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Poel v. State

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 6, 2017

MARTIN H. POEL, Plaintiff,


         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant's Amended Motion to Dismiss (Motion to Dismiss) under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6), filed on March 1, 2017. (Doc. 16). Plaintiff filed a response on March 5, 2017, and the State of New Mexico (Defendant) filed a reply on March 19, 2017. (Docs. 18, 24). Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Oral Argument (Motion for Oral Argument), filed March 22, 2017; Defendant's Motion to Strike that Motion as an Unauthorized Sur-Reply (Motion to Strike), filed March 23, 2017; and the responses and replies thereto. (Docs. 27- 30). Having reviewed the motions, briefs, and relevant law, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss, deny all other relief, and require Plaintiff to show cause why sanctions or filing restrictions should not be imposed.

         I. Background

         This case commenced with Plaintiff's Complaint for Violations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Retaliation, and Questions of the Constitutionality of Certain New Mexico Rules of Discipline (Complaint), filed February 6, 2017. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff asserts Defendant violated the Constitution in connection with his prior proceedings before New Mexico's Third Judicial District Court (State Court), the Federal District Court (Federal Court), and the New Mexico Supreme Court Disciplinary Board (Disciplinary Board). (Doc. 1).

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiff spent most of his career as a dentist in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Doc. 1) at ¶ 4. Fourteen years ago, he became involved in a dispute with an insurance company. Id. at ¶ 19, 25, 28, 30. The dispute unfortunately spurred five lawsuits and occupied much of his time during retirement. Id.

         Plaintiff filed the first lawsuit through counsel in 2003. See Poel v. United Concordia, D-307-CV-2003-1487. He asserted claims against United Concordia Insurance Co. (United Concordia) for violations of the New Mexico Dental Health Care Act (Dental Care Act). (Doc. 1) at ¶¶ at 8, 19. Plaintiff alleges he was compelled to sue because Defendant refused to enforce the statute. Id. at ¶ 19. He also alleges that during the litigation, the State Court refused to enforce its own discovery order, causing his attorneys to bill hundreds of thousands of dollars without his consent. Id. at ¶¶ 20-21. Plaintiff asserts he eventually had to settle with United Concordia as a result of such misconduct. Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.

         Notwithstanding the settlement, Plaintiff was still dissatisfied. In 2006, he obtained a law degree to “file a petition for contempt on behalf of dentists who were harmed by” United Concordia's policies. (Doc. 18) at 4.[1] That same year, Plaintiff sued his former attorneys in State Court “to show lack of due process during the [United Concordia] litigation.” (Doc. 1) at ¶ 25; Poel v. Vogel, et al, D-307-CV-2006-1638. The attorneys countersued for malicious abuse of process. (Doc. 1) at ¶ 26. The State Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims and entered a $400, 000 judgment against him for malicious abuse of process (Money Judgment). Id. at ¶¶ 26-27, 39-44.

         Plaintiff filed his third State Court lawsuit in 2010, seeking a writ of mandamus requiring the New Mexico Attorney General to enforce the Dental Care Act. Id. at ¶ 18; Poel v. New Mexico Attorney General. D-307-CV-2010-3265. He now alleges the State Court again improperly denied the petition. (Doc. 1) at ¶ 18. A year later, Plaintiff filed a fourth suit, this time in Federal Court, against his attorneys and the judge who entered the Money Judgment. Id. at ¶ 28; Poel v. Webber, et al, Civ. No. 11-882 JB/GBW.[2] Plaintiff asserted various constitutional claims and alleged his attorneys conspired with the judge in the original 2003 United Concordia litigation. (Doc. 1 in Civ. No. 11-882). The Honorable James O. Browning dismissed the complaint because it failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Docs. 73, 75 in Civ. No. 11-882).

         In 2013 the Disciplinary Board initiated proceedings to revoke Plaintiff's law license on the grounds that he had no factual or legal basis for the lawsuit he filed in federal court. (Doc. 1) at ¶ 30; (Doc. 18-2); In the Matter of Martin H. Poel, Disciplinary No. 09-2013-675. Plaintiff now alleges the proceeding was initiated in retaliation and “solely because Plaintiff sued [Defendant] in Federal Court.”[3] (Doc. 1) at ¶ 30. The Disciplinary Board found Plaintiff violated three Rules of Professional Conduct: NMRA 16-301 (frivolous suits); NMRA 16-802(A) (misstatements about a judge); and NMRA 16-804(D) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). Id. at ¶ 34; (Doc. 18-3). Plaintiff was placed on probation, censured, and ordered to pay $2, 193.48 in costs. (Doc. 1) at ¶ 34; (Doc. 18-3). Plaintiff elected not to pursue re-instatement of his law license and is no longer a member of the bar. (Doc. 27) at 3.

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff now asserts Defendant violated the Constitution by: (1) refusing to enforce the Dental Care Act; (2) denying him due process during the four prior lawsuits; (3) retaliating for those lawsuits by initiating the disciplinary proceeding; (4) suspending his law license; and (5) enacting the above disciplinary rules. Plaintiff asks this Court to “[d]eclare the [$400, 000] Judgment in Poel v. Vogel et al D-307-CV-2006-01638 to be void, ” and “[d]eclare Rules 16-301, 16-802(A), and [1]6-804(D) NMRA to be unconstitutional.” (Doc. 1) at p. 11. Plaintiff also appears to seek $400, 000 in money damages for the alleged constitutional violations, unless the Court determines sovereign immunity applies. (Doc. 18) at 23; (Doc. 27) at p. 4-5.

         Defendant moved to dismiss this action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and for sanctions. (Doc. 16). Defendant contends Plaintiff's claims are barred by, inter alia, sovereign immunity, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and a lack of standing. Id. Defendant also asserts the complaint fails to state a cognizable claim. Id. Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Dismiss in its entirety and requests oral argument. (Docs. 18, 27). Defendant argues the Motion for Oral Argument is really an unauthorized surreply. (Doc. 28).

         II. Standard of Review

         Where, as here, a defendant seeks dismissal under both Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), Plaintiff must first carry the burden of proving the Court has jurisdiction. See Mounkes v. Conklin, 922 F.Supp. 1501, 1505 (D. Kan. 1996). Rule 12(b)(1) requires dismissal where the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims. “Rule 12(b)(1) motions generally take one of two forms: (1) a facial attack on the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations as to subject matter jurisdiction; or (2) a challenge to the actual facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction is based.” Ruiz v. McDonnell, 299 F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002-03 (10th Cir. 1995)). Defendant presents a facial challenge, which requires the Court to accept the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Id.

         Once jurisdiction is established, the claims may still be subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). That rule authorizes a court to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's complaint must contain sufficient facts that, if assumed to be true, state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Mink v. Knox, 613 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). A complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations, yet a “pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). While a pro se plaintiff's allegations must be liberally construed, pro se parties must follow the same rules of civil procedure as any other litigant. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991).

         III. ...

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