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Whitehead v. Marcantel

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 27, 2017

MONTE WHITEHEAD, Plaintiff,
v.
GREGG MARCANTEL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER is before the Court sua sponte under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and on motions to dismiss filed by several of the Defendants (Doc. 2, 4, 6, 20, 55). The Court will dismiss Plaintiffs federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and will remand the case to state court for adjudication of Plaintiff s state-law claims.

         I- FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Monte Whitehead is a prisoner in the custody of the State of New Mexico. He is proceeding pro se. Plaintiff Whitehead was charged with 53 counts and pled guilty/no contest to five counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor child. He was sentenced to a term of 15 years of imprisonment. State of New Mexico v. Monte Whitehead, Fifth Judicial District Cause No. D-503-CR-2006-00120. After serving a portion of his prison sentence in correctional facilities in Estancia and Clayton, New Mexico, he was transferred to the Otero County Prison Facility ("OCPF") on March 6, 2013. (Doc. 1-1 at 3).

         Plaintiff Whitehead filed his Civil Complaint (Tort) ("Complaint") in the State of New Mexico, County of Otero, Twelfth Judicial District Court on November 14, 2016. (Doc. 1-1). He alleges that his suit is authorized by the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, Chapter 41 NMSA, and seeks redress for violation of his rights under Constitutional Amendments I, IV, V, VIII, and XIV, and comparable New Mexico Constitutional rights. (Doc. 1-1 at 1-2). Whitehead claims his constitutional rights were violated by several different conditions of confinement at OCPR. The Complaint was removed from the Twelfth Judicial District Court to this Court by Defendant Otero Board of County Commissioners ("Otero County") on March 1, 2017. (Doc. 1).

         Otero County also filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint on March 1, 2017. (Doc. 2). On March 6, 2017, Defendants Ricardo Martinez and Management & Training Corporation filed their Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. 4, 6). Defendant Eason submitted his Motion to Dismiss on April 18, 2017. (Doc. 20). Defendant Keefe Corporation's Motion seeking dismissal of the Complaint was filed on June 13, 2017. (Doc. 55). Answers to the Complaint were filed by Defendants Boyd, Smith, Pascale, Prospero, Waters, and Moreno on March 6, 2017, by Defendant Frawner on March 21, 2017, by Defendant Management & Training Corporation on June 12, 2017, and by Defendant Monks on July 5, 2017. (Doc. 5, 8, 54, 67). Each Answer raises the defense of failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. (Doc. 5 at 19, Doc. 8 at 15, Doc. 54 at 16, Doc. 67 at 16).

         II. DISMISSAL FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM

         The Court has the discretion to dismiss a pro se complaint sua sponte for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A claim should be dismissed where it is legally or factually insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) the Court must accept all well-pled factual allegations, but not conclusory, unsupported allegations, and may not consider matters outside the pleading. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Dimn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1190 (10th Cir. 1989). The court may dismiss a complaint under rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim if "it is 'patently obvious' that the plaintiff could not prevail on the facts alleged." Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991) (quoting McKinney v. Oklahoma Dep't of Human Services, 925 F.2d 363, 365 (10th Cir. 1991)). A plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombfy, 550 U.S. at 570.

         The Court liberally construes the factual allegations in reviewing a pro se complaint. See Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1520-21 (10th Cir. 1992). However, a pro se plaintiff s pleadings are judged by the same legal standards that apply to all litigants and a pro se plaintiff must abide by the applicable rules of court. Ogden v. San Juan County, 32 F.3d 452, 455 (10n Cir. 1994). The court is not obligated to craft legal theories for the plaintiff or to supply factual allegations to support the plaintiffs claims. Nor may the court assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1110.

         III. ANALYSIS OF PLAINTIFF WHITEHEAD'S CLAIMS AND DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND 12(b)(6) DEFENSES

         Plaintiff Whitehead's Complaint does not expressly allege causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the exclusive vehicle for vindication of substantive rights under the U.S. Constitution. See, Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3 (1979); Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (Section 1983 creates no substantive rights; rather it is the means through which a plaintiff may seek redress for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution); Boiden v. City of Topeka, 441 F.3d 1129 (10th Cir. 2006). Plaintiff Whitehead's Complaint states:

"Plaintiff Monte Whitehead, pro se, brings this Tort for Damages for violations of Civil and Constitutional Rights .. .as follows:
(1) This is a Tort suit authorized by the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, Chapter 41 NMSA, by a corrections department prisoner who seeks damages for:
(a) Violation of Plaintiff s Constitutional Amendment rights I, V, and XIV and comparable New Mexico Constitutional rights . ..
(b) Violation of Plaintiff s Constitutional Amendment rights IV and VIII and comparable New Mexico Constitutional rights . . ."

