual background. While the Court does not adopt Gallegos' factual allegations, the Court nonetheless accepts them as true for the limited purpose of deciding the Motion. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)(clarifying the “tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in a complaint”)(alteration added)(citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); Archuleta v. Wagner, 523 F.3d 1278, 1283 (10th Cir. 2008)(concluding that, in the motion to dismiss posture, a court must “accept as true all well-pleaded facts, as distinguished from conclusory allegations”).

         With that understanding of the allegations, Gallegos is a prisoner at the Roswell Correctional Facility in Chaves County, New Mexico. See Amended Complaint ¶ 1, at 1. On or about November 6, 2014, the Second Judicial District Court, County of Bernalillo, State of New Mexico, issued an order remanding Gallegos to BCMDC's custody. See Amended Complaint ¶ 5, at 2. This order was to remain in effect for six weeks, while Gallegos participated in a methadone program at BCMDC “to decrease his level of dependence so that . . . Gallegos would not incur life endangering withdrawals symptoms.” Amended Complaint ¶ 5, at 2. Approximately six days after the state court remanded Gallegos to BCMDC's custody, he was transferred to Defendant New Mexico Department of Corrections. Amended Complaint ¶ 6-7, at 2. BCMDC and the New Mexico Corrections Department ignored the remand order to BCMDC. See Amended Complaint ¶ 6-7, at 2. At the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility, Gallegos “suffered life threatening withdrawal symptoms for almost two (2) months.” Amended Complaint ¶ 7, at 2.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Gallegos filed this lawsuit in state district court on August 27, 2015. See Complaint (Tort), Gallegos v. Bernalillo Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, et al., No. CIV 2015-06829, (filed in Second Judicial District Court, County of Bernalillo, State of New Mexico August 27, 2015), filed in federal court February 22, 2016 (Doc. 1-1)(“Complaint”). In the Complaint, Gallegos asserted claims against Defendant Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners, BCMDC, the New Mexico Corrections Department, and John Does 1 through 5, for a violation of § 41-4-12 of the NMTCA. See Complaint ¶ 1, at 1. Gallegos then filed an Amended Complaint, adding a federal claim. See Amended Complaint ¶¶ 1-19, at 1-4. In the Amended Complaint, Gallegos asserted claims against Bernalillo County, BCMDC, the New Mexico Corrections Department, and John Does 1 through 5, for (i) violations of NMTCA § 41-4-12, see Amended Complaint ¶¶ 8-17, at 2-4; and (ii) violations of Gallegos' rights guaranteed by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, see Amended Complaint ¶ 18, at 4. Gallegos seeks “compensatory damages in a yet undetermined amount jointly and severally against all Defendants, ” and attorney fees. See Amended Complaint at 4. Within thirty days of receipt of the Amended Complaint, Bernalillo County and BCMDC removed the lawsuit to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3). See Notice of Removal at 1, filed February 22, 2016 (Doc. 1).

         1. The Motion.

         BCMDC moves the Court, pursuant to rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss Gallegos' claims against BCMDC. See Motion at 1-4. In the Motion, BCMDC argues that, with respect to Gallegos' claims, it “is not a suable entity.” Motion at 3. BCMDC posits that, “[u]nder § 1983 case law, it is well-established that a county jail or detention center is not a suable entity.” Motion at 3 (citing Biehl v. Salina Police Dept., 256 F. App'x 212, 215 (10th Cir. 2007)(unpublished)[2]; Martinez v. Wagner, 771 F.2d 424, 444 (10th Cir. 1985); Apodaca v. State Adult Prob. & Parole, 998 F.Supp.2d 1160, 1190 (D.N.M. 2014)(Browning, J.)). Under these authorities, BCMDC contends, it “cannot be named as a defendant in this lawsuit.” Motion at 3.

