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Stokes v. Landaviso

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 9, 2018



          La a Fashing United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on defendant Detective Russ Landavazo's[1]Martinez[2] report filed, November 9, 2015. Doc. 21. Plaintiff Charles Stokes filed his response to the Martinez report on January 15, 2016. Doc. 25. Detective Landavazo filed his reply in support of the Martinez report and a notice of completion of briefing on February 5, 2016. Doc. 26, 27. The Honorable District Judge Robert C. Brack referred this case to me “to conduct hearings, if warranted, including evidentiary hearings, and to perform any legal analysis required to recommend to the Court an ultimate disposition of the case.” Doc. 18. Having read the submissions of the parties and being fully advised in its premises, I find that Officer Landavazo is entitled to qualified immunity and recommend that Stokes' complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Background Facts and Procedural Posture

         On March 22, 2012, Stokes was indicted for murder in the first degree (open count), bribery/intimidation of a witness, and tampering with evidence. Doc. 21-16 at 29-30. The charges were based on events that took place on March 7, 2012, which resulted in the shooting death of Rene Barbier. Following an investigation, Detective Landavazo drafted a warrant for the search of “a single wide mobile home at the northeast corner of Badger Ln. and Adobe Rd. in Veguita, New Mexico, with no visible address, ” Doc. 21-16 at 21, and for the arrest of “AKA Florida, ” a “Black male adult, approximately 6'0" tall.” Doc. 21-16 at 24, 26-28. A judge reviewed and approved the warrants on March 8, 2012. Doc. 21-16 at 23-24, 28. That same day, officers executed the warrants and arrested Stokes. According to Stokes' complaint, he spent 15 months in jail awaiting trial, and his bail was set at $500, 000.00, cash-only. Doc. 1 at 2. At trial, Stokes prevailed on a motion for directed verdict. Id.

         Stokes sued Detective Landavazo, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, and Assistant District Attorney Natalie Strub under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights. Doc. 1. Upon initial screening, the Court dismissed Brandenburg and Strub, dismissed Stokes' Eighth Amendment claims, and construed Stokes' Fifth Amendment due process claim against Detective Landavazo as a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim. Doc. 6. The Court ordered Detective Landavazo to prepare a Martinez report. Doc. 16. Detective Landavazo's Martinez report includes a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Doc. 21.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Standard for Summary Judgement

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of establishing, through admissible evidence in the form of depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits or documentary evidence, that there is an absence of evidence to support the opposing party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If this burden is met, the party opposing summary judgment must come forward with specific facts, supported by admissible evidence, which demonstrate the presence of a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). Although all facts are construed in favor of the nonmoving party, it still is the nonmoving party's responsibility to “go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts so as to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [his] case in order to survive summary judgment.” Johnson v. Mullin, 422 F.3d 1184, 1187 (10th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         For purposes of summary judgment, a prisoner's complaint is treated as an affidavit if it alleges facts based on his personal knowledge and has been sworn under penalty of perjury. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1111 (10th Cir. 1991). A Martinez report also is treated as an affidavit. Id. A court cannot resolve material disputed factual issues by accepting a Martinez report's factual findings when they are in conflict with pleadings or affidavits. Id. at 1109. Conclusory allegations, however, without specific supporting facts, have no probative value and cannot create a genuine issue of fact. See Fitzgerald v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 403 F.3d 1134, 1143 (10th Cir. 2005); Annett v. Univ. of Kan., 371 F.3d 1233, 1237 (10th Cir. 2004); Ledoux v. Davies, 961 F.2d 1536, 1537 (10th Cir. 1992). As is true with all affidavits, statements of mere belief must be disregarded. Argo v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kan., Inc., 452 F.3d 1193, 1200 (10th Cir. 2006).

