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Galvan v. Board of County Commissioners For Curry County

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 22, 2017

VERONICA GALVAN, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FOR CURRY COUNTY, NEW MEXICO, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT NO. II

          HONORABLE GREGORY J. FOURATT MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's “Motion for Summary Judgment No. II: Summary Judgment for the Board of County Commissioners” (“Motion”) [ECF No. 33], filed April 26, 2017. After careful consideration of the pertinent law and the parties' briefing, the Court will grant the Motion and will dismiss Plaintiff's federal civil rights claim (Count I of the Complaint) with prejudice.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that the evidence submitted by Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the existence of any unconstitutional policy or custom by the municipal defendant that caused her injuries. The Court further concludes that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Count I in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case arises out of Plaintiff's incarceration at the Curry County Detention Center (“CCDC”) “Women's Annex” in Clovis, New Mexico. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff was incarcerated there as a sentenced state prisoner from January 21, 2014, through May 30, 2014, when she was transferred to another facility. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that she was battered by another inmate on February 1, 2014, during which she sustained a broken hand, scratches on her face, and bruising on her head, knee, and face. Id. ¶¶ 10, 15. Plaintiff contends that her injuries stemmed from Defendant Curry County Board of Commissioners' (hereafter “Board's” or “Defendant's”) multiple policy failures, [2] all of which combined to violate her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, including: failing to properly classify and segregate violent inmates, failing to adequately train and supervise detention officers, failing to provide proper medical care for inmates, failing to prevent overcrowding of the Women's Annex, failing to adequately staff and fund operations at the Women's Annex, and failing to provide a safe and humane physical plant at the Women's Annex. Id. ¶¶ 40, 46-55.

         On April 26, 2017, Defendant moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim. ECF No. 33. Plaintiff responded on May 18, 2017 [ECF No. 41], and Defendant replied on June 1, 2017. ECF No. 46.

         II. SUMMARY OF ARGUMENTS

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims under the Fourteenth Amendment must be dismissed because “there simply is not any evidence that a municipal policy, practice or custom caused a violation of Plaintiff's Due Process rights, or that the Board was deliberately indifferent.” Def.'s Mot. 12, ECF No. 33. It emphasizes that there was a policy in place at CCDC for classifying and segregating violent inmates, both at the booking stage and at any other point when detention personnel become aware of a problem between inmates. Id. at 8. The Board also contends that there is no evidence that any allegedly deficient policy or custom caused Plaintiff's injuries. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's injuries arose solely out of a personal dispute between two inmates, as opposed to any policy or custom attributable to the Board as a municipal entity. Defendant also argues that Plaintiff's criticism of the medical care provided to inmates at CCDC is irrelevant because she does not allege that she herself was denied care. Defendant also characterizes Plaintiff's allegations of insufficient staffing, overcrowding, lack of training and supervision, inadequate facilities, and improper funding as either irrelevant or baseless. Id. at 8-13.

         Plaintiff responds that the severe beating she experienced was “totally preventable” by Defendant. Pl.'s Resp. 15, ECF No. 41. She insists that inmate Moore was “known to be an aggressive, dangerous inmate that should have been segregated and kept away from the general population.” Id. at 16. She further asserts that Defendant failed in its duty to “adequately screen detainees for violence, adequately staff the facility and prevent violence.” Id. at 17-18. Plaintiff also alleges that the Board tolerated a policy or custom of failing to provide adequate medical care to inmates, primarily by imposing a $10 fee before any treatment would be rendered. Id. at 18-19. Plaintiff concludes by criticizing the Board for understaffing the Women's Annex and failing to update its antiquated logbook to a computerized system, all of which caused Plaintiff to be beaten. Id. at 19.

         III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The entry of summary judgment is mandated “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The party who will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue must designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. In order for an issue to be genuine, the evidence of it must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If there is not sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party, there is no issue for trial. Id. at 249. Furthermore, “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1986)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         At the summary judgment stage, “a plaintiff's version of the facts must find support in the record.” Thomson v. Salt Lake Cnty., 584 F.3d 1304, 1312 (10th Cir. 2009). As with any fact asserted by a party in a summary judgment motion, the non-movant must point the Court to such support by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). All material facts set forth in the motion and response that are not specifically controverted are deemed undisputed. D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b).

         Because the Court decides motions for summary judgment by viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the Court obeys three general principles. First, the Court's role is not to weigh the evidence, but only to assess the threshold issue of whether a genuine issue exists as to material facts such that a trial is required. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. “An issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way. An issue of fact is ‘material' if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Thom v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). Second, the Court must resolve all reasonable inferences and doubts in favor of the non-moving party, and construe all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 550-55 (1999). Third, the Court cannot decide any issues of credibility. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. “[T]o survive the . . . motion, [the non-movant] need only present evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor.” Id. at 257. Nonetheless, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts[.]” York v. City of Las Cruces, 523 F.3d 1205, 1210 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)).

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD FOR MUNICIPAL LIABILITY CLAIMS

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides remedies for persons who have been deprived of their constitutional rights under color of state law. In pertinent part, the statute provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). Though the statute expressly creates a cause of action against “persons” who act under the color of state law to violate rights of others, the Supreme Court has held that municipalities and local governments may also be sued under § 1983. See Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978) (“[L]ocal governments, like every other § 1983 ‘person, ' by the very terms of the statute, may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental ‘custom' . . . .”).