(Doc. 1-1 at 1-2). Therefore, the Court construes the portions of Whitehead's Complaint alleging claims for violation of rights under the U.S. Constitution as civil rights claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Section 1983 provides:

"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State . . .subjects or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... 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 ..."

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must assert acts by government officials acting under color of law that result in a deprivation of rights secured by the United States Constitution. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). There must be a connection between official conduct and violation of a constitutional right. Conduct that is not connected to a constitutional violation is not actionable under Section 1983. See Trash v. Franco, 446 F.3d 1036, 1046 (10th Cir. 1998).

         Further, a civil rights action against a public official or entity may not be based solely on a theory of respondeat superior liability for the actions of co-workers or subordinates. A plaintiff must plead that each government official, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009). Plaintiff must allege some personal involvement by an identified official in the alleged constitutional violation to succeed under § 1983. Fogarty v. Gailegos, 523 F;3d 1147, 1162 (10lh Cir. 2008). In a Section 1983 action, it is particularly important that a plaintiffs complaint "make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual with fair notice as to the basis of the claim against him or her." Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1249-50 (10th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in the original). Nor do generalized statements that defendants caused the deprivation of a constitutional right, without plausible supporting factual allegations, state any claim for relief. Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d at 1249-50.

         As set out, below, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs Complaint fails to state a claim for relief under § 1983. The Court will grant the Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Otero County Board of Commissioners (Doc. 2), Ricardo Martinez (Doc. 4), and Keefe Corporation (Doc. 55), and the Rule 12(b)(6) defenses raised by Defendants Boyd, Smith, Pascale, Prospero, Waters, Frawner, Management & Training Corporation, and Monks (Doc. 5 at 19, Doc. 8 at 15, Doc. 54 at 16, Doc. 67 at 16) and will dismiss all of Plaintiff s federal claims in this case.

         A. Claims Against New Mexico Corrections Department and Official Capacity Claims Against State Officials:

         Plaintiff Whitehead identifies the New Mexico Corrections Department as a Defendant and seeks to assert claims against the New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary, Gregg Marcantel, New Mexico Corrections Department Monitor Cruz, and New Mexico Corrections Department Grievance Officer Laity Phillips in their official capacities. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 4, 13, 14, 56, 109). The New Mexico Corrections Department is a state agency. As such, the claims against it are claims against the State of New Mexico. Official capacity claims against New Mexico Corrections Department officers are also claims against the State.

         The State is not a "person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and, therefore, there is no remedy against the State under § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 63-64 (1989). Therefore, the official capacity claims against the New Mexico Corrections Department, Secretary Marcantei, Monitor Cruz and Grievance Officer Phillips will be dismissed.

         B. Civil Rights Claims Against Otero County:

         Plaintiff Whitehead asserts claims against the Otero County Board of Commissioners for violation of his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to petition the government for redress of grievances and due process, violation of his Fourth and Eighth rights to privacy and to be free of unreasonable searches, violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process in taxation. See Doc. 1-1, Claims One, Two, Four, and Five. Otero County has filed a Motion to dismiss the claims against it under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the allegations of the Complaint are insufficient to state a § 1983 claim for relief. (Doc. 2).

         A county may not be held liable under a respondeat superior theory in a § 1983 case. Instead, a plaintiff seeking to impose § 1983 liability on a county must identify a custom or policy that caused the plaintiffs injury. J.B. v. Washington County, 127 F.3d 919, 923 (10th Cir.1997) (citing Board of County Comm'rs of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997)). To establish liability of a county government under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (i) that an officer committed an underlying constitutional violation; (ii) that a county policy or custom exists; and (iii) that there is a direct causal link between the policy or custom, and the injury alleged. See Graves v. Thomas, 450 F.3d 1215, 1218 (10th Cir.2006). Such a policy or custom may be established by proving the existence of an express policy or custom, or the provision of inadequate training, or a practice so widespread as to constitute custom or usage with the force of law. Winters v. Board o/County Comm'rs, 4 F.3d 848, 855 (10th Cir.1993); Sauers v. Salt Lake County, 1 F.3d II22, 1129 (10th Cir.1993).

         Plaintiff Whitehead alleges:

"Otero County was the owner of OCPF and therefore responsible for ensuring that the contract obligations of Management and Training Corporation (MTC)-the private prison contractor who manages OCPF-were met. . . Otero County had a statutory obligation to appropriate funds and otherwise provide the necessary funding to maintain and operate a facility for the incarceration of prisoners."
(Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 5).
"Defendants Otero County . .. maintained a custom or policy which permitted or condoned the foregoing violations of Plaintiffs Constitutional rights."
(Doc. 1-1 at ¶44).
"Otero County allowed this culture to propogate ...

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