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Torres v. Murillo

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 2, 2018

MANUEL G. TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
DET. CHRISTINE MURILLO, DET. MELINDA HOBBS, CORP. JAIMIE SERRANO a/k/a Officer Serrano, CHIEF OF POLICE ED REYNOLDS, CHIEF DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY G. GEORGE ZSOKA, SILVER CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT and TOWN OF SILVER CITY, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT JAIMIE SERRANO'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          KEVIN R. SWEAZEA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Jaimie Serrano's Motion to Dismiss.[1] (Doc. 35). With the consent of the parties to conduct dispositive proceedings, see 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the Court has considered the parties' submissions (Docs. 35, 50 & 59) and applicable law as well as reviewed the record. Having done so, the Court finds that Plaintiff has pled facts sufficient to plausibly demonstrate the violation of a constitutional right that is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because the Court determines that Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage of the proceeding, the Court denies Defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant Serrano and others on July 25, 2017, seeking an award of damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff alleges that during the evening of June 21, 2015, he was involved in a shooting incident near his home in Silver City, New Mexico. Plaintiff contends that several Silver City Police Department officers or detectives and one Santa Clara Police Department officer, Defendant Serrano, responded to the scene of the shooting and conducted an investigation. Plaintiff alleges that he assisted the officers at the scene of the shooting for a period of time, gave his statement of his actions and observations to the officers, and then returned to his home. Plaintiff alleges that later, Defendant Serrano came into his home, without a search warrant or other authorization, and requested that Plaintiff turn over the gun he had used in the shooting incident. Criminal charges were ultimately brought against Plaintiff by the Sixth Judicial District Attorney's Office, which were later dismissed with a finding by the New Mexico State District Judge for lack of probable cause. As is relevant here, Plaintiff sued Defendant Serrano for violating his Fourth Amendment rights arising from the warrantless entry of Plaintiff's home and seizure of his gun.

         II. CONTENTIONS.

         Defendant Serrano moves to dismiss Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint on the basis of qualified immunity. Defendant Serrano also asserts that his interaction with Plaintiff was consensual, and was objectively reasonable, such that Defendant Serrano's encounter did not amount to an improper search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Alternatively, Defendant Serrano argues that exigent circumstances justify his search and seizure as an exception to the Fourth Amendment's probable-cause and warrant requirement. Finally, Defendant Serrano argues that Plaintiff's complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to set forth a plausible claim of a Fourth Amendment violation and that he is therefore entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 35).

         Plaintiff counters by asserting that Defendant Serrano did not provide any legal basis or standards in his motion to dismiss to support that he is immune pursuant to a qualified immunity defense for a Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violation. In response to Defendant Serrano's claim that his actions were consensual and objectively reasonable, and that exigent circumstances existed such that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred, Plaintiff argues those issues are genuine issues of material fact properly addressed on summary judgment, rather than in a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 50).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR MOTION TO DISMISS.

         Rule 12(b)(6) 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). “The nature of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and must view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990); Swanson v. Bixler, 750 F.2d 810, 813 (10th Cir. 1984). Rule 12(b)(6) requires that a complaint set forth the grounds of a plaintiff's entitlement to relief through more than labels, conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim of relief. Id. at 570. A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads facts sufficient for the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 . “Thus, the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007).

         While a complaint challenged by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations, a complaint does not “suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal alterations, citations, and quotations omitted); see also Bixler v. Foster, 596 F.3d 751, 756 (10th Cir. 2010). The court is not required to accept conclusions of law or the asserted application of law to the alleged facts. Hackford v. Babbitt, 14 F.3d 1457, 1465 (10th Cir. 1994).

         IV. ANALYSIS.

         A. Motion to Dismiss based upon Qualified Immunity.

         Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendant Serrano violated Plaintiff's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and seeks damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983.[2]Section 1983 itself does not confer any substantive rights, only a monetary remedy for individuals who are deprived of constitutional or other federal statutory rights by persons acting under of color of state law. See also Nelson v. Geringer, 295 F.3d 1082, 1097 (10th Cir. 2002). (“[S]ection 1983 did not create any substantive rights, but merely enforces existing constitutional and federal statutory rights[.]”). To state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (i) a deprivation of a federal right; and (ii) that ...


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