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Morales v. Herrera

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 25, 2017

ANNETTE MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
RICKY HERRERA, in his individual and official capacity as an Officer of the New Mexico State Police; FELIPE GONZALEZ, in his individual and official capacity as a Sergeant of the New Mexico State Police; and NORMAN RHOADES, in his individual and official capacity, as an Officer of the New Mexico State Police, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on (1) Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment No. 1: Dismissal of Plaintiff's Unlawful Seizure Claim Based on Qualified Immunity [Doc. 25], (2) Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment No. II: Dismissal of Plaintiff's Claims for Relief Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act and Supervisory Liability Under § 1983 [Doc. 26], and (3) Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief can be Granted [Doc. 27]. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment No. 1 [Doc. 25], GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment No. II [Doc. 26], and DENIES Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 27] as moot.

         I. Background

         The Court provides a brief summary of the undisputed facts leading to Plaintiff's Complaint. Additional facts are provided in the discussion of Defendants' Motions. In January 2011, the City of Sunland Park (the City) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking bidders for a professional services contract to provide planning services to the City pertaining to a border crossing into Mexico. [Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 2; Doc. 25-1; Doc. 32, Response to UMF ¶ 1] Medius, Inc. (Medius) was the only company to respond to the RFP. [Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 7; Doc. 32, Response to UMF, ¶ 1] In March 2011, the City entered into a professional services contract (the Contract) with Medius. [Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 10; Doc. 25-1; Doc. 32, Response to UMF ¶ 1] Plaintiff Annette Morales is the founder of Medius, an S corporation. [Doc. 32, Addt'l UMF ¶ A; Doc. 38, pg. 3] The Contract was intended to result in a “strategic framework” that would “(1) determine the current physical infrastructure and housing capacity of the City; (2) develop a profile for the community and the region that surrounds the City. . .; and (3) develop an infrastructure roadmap for the City that will guide growth to prepare them to seize future development opportunities.” [Doc. 25-1] The Contract does not specify whether it is a fixed price, cost reimbursement, cost plus fixed fee, or other type of contract.[1] [Doc. 25-1] Instead, it provides that “[t]he City of Sunland Park shall pay to the Contractor in full payment for services satisfactorily performed based upon deliverables, such compensation not to exceed one million dollars ($1, 000, 000).” [Doc. 25-1, ¶ 2.B] The Contract also requires “Contractor [to] submit a detailed statement accounting for all services performed and related expenses by tasks [sic] outlined in the ‘Scope of Work.'” [Doc. 25-1, ¶ 2.C] In bidding on the project, Plaintiff based her cost estimate on direct costs, overhead, and “a 3.5 multiplier.” [Doc. 32, Addt'l UMF ¶ J; Doc. 38, pg. 3]

         Medius began work on the project in March 2011. [Doc. 32, Addt'l UMF ¶ K; Doc. 38, pg. 4] Between March 2011 and August 2011, Medius billed the City over $457, 000, which the City paid. [Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 45; Doc. 32, Response to UMF ¶ 23] In September 2011, the City terminated the Contract. [Doc. 25-1, pg. 44-45; Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 15; Doc. 32, Response to UMF, ¶ 1]

         In April 2012, Defendants Herrera and Rhoades began investigating Medius's performance of and billing on the Contract. [Doc. 25, UMF ¶¶ 18, 26; Doc. 32, Response to UMF ¶¶4, 10] In August 2012, Defendants arrested Plaintiff pursuant to a warrant for fraud and embezzlement in violation of NMSA 1978, § 30-16-6 (fraud) and NMSA 1978, § 30-16-8 (embezzlement). [Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 40; Doc. 32, Response to UMF ¶ 19] The arrest warrant was based on an affidavit prepared by Defendant Herrera. [Doc. 25, UMF ¶ 39; Doc. 32, Response to UMF ¶ 19] Charges against Plaintiff were later dismissed by the Third Judicial District Attorney. [Doc. 1, ¶ 59; Doc. 32, Addt'l UMF, ¶ SS; Doc. 38, pg. 6]