         BCMDC adds that “[t]he same is true under New Mexico law.” BCMDC states that, under N.M. Stat. Ann. § 4-46-1, “all suits against county government must be brought against that county's board of county commissioners.” Motion at 3 (citing N.M. Stat. Ann. § 4-46-1). BCMDC contends, therefore, that “the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Bernalillo (i.e., Bernalillo County), and not BCMDC, ” is the proper party for the purposes of Gallegos' suit. Motion at 3. Accordingly, BCMDC argues that the Court should dismiss Gallegos' claims against BCMDC. See Motion at 3. BCMDC concedes that the “Motion has no impact or effect on Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners.” Motion at 3.

         2. The Response.

         Gallegos responds to the Motion. See Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center's Motion to Dismiss at 1-2, filed November 10, 2016 (Doc. 39)(“Response”). In the Response, Gallegos states that, although BCMDC is not a suable entity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, BCMDC is a suable entity under the NMTCA. Response at 1. Gallegos further states that he did not assert claims against BCMDC under N.M. Stat. Ann. § 4-46-1. See Response at 1.

         The crux of Gallegos' Response is that, while BCMDC is not a suable entity under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 & 1985, BCMDC is a suable entity under the NMTCA. See Response at 2. Under the NMTCA, Gallegos contends, “a Plaintiff may sue a public employee as well as the ‘agency or entity for whom the public employee works[.]'” Response at 2 (quoting Abalos v. Bernalillo Cty. Dist. Attorney's Office, et al., 1987-NMCA-026, ¶ 18, 734 P.2d 794, 799 (“Abalos”)). Gallegos adds that “a plaintiff need not name a specific employee of the offending agency as a defendant to sue an entity under the NMTCA.” Response at 2 (citing Lopez v. Las Cruces Police Dep't, 2006-NMCA-074, ¶ 15, 137 P.3d 670, 676).

         Gallegos then states: “Defendants were employed by Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (BCMDC) and were negligent in the operation and maintenance of BCMDC and they injured him by committing many of the acts for which they may be held liable under, NMSA 41-4-12.” Response at 2. Gallegos argues that BCMDC is “a suable entity, ” because BCMDC “had an immediate supervisory authority over the negligent employee/defendants . . . .” Response at 2. Gallegos concludes, therefore, that “BCMDC should not be dismissed from this action . . . .” Response at 2 (citing Tenorio v. San Miguel Cty. Det. Ctr., No. CIV 15-0349 LF/WPL, Order (D.N.M. Aug. 11, 2016)(Doc. 125)(“Tenorio Order”); Lopez v. Las Cruces Police Dep't, 2006-NMCA-074, ¶ 15, 137 P.3d at 676; Abalos, 1987-NMCA-026, ¶ 18, 734 P.2d at 799).

         3. The Reply.

         BCMDC replied to Gallegos' arguments. See Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center's Motion to Dismiss at 1-5, filed November 17, 2016 (Doc. 41)(“Reply”). First, BCMDC latches onto what it recognizes as Gallegos' concession that BCMDC is not a suable entity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Reply at 1 (citing Response at 1). BCMDC argues that the Court should dismiss Gallegos' federal claims against BCMDC, because the “Plaintiff agrees that BCMDC is not a suable entity for federal civil rights claims.” Reply at 1 (citing Response at 1).

         Second, BCMDC argues that the Court should dismiss Gallegos' tort claims against BCMDC, because, under the NMTCA, Bernalillo County is the appropriately named party. See Reply at 2. BCMDC contends that “to allow a TCA claim to name a county detention center as a defendant would render NMSA § 4-46-1 meaningless.” Reply at 4. In support of its contention, BCMDC adverts to the canon of statutory interpretation stating that “‘[a] statute must be construed so that no part of the statute is rendered superfluous.'” Reply at 4 (alteration added)(quoting State v. Javier M., 2001-NMSC-030, ¶ 32, 33 P.3d 1, 15)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Hence, ” BCMDC reasons, “the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Bernalillo, and not BCMDC, is the appropriately named party for Plaintiff's TCA allegations.” Reply at 4. BCMDC states that the Court should dismiss Gallegos' tort claims against BCMDC with prejudice. See Reply at 4.