         Municipalities and local governments cannot be sued on a respondeat superior theory alone, however, meaning that they cannot be held liable on the sole basis that they employed a tortfeasor. Id. at 691. Instead, they can only be sued “when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.” Id. at 694. The Supreme Court has made clear that this requirement “was intended to distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible.” Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986) (emphasis in original). A municipality is therefore only responsible for acts that it “officially sanctioned or ordered.” Id. at 480.

         Municipal liability under § 1983 attaches only where “a deliberate choice to follow a course of action is made from among various alternatives by the official or officials responsible for establishing final policy with respect to the subject matter in question.” Id. at 483. In the Tenth Circuit, a municipal policy or custom can take the following forms:

(1) a formal regulation or policy statement; (2) an informal custom amounting to a widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law; (3) the decisions of employees with final policymaking authority; (4) the ratification by such final policymakers of the decisions - and the basis for them - of subordinates to whom authority was delegated subject to these policymakers' review and approval; or (5) the failure to adequately train or supervise employees, so long as that failure results from deliberate indifference to the injuries that may be caused.

Bryson v. City of Oklahoma City, 627 F.3d 784, 788 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Merely establishing the existence of a policy, however, does not by itself create municipal liability. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty., Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997). “[A] plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the ‘moving force' behind the injury alleged.” Id. (emphasis in original). To prove this, “a plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights.” Id. The Tenth Circuit has emphasized that “[t]he causation element is applied with especial rigor when the municipal policy or practice is itself not unconstitutional, for example, when the municipal liability claim is based upon inadequate training, supervision, and deficiencies in hiring.” Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dept., 717 F.3d 760, 770 (10th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         When a municipality is sued for failure to adequately train its officers, liability attaches “only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact, ” and that deliberate indifference was the moving force behind the violation of the plaintiff's federally protected right. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989). The plaintiff must demonstrate specific training deficiencies and either (1) a pattern of constitutional violations of which policy-making officials can be charged with knowledge, or (2) that training is obviously necessary to avoid constitutional violations. Id. at 390; see also Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1307-08 (10th Cir. 1998). The plaintiff must identify a particular deficiency in the training program and then prove that the identified deficiency was the actual cause of the plaintiff's constitutional injury. City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390-91.[3]

         Moreover, a “pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ordinarily necessary to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train[.]” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1360 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In the specific context of the training of jail guards, “[i]t is not enough . . . to show that there were general deficiencies in the county's training program for jailers. Rather, [the plaintiff] must identify a specific deficiency in the county's training program closely related to his ultimate injury, and must prove that the deficiency in training actually caused his jailer to act with deliberate indifference to [the plaintiff's] safety.” Lopez v. LeMaster, 172 F.3d 756, 760 (10th Cir. 1999) (citing City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 391) (emphasis added).

         V. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The Court divides this section into two parts: (1) facts that the parties have expressly agreed are undisputed, and (2) facts submitted by Defendant that the Court has found to be undisputed despite Plaintiff's argument to the contrary.

         A. Stipulated Undisputed Facts

         Of the forty-two (42) material facts that Defendant enumerated in its Motion [Def.'s Mot. 2-7], Plaintiff admitted twenty-three (23) of them in her Response. Pl.'s Resp. 2. The Court will therefore treat the following as undisputed material facts:[4]

         1. Plaintiff was arrested and booked into the Curry County Adult Detention Center on January 21, 2014.

         3. Plaintiff was playing cards in the evening and another inmate named Mary Jane Aragon told Plaintiff that inmate Moore wanted to meet her in the shower area, because there were no cameras back there.

         4. At the time, Plaintiff was playing cards in the dayroom with some other inmates and listening to her headphones.

         5. At the time, the Detention Officer on duty, Raedean Burbank, was not on the floor.

         6. Plaintiff responded to inmate Aragon by telling her that she did not have any time “for that, ” which indicated that she was not going to go.

         7. A short time later, inmate Moore came into the dayroom and confronted Plaintiff. Inmate Moore then grabbed Plaintiff's hair and started hitting and kicking Plaintiff.

         10. Plaintiff testified that, prior to the fight taking place, she had told various officers at the Detention Center that Ms. Moore was threatening to “mess her up.”

         11. Plaintiff claims that, on the first day of her incarceration, she told Detention Center staff that she did not want to be held in the “freeway, ” which is an open area in the Women's Annex. Plaintiff claimed she was concerned about issues with inmate Moore, and asked to be moved to a cell.

         12. The Detention Center honored Plaintiff's request, and Plaintiff was moved to a cell.

         13. For the entire time period from January 21, 2014 to February 1, 2014, inmate Moore was held in the “freeway.”

         14. Plaintiff testified that she told Detention staff that she was concerned because of her relationship with the Perez family and inmate Moore's relationship with the Guerra family.

         15. According to Plaintiff, inmate Moore is married to Louis Guerra, who is serving a sentence for killing Daniel Perez.

         16. Plaintiff's daughter has a child with the Perez family.

         17. Plaintiff was present when Daniel Perez was killed and Plaintiff gave a statement to the police during the ...


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