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Quarrie v. Wells

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 27, 2018

STEPHEN WELLS, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiffs Objections (doc. 89) to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition ("PFRD") (doc. 88). The Magistrate Judge recommended granting in full Saucedo Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (doc. 78) and granting in part and denying in part NMT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (doc. 76). Having conducted an independent, de novo review of both Motions to Dismiss (docs. 76, 78), the attendant briefing (docs. 79, 80, 81, 83), and the Magistrate Judge's PFRD (doc. 88), this Court overrules Plaintiffs objections and adopts the PFRD.


         Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint, the operative complaint in this action, on February 14, 2018.[1]Doc. 75. He alleged claims against Defendants Board of Regents of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Lone Liebrock, Daniel Lopez, Warren Ostergren, Kevin Wedeward, and Stephen Wells ("NMT Defendants") and against SaucedoChavez, P.C. and Christopher Saucedo ("Saucedo Defendants"). On February 28, 2018, NMT Defendants, who were named in all counts of the Second Amended Complaint, moved to dismiss all claims against them except for the Title VI claim of racial discrimination. Doc. 76. Also on February 28, 2018, Saucedo Defendants moved to dismiss all claims against them. Doc. 78. Saucedo Defendants, however, were only included in Counts I and V of the Second Amended Complaint, in claims for defamation and a permanent injunction prohibiting further defamation. Doc. 75 at 19-24.

         On August 21, 2018, this Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Gregory B. Wormuth, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B), (b)(3), and Va. Beach Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Wood, 901 F.2d 849 (10th Cir. 1990). See doc. 85. The Magistrate Judge subsequently issued a Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition ("PFRD") on October 22, 2018. Doc. 88. The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of the following for failure to state a claim: Counts I and II (constitutional defamation claims against NMT Defendants and Saucedo Defendants), Count IV (unconstitutional deprivation of a property right in application fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983), and the portion of Count V requesting an Ex Parte Young injunction prohibiting future defamation. See Id. at 1, 2, 26-27'. He recommended denial of NMT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as it pertained to the Count V request for injunctive relief against racial discrimination. See Id. at 27.

         Plaintiff filed his objections to the PFRD on November 5, 2018. Doc. 89. He objects to all of the Magistrate Judge's recommendations except for the recommendation to deny NMT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on the Count V claim for injunctive relief against racial discrimination. See Id. at 2. Ultimately, following a de novo review, the Court finds Plaintiffs objections to be without merit and adopts the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge.


         Defendants' Motions (docs. 76, 78) were referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). See doc. 85. Under that referral provision, the Court's standard of review of a magistrate judge's PFRD is de novo. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). When resolving objections to a magistrate judge's PFRD, "[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to. The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). "[A] party's objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation must be both timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo review by the district court or for appellate review." United States v. 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996). Moreover, "[i]ssues raised for the first time in objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation are deemed waived." Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996). See also United States v. Garfinkle, 261 F.3d 1030, 1031 (10th Cir. 2001) ("In this circuit, theories raised for the first time in objections to the magistrate judge's report are deemed waived.")

         In adopting a PFRD, the district court need not "make any specific findings; the district court must merely conduct a de novo review of the record." Garcia v. City of Albuquerque, 232 F.3d 760, 766 (10th Cir. 2000). "[T]he district court is presumed to know that de novo review is required. Consequently, a brief order expressly stating the court conducted de novo review is sufficient." Northington v. Marin, 102 F.3d 1564, 1570 (10th Cir. 1996) (citing In re Griego, 64 F.3d at 583-84). "[E]xpress references to de novo review in its order must be taken to mean it properly considered the pertinent portions of the record, absent some clear indication otherwise." Bratcher v. Bray-Doyle Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 42, 8 F.3d 722, 724 (10th Cir. 1993). A "terse" order containing one sentence for each of the party's "substantive claims," which did "not mention his procedural challenges to the jurisdiction of the magistrate to hear the motion," has been held sufficient. Garcia, 232 F.3d at 766. The Supreme Court has explained that "in providing for a de novo determination rather than de novo hearing, Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, chose to place on a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)) (citingMathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976)).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits the Court to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In assessing whether a complaint meets this standard, the Court is to first "identify[] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. Then, accepting only the well-pleaded factual allegations as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court is to consider whether "they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Barrett v. Orman, 373 Fed.Appx. 823, 825 (10th Cir. 2010) (unpublished) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-78); Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1125 (10th Cir. 2010). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Where, as here, a party is proceeding pro se, the court is to liberally construe his pleadings. Casanova, 595 F.3d at 1125. "But the court [is] not [to] 'assume the role of advocate for the pro se litigant.'" Baker v. Holt, 498 Fed.Appx. 770, 772 (10th Cir. 2012) (unpublished) (quoting Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991)). In other words, "[t]he broad reading of the plaintiffs complaint does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based." Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.


         I. Defamation Claims

         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to dismiss his constitutional defamation claims on the following grounds: (1) the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection and treatment; (2) Plaintiff is not required to show that he has a constitutional or state right to public higher education, but only that New Mexico has undertaken to provide public higher education; (3) Plaintiff was deprived of his right to equal protection by NMT Defendants' refusal to admit him based on their defamation; and (4) Plaintiff has met the requirements of the stigma-plus rule of Paul v. Davis,4 ...

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