         Third, BCMDC argues against Gallegos' reliance on the Tenorio Order. See Reply at 2-3. BCMDC argues that the Tenorio Order is inapposite, because, in that case, “the proposed amended pleading [asserted] that [San Miguel County Detention Center] had ‘immediate supervisor authority over the negligent employee-defendants.'” Reply at 2 (alterations added)(quoting Tenorio Order at 11). BCMDC then states that, “[i]n the present matter, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants John Does ‘worked for [BCMDC] and/or the New Mexico Department of Corrections . . . as discovery will entail.'” Reply at 2 (alteration in original)(quoting Amended Complaint ¶ 4, at 1). BCMDC emphasizes that “none of these ‘John Does' have been identified, making it difficult if not impossible to determine if they are employees of the New Mexico Department of Corrections or of Bernalillo County or perhaps of both.” Reply at 2. BCMDC concludes, therefore, that Gallegos “has failed to aver that BCMDC had ‘immediate supervisor authority' over the alleged John Does.” Reply at 2 (quoting Tenorio Order at 11). BCMDC further states that the Tenorio Order misapplies the Court of Appeals of New Mexico's holding in Abalos, 1987-NMCA-026, ¶ 23, 734 P.2d at 799. See Reply at 3-4 (citing Tenorio Order at 4).

         Fourth, BCMDC also argues that Gallegos' reliance on Abalos, 1987-NMCA-027, ¶ 18, 734 P.2d at 799, is misplaced. See Reply at 3-4. BCMDC stresses that, in Abalos, the Court of Appeals of New Mexico held that the old Bernalillo County Detention Center “‘should be dismissed from the lawsuit, '” because BCDC was “then a joint county-city facility” and the City of Albuquerque “‘is the particular entity that operates the detention center and it would be the governmental entity responsible for the alleged harm.'” Reply at 3 (quoting Abalos, 1987-NMCA-026, ¶ 22, 734 P.2d at 799). BCMDC stipulates that the Court of Appeals of New Mexico held, in Abalos, that “‘the city or state can be named [as a defendant] [i]f the city or state directly supervises the employee.'” Reply at 3 (quoting Abalos, 1987-NMCA-026, ¶ 23, 734 P.2d at 799).

         Fifth, BCMDC asserts that Gallegos “tacitly conceded [that] the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners is the properly named party rather than the BCMDC, ” by stating in his Amended Complaint that BCMDC “‘is an agency of the County of Bernalillo overseen by the Bernalillo County Commissioners.'” Reply at 2-3 (quoting Amended Complaint ¶ 2, at 1). BCMDC adverts to Chavez v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Sierra Cty., 899 F.Supp.2d 1167, 1167 n.2 (D.N.M. 2012)(Browning, J.), in which the plaintiff conceded “‘that the proper way to sue a state entity in New Mexico is by suing the Board of County Commissioners of the county within which the detention center is located.'” Reply at 3 (quoting Chavez v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Sierra Cty., 899 F.Supp.2d at 1167 n.2). Accordingly, BCMDC presses that “the present lawsuit should be brought against Bernalillo County's Board of Commissioners, rather than against its detention center.” Reply at 3.

         4. The Hearing.

         The Court held a motion hearing on January 18, 2017. See Draft Transcript of Motion Proceeding at 4:20-22 (taken January 18, 2017)(Court)(“Tr.”).[3] The Court began by stating its view that “the plaintiff was conceding that BCMDC was not [a] sueable entity under [§] 1983, so I ought to grant that portion of the motion . . . .” Tr. at 4:22-24 (Court). Bernalillo County and BCMDC emphasized that Gallegos concedes that BCMDC “is not a suable entity for federal civil rights claims . . . [and] can be dismissed with prejudice . . . ...


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