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Stanley v. Gallegos

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 9, 2018

DAVID N. STANLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD GALLEGOS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          GREGORY B. WORMUTH MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment Regarding Claims for Injunctive Relief and Memorandum of Law Regarding Supplemental Jurisdiction over State Law Claims. Doc. 216. Having reviewed the Motion and the attendant briefing (docs. 218, 219, 220, 221), the Court will GRANT the Motion IN PART and DENY it IN PART, for the reasons that follow.

         I. Background

         The dispute giving rise to this litigation involves a locked gate that Plaintiff David Stanley maintained across a road (“Red Hill Road”) traversing his private ranch (“Stanley Ranch”) located in Colfax and Mora Counties, New Mexico. The parties to this matter have long disputed whether Red Hill Road where it crosses Stanley Ranch is public or private, which has led to significant conflict. In particular, on two separate occasions, the gate was forcibly unlocked based on the unilateral determination by Defendant Donald Gallegos, District Attorney for the Eighth Judicial District of New Mexico, that Red Hill Road was public. See doc. 21 at 1-4.

         The Court provided an extensive factual background of this litigation in its March 8, 2018 Memorandum Opinion and Order. See doc. 209 at 2-5. Therefore, the Court will provide only a background of the pertinent procedural history here. Those additional facts that are material to the resolution of the present Motion are contained in the “Undisputed Facts” section below. See infra pp. 7-12.

         Plaintiff filed this suit against several Defendants, including the sole remaining Defendants Gallegos and Ed Olona, on December 19, 2011. Doc. 1. He filed his First Amended Complaint-the operative Complaint in this action-on April 24, 2012. Doc. 21. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint states a number of federal claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including claims for damages and a claim for injunctive relief. See Id. at 5-7, 11. In addition, the First Amended Complaint raises several claims arising under state law, including allegations that Defendants violated the state constitution and committed state law trespass. See Id. at 7-9. Defendant Olona filed a state law counterclaim against Plaintiff for malicious abuse of process on February 17, 2012, and reasserted the same counterclaim in response to Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint on May 17, 2012. Docs. 12, 33.

         The Court granted Defendant Olona summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's § 1983 and state constitutional claims on August 25, 2015. Doc. 166. In addition, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's remaining state law statutory trespass claim against Defendant Olona on March 13, 2018, leaving only Defendant Olona's counterclaim for malicious abuse of process to tether him to this litigation. Doc. 210.

         In its March 8, 2018 Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court found that Defendant Gallegos violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights to due process and against unreasonable seizures. See doc. 209 at 28-47. Specifically, the Court found that Defendant Gallegos failed to provide the requisite notice and pre-deprivation hearing to Plaintiff prior to interfering with Plaintiff's property interest in Red Hill Road. See Id. Nevertheless, the Court found that Defendant Gallegos was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity on all of Plaintiff's federal claims for damages against him in his official capacity, and was further entitled to qualified immunity on all of Plaintiff's individual-capacity § 1983 claims for damages. See Id. at 9-20, 48-63. Thus, the Court dismissed all federal claims for damages against Defendant Gallegos. However, the federal injunctive relief claim against Defendant Gallegos remained, because Defendant Gallegos's summary judgment arguments were premised on assertions of immunity that do not apply to injunctive relief claims. See Id. at 64-65.

         In addition to the federal injunctive relief claim, the remaining live claims in this case include (1) Plaintiff's Second Claim for Relief against Defendant Gallegos, alleging violations of the New Mexico Constitution (these claims arise under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act); (2) Plaintiff's Third and Fourth Claims for Relief against Defendant Gallegos, alleging state law trespass;[1] and (3) Defendant Olona's state-law counterclaim for malicious abuse of process.