         In July 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights (Complaint) in this Court. [Doc. 1] In the three-count Complaint, she alleges that Defendants unlawfully seized her in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (Count I); that Defendant Herrera “intentionally falsely arrested, assaulted, battered, and falsely imprisoned” her contrary to the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (Count II); and that Defendants Rhoades and Gonzalez were liable because they failed to adequately supervise Defendant Herrera and/or promulgated policies and practices that deprived Plaintiff of her rights (Count III). [Doc. 1, pg. 16-17] Count I rests on Plaintiff's assertion that Defendant Herrera did not have probable cause to believe that Plaintiff had committed or was committing a crime and that Defendants Rhoades and Gonzalez failed to prevent the illegal arrest. [Doc.1, pg. 15]

         Defendants now move for summary judgment on Count I the basis of qualified immunity. [Doc. 25] They argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity from Plaintiff's unlawful seizure claim because they had probable cause to arrest her and/or because Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that her rights were clearly established at the time of the arrest. [Doc. 25, pg. 2-3] In a separate motion, Defendants move to dismiss Count I for failure to state a claim. [Doc. 27] Finally, Defendants also move for summary judgment on Counts II and III.

         II. Discussion

         A. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). Under this Rule, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Rather, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. Generally, 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., 992 F.2d 1033, 1036 (10th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). The moving party need not negate the nonmovant's claim, but rather must show “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). 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. 1990) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party cannot rely upon conclusory allegations or contentions of counsel to defeat summary judgment, see Pueblo Neighborhood Health Ctrs., Inc. v. Losavio, 847 F.2d 642, 649 (10th Cir. 1988), but rather must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Upon a motion for summary judgment, a district court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and allow the nonmovant the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence.” Kaus v. Standard Ins. Co., 985 F.Supp. 1277, 1281 (D. Kan. 1997).

         B. Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment No. 1 of Plaintiff's Unlawful Seizure Claim Based on Qualified Immunity [Doc. 25]

         The summary judgment analysis differs in the context of an assertion of qualified immunity. The doctrine of “qualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions from suit and liability for civil damages unless their conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Eaton v. Meneley, 379 F.3d 949, 954 (10th Cir. 2004). “In the context of a summary judgment motion, to prevail against a qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff must ‘come forward with facts or allegations to show both that the defendant's alleged conduct violated the law and that the law was clearly established when the violation occurred.'” Pallottino v. City of Rio Rancho, 31 F.3d 1023, 1026 (10th Cir. 1994) (quoting Losavio, 847 F.2d at 646). A plaintiff ordinarily demonstrates that a law is clearly established by showing a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or that the clearly established weight of authority from other courts has determined the law to be as the plaintiff maintains. Medina v. City & County of Denver, 960 F.2d 1493, 1498 (10th Cir. 1992). Only if the plaintiff satisfies both elements does the defendant bear the normal burden of the summary judgment movant of “showing that no material factual issues remain to defeat his claim of qualified immunity.” Pallottino, 31 F.3d at 1026 (quoting Losavio, 847 F.2d at 646). “Summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity is inappropriate where there is a factual dispute involving an issue on which qualified immunity turns.” Harapat v. Vigil, 676 F.Supp.2d 1250, 1266 (D.N.M. 2009).

         1. Plaintiff has not Shown a Violation of a Constitutional Right

         In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment[2] to the United States Constitution when they arrested her without probable cause. [Doc. 1] Because a warrant for her arrest was issued by a magistrate based on an affidavit by Defendant Herrera, Plaintiff focuses her arguments on the affidavit's adequacy. She contends that Defendant Herrera (1) misrepresented the information he obtained from her about meetings and deliverables [Doc. 32, pg. 21]; and (2) intentionally or recklessly omitted evidence tending to show that the complaining witnesses lacked credibility. [Doc. 32, pg. 23] She ...


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