         The Court liberally construes Stokes' filings because he is appearing pro se. Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110. Nevertheless, the non-moving party still must “identify specific facts that show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Munoz v. St. Mary-Corwin Hosp., 221 F.3d 1160, 1164 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). Conclusory allegations are insufficient to establish an issue of fact that would defeat the motion. Harrison v. Wahatoyas, L.L.C., 253 F.3d 552, 557 (10th Cir. 2001).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity recognizes the “need to protect officials who are required to exercise their discretion and the related public interest in encouraging the vigorous exercise of official authority.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 807 (1982). “Qualified immunity protects federal and state officials from liability for discretionary functions, and from ‘the unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn-out lawsuit.'” Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232, (1991). Issues of qualified immunity are best resolved at the “earliest possible stage in litigation.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability where “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231.

         When a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff must demonstrate: (i) that the defendant's actions violated his or her constitutional or statutory rights; and (ii) that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct. See Riggins v. Goodman, 572 F.3d 1101, 1107 (10th Cir.2009). In Pearson, the Supreme Court held that lower courts “should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances of the particular case at hand.” 555 U.S. at 236. “Ordinarily, in order for the law to be clearly established, there must be a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or the clearly established weight of authority from other courts must have found the law to be as the plaintiff maintains.” Currier v. Doran, 242 F.3d 905, 923 (10th Cir.2001).

         C. Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides in relevant part:

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.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. “[Section] 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). There is no dispute that Detective Landavazo was acting under color of state law. The dispute lies in whether Detective Landavazo violated Stokes' constitutional rights.

         Stokes contends that in obtaining an arrest warrant, Detective Landavazo withheld exculpatory evidence, falsified the criminal complaint, tampered with evidence at the scene, and coerced witnesses. Stokes further alleges that Detective Landavazo arrested him without probable cause and maliciously pursued a criminal case against him. Basically, Stokes argues that he was arrested under false pretenses, which led to his lengthy detention while he was being prosecuted, and that his arrest and detention were unlawful. Stokes' claims, therefore, include a claim for a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights as well as a claim for a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process based on his alleged false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

         III. Discussion

         A. Undisputed Material Facts

         Detective Landavazo sets forth a statement of facts that provides background and details of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) investigation into the death of Barbier. Doc. 21 at 3-15. Some of the facts in Detective Landavazo's statement of facts, however, are not material to the determination of whether he is entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment.

[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted . . . . [I]t is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accordingly, some of Detective Landavazo's facts are not included here.

         Stokes does not specifically dispute the facts set forth by Detective Landavazo. Instead, Stokes lists what he considers admissions by Detective Landavazo, and discusses the witness interviews and defects in the affidavit with respect to each witness's statement. Doc. 25 at 2-12. Because Stokes does not specifically dispute any of the material facts, the undisputed material facts come either from those listed by Detective Landavazo in his Martinez report or directly from information in the record.

         I find that the undisputed material facts are as follows:

         1. At 2:50 p.m. on March 7, 2012, Detective J. Kelly of the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”) responded to a shooting callout at 500 Chama, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and observed an unconscious male on the ground of the parking lot suffering from apparent gun shot wounds. Doc. 21 at 3; Doc. 21-16 at 22.

         2. The male, who was later identified as Rene Barbier, was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Doc. 21 at 3.

         3. At approximately 3:40 p.m. that same day, APD Sgt. Barboa notified APD Detective Russ Landavazo of a violent crime call at 500 Chama SE Albuquerque, New Mexico. Id.

         4. After arriving at the scene, Detective Landavazo attended a briefing conducted by Detective Kelly. Id.

         5. During the briefing, Detective Kelly advised that he and other officers spoke to several witnesses (Saul Nevarez, Marisela Bustillos, Nicole Mishoe, and April Lozano) who said that two dark skinned males may have been involved in the shooting. Id. at 3-4.

         6. One of the males described by the witnesses was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and appeared to run from the scene towards the nearby apartments at 437 Mesilla SE and into unit #202. The witnesses said that the other male drove away from the scene in a red or burnt orange four-door car. Id. at 4.

         7. Detective Landavazo learned from Detective Kelly that Nevarez described a “reddish four-door ‘Ford Focus' outside with a black male driver, the victim in the front passenger seat, ...

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