         Because Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief was the only remaining federal claim in the case, the Court held a telephonic status conference on April 17, 2018, to discern the parties' positions regarding the propriety of the Court maintaining jurisdiction over the state law claims, particularly in light of the pending quiet title action and its potential impact on the proper resolution of those claims. See doc. 213. Based on the parties' representations during that telephonic status conference, the Court set deadlines for briefing the present Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's injunctive relief claim, and further ordered the parties to submit arguments regarding whether the Court should retain supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims in this matter once the injunctive relief claim is resolved. See doc. 214. Those issues are now fully briefed and ready for ruling.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), this Court must “grant summary judgment 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).

         Summary judgment is proper only if a reasonable trier of fact could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden of “show[ing] that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). Once the movant meets this burden, Rule 56(e) requires the non-moving party to designate specific facts showing that “there are . . . genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “An issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way. An issue of fact is ‘material' if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Thom v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). All material facts set forth in the motion and response which are not specifically controverted are deemed undisputed. D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b).

         The court must adhere to three principles when evaluating a motion for summary judgment. First, the court's role is not to weigh the evidence, but to assess the threshold issue whether a genuine issue exists as to material facts requiring a trial. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. Second, the court must resolve all reasonable inferences and doubts in favor of the non-moving party, and construe all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 551-54 (1999). Third, the court cannot decide any issues of credibility. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. However, if the non-moving party's story “is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). Ultimately, “to survive the . . . motion, [the nonmovant] need only present evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 257.

         III. Undisputed Facts

         In the instant Motion, Plaintiff provided a Statement of Uncontested Material Facts containing thirty separate facts gleaned from the Court's March 8, 2018 Memorandum Opinion and Order, designated by letters a. through dd. See doc. 216 at 2-8. Plaintiff further asserted twenty-three “Additional undisputed material facts” based on the record, designated by letters ee. through aaa. Id. at 8-13.

         The Local Rules regarding Summary Judgment procedures require that a nonmoving party's response to a Motion for Summary must contain:

. . . a concise statement of the material facts cited by the movant as to which the non-movant contends a genuine issue does exist. Each fact in dispute must be numbered, must refer with particularity to those portions of the record upon which the non-movant relies, and must state the number of the movant's fact that is disputed. All material facts set forth in the Memorandum will be deemed undisputed unless specifically controverted. The Response may set forth additional facts other than those which respond to the Memorandum which the non-movant contends are material to the resolution of the motion. Each additional fact must be lettered and must refer with particularity to those portions of the record upon which the non-movant relies.

D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b). In his Response to the instant Motion, as to all fifty-three of Plaintiff's proposed undisputed material facts, Defendant Gallegos asserted that they “speak for themselves.” See doc. 220 at 3-6. Further, regarding Plaintiff's asserted facts gg. through aaa. (or 33-53), Defendant Gallegos, after stating that each one “speaks for itself[, ]” added that “Any other interpretation is denied.” See Id. Finally, as to all fiftythree facts, Defendant Gallegos argued that they were either not relevant or not material to Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief. Id. As a result, the Court finds that Defendant Gallegos has not disputed any of these fifty-three facts, as he has not specifically controverted any of them. Bearing this finding in mind, the Court sets forth the following undisputed material facts:

1. At all times relevant to this litigation, Defendant Donald Gallegos has served as the District Attorney for the Eighth Judicial District of New Mexico, which includes Colfax County. UMF b.[2]
2. In September 2002, Defendant Gallegos wrote Plaintiff stating that he had received information that Plaintiff was planning to place a gate across Red Hill Road. Doc. 125, Ex. C at 1; UMF f.
3. In the September 2002 letter, Defendant Gallegos warned Plaintiff that Red Hill Road was public, and that Defendant Gallegos would possibly file criminal charges against Plaintiff if he obstructed the road. Id.
4. Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff, believing Red Hill Road to be his private property, placed a locked gate across the road at the Mora/Colfax County line to prevent public access. See doc. 21 at 1, 2; UMF d.
5. On August 3, 2011, Defendant Gallegos sent a second letter to Plaintiff after learning of the locked the gate across Red Hill Road. In the letter, Defendant Gallegos again informed Plaintiff of his belief that the road was public and warned Plaintiff that if he failed to remove it, Defendant Gallegos would “take any and all steps necessary to make sure that the gate is opened and/or removed.” Doc. 160-1 at 17; UMF g.
6. On August 11, 2011, Plaintiff filed a quiet title action in New Mexico's Eighth Judicial District Court, claiming title to (among other roads and pieces of land) Red Hill Road where it traverses the Stanley Ranch. Doc. 202 at 3; doc. 205 at 2; UMF h.
7. The state court quiet title action remains pending. Doc. 202 at 3; doc. 205 at 2.
8. Before Plaintiff placed a locked gate at the county line, Red Hill Road had previously been used by some members of the public, including Defendant Ed Olona, to access White Peak public lands, a popular hunting and wildlife area. Docs. 136 at 1-3; 136-3 at 2.
9. Defendant Olona, an avid sportsman and former president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, brought the issue of Red Hill Road's obstruction to the attention of Defendant Gallegos. See doc. 149-1 at 2, Olona Dep. 18:1-20:17; UMF ee.
10. Defendant Gallegos's factual and legal investigation into whether the road was public by operation of law relied entirely on research done and provided to him by others; he conducted no independent research or investigation. UMF n.
11. Defendant Gallegos ultimately decided that Red Hill Road was public pursuant to 43 U.S.C. § 932. UMF e.
12. On August 24, 2011, in order to reopen Red Hill Road to public access, Defendants Gallegos, Olona, and several other individuals including some police officers, went to the location of Plaintiff's gate. Defendant Gallegos personally removed the locked chain securing Plaintiff's gate with a bolt cutter, and he and others who were present also removed a barbed-wire fence and T-posts set up at the cattle crossing. Doc. 125 at 1-2; doc. 21 at 3; doc. 40 at 4; UMF i.
13. On August 26, 2011, Defendant Gallegos sent Plaintiff a letter informing him, “I have taken action to open the gate on Red Hill Road.” In that letter, Defendant Gallegos against asserted that Red Hill Road “is a public road, ” and informed Plaintiff that if he obstructed the road again, Defendant Gallegos would “take action to have criminal charges” filed against Plaintiff. UMF j.
14. Approximately two weeks later, on September 10, 2011, Defendant Olona called the Colfax County Sheriff's Office to report that the gate had been re-locked. Doc. 40-1 at 3; UMF k.
15. Prior to Defendant Olona's phone call to the Colfax County Sheriff's Office on September 10, 2011, Defendant Gallegos had advised Colfax County Sheriff Patrick Casias that Red Hill Road was a public road. Id.
16. Based on Defendant Gallegos's advice, in response to Defendant Olona's phone call, Sheriff Casias dispatched a sheriff's deputy to again forcibly unlock the gate across Red Hill Road using a bolt cutter on September 10, 2011. Id.
17. After Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, Defendant Gallegos repeatedly testified during his deposition that he would expressly permit anyone who wanted to go on any road they or he thought was public to cut locks, remove gates, tear down fences, or remove any other obstructions without any fear that he would criminally charge or prosecute them for this conduct. UMF ii.
18. Defendant Gallegos continues to believe that it was unnecessary to obtain a court order authorizing him to open the gate across Red Hill Road, and that he had the authority to decide that Red Hill Road was public based on his statutory interpretation, subject to judicial review. UMF pp, rr.
19. During the course of this litigation, Defendant Gallegos denied Plaintiff's request for admission that “there has not been any adjudication, determination, or decision by any governmental authority that Red Hill Road . . . is a public road[.]” Defendant Gallegos later testified during his deposition that the basis for his denial was that he is a governmental authority, and that he “did decide that it is public.” UMF xx.
20. Defendant Gallegos testified that he would not exclude the possibility of taking the same action, under the same circumstances, to open up a road he believes is public based on identical evidence. UMF aaa.

         IV. Analysis

         A. Injunctive Relief

         i. The Eleventh Amendment does not bar injunctive relief ...


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