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Morales v. City of Hobbs

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 28, 2018

JOY MORALES, Plaintiff,


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Doc. 5. In the Motion, Defendants' contend that (a) Officer Jayson Hoff is entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff has not stated a plausible claim that he violated any of her constitutional rights; (b) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against Police Chief Chris McCall, Dorothy Apodaca, and the Hobbs Police Department should be dismissed because Plaintiff's claims against the City of Hobbs render these claims redundant; (c) Plaintiff has not stated a viable Monell claim against the City of Hobbs; (d) Plaintiff failed to state viable state law claims against Defendant Hoff; and (e) Plaintiff's state law claims against the City of Hobbs, Hobbs Police Department, Police Chief Chris McCall, and Dorothy Apodaca should be dismissed because Plaintiff's claims sound in negligence and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act does not waive immunity for negligence. For the reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT Defendants' Motion. However, because the Court will grant Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint, the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims will be without prejudice.


         Rule 12(b)(6) allows for the dismissal of a complaint where the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252 (10th Cir. 2006) (internal citation omitted). In considering dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court will “assume the truth of the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). Generally, a district court can consider outside materials only by converting a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. Utah Gospel Mission v. Salt Lake City Corp., 425 F.3d 1249, 1253 (10th Cir. 2005). But conversion is unnecessary when the documents are referenced in the complaint and their authenticity is unchallenged. Id. at 1253-54.

         A complaint will survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion if it contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “In determining the plausibility of a claim, we look to the elements of the particular cause of action, keeping in mind that the Rule 12(b)(6) standard [does not] require a plaintiff to set forth a prima facie case for each element. The nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context. But mere labels and conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice; a plaintiff must offer specific factual allegations to support each claim.” Safe Streets All. v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865, 878 (10th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “Thus, a claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff has pled factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.


         The Court takes the following allegations from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint as true for purposes of this decision. On February 27, 2014, a woman now known to be Devanne Archibeque was arrested by Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer Douglas Redig for aggravated DUI while traveling on Interstate 40 through Arizona. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, Doc. 1-2, P. 16. Archibeque did not have identification on her at the time of her arrest and the vehicle she was driving was registered to a different individual. Id. P. 18. At the time of her arrest Archibeque had an active warrant for her arrest signed by Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Judge Daniel Ramzcyk. Id. P. 17. Perhaps owing to her active arrest warrant, Archibeque represented to Officer Redig that her name was “Joy Morales” and provided Plaintiff's correct date of birth. Id. at 22. Upon investigation of the information provided, Officer Redig determined that Joy Morales' driver's license was suspended. Id. 23. Officer Redig arrested Archibeque and transported her to the Yavapai County Jail where she was fingerprinted and booked. Id. P. 24. However, no further identifying information was obtained and charges were filed against Joy Morales. Id. P. 24-25.

         Archibeque was released from jail two days later. Id. P. 25. Although the charges against Joy Morales were initially dismissed, they were refiled in April of 2015. Id. P. 26. Plaintiff, obviously unaware of the charges, failed to appear in court and a bench warrant (Arizona Warrant) was issued for her arrest. P. 27.

         This was not the first time an arrest warrant had been issued in Plaintiff's name for an offense allegedly committed by another person. On February 10, 2014, Plaintiff reported to law enforcement authorities in New Mexico that someone had stolen her identity and apparently received a traffic citation which led to a warrant in Plaintiff's name. Id. P. 38. On July 7, 2014, Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to that warrant. Id. P. 39. The alleged traffic citation underlying the warrant had been issued in approximately December 2013. Id. P. 39. Due to the arrest, Plaintiff was fingerprinted and identified through standard booking procedures. Id. P. 39. On August 14, 2014, the criminal complaint was dismissed by Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Judge Edward Benavidez because he recognized that Plaintiff was not the individual initially cited for the traffic violation. Id. P 40.

         In August 2015, Plaintiff was again arrested but this time based on the Arizona Warrant. Id. P41. A fugitive complaint was filed against her in Valencia County, New Mexico. Id. In October 2015, however, Plaintiff was released and Magistrate Judge Tina Garcia dismissed the fugitive complaint due to the identity theft issue. Id.

         More pertinent to the matter at hand, on November 20, 2015, Plaintiff was pulled over by Officer Jayson Hoff of the Hobbs Police Department for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Id. P. 42. During a routine background check, Officer Hoff discovered the still active Arizona Warrant against Plaintiff. Id. P 43. Officer Hoff accordingly arrested Plaintiff and transported her to the Hobbs Detention Center. Id. Plaintiff protested the arrest and notified Officer Hoff that her identity had been stolen. Id. 44. Plaintiff further protested her arrest while being booked into the Hobbs Detention Center. Id. 46. Plaintiff requested that law enforcement personnel compare the arrest records, including fingerprints and booking photos, to verify her claims. Id. 46.

         The same day of Plaintiff's arrest, Officer Hoff swore a fugitive complaint against Plaintiff. Id. 47. The fugitive complaint was filed in Lea County Magistrate Court on November 23, 2015. Id. 48. Plaintiff was also arraigned on November 23, 2015 and denied that she was subject to extradition pursuant to the Arizona Warrant. Id. 49. At her arraignment, Plaintiff again requested that authorities compare her records to verify her claims of mistaken identity. Id. 49. The magistrate judge instead remanded Plaintiff to the custody of the Lea County Detention Center (LCDC). Id. 49.

         While at LCDC, Plaintiff was fingerprinted twice and these fingerprints were sent to Arizona for verification. Id. 50-51. Defendants, however, did not obtain verification that the fingerprints of the person arrested in Arizona matched Plaintiff. Id. 50-51. Throughout her incarceration at LCDC, Plaintiff issued multiple Inmate Request Forms requesting that LCDC investigate her claim of mistaken identity. Id. 52-56. Plaintiff's family also contacted authorities in Lea County concerning the issue and included supporting documentation with their correspondence. Id. 59.

         On December 8, 2015, Plaintiff was appointed a public defender but did not have any contact with her public defender until December 23, 2015, the date of the status conference in regard to the fugitive complaint. Id. 57-58. At the status conference, Plaintiff again raised the issue her mistaken identity. Id. 61. Plaintiff alleges, however, that she was pressured to accept extradition and ultimately did so at the status conference. Id. 62. On December 31, 2015, Plaintiff was transported to the airport and transferred to Arizona. Id. 66.

         On January 7, 2016, a comparison of Plaintiff's booking information and fingerprints were conducted, which verified her complaints of misidentification. Id. 68. Accordingly, the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed and Plaintiff was released from custody that day. Id. 69. In total, Plaintiff was held in custody at the Hobbs Detention Center and LCDC from November 20, 2015, through December 31, 2015, a period of ...

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