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Trujillo v. Williams

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 18, 2019

JESSE TRUJILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
JOE WILLIAMS, etal., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Martha Vázquez United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on pro se Plaintiffs Motion to Impose Civil Contempt Sanctions [Doc. 154]. The Court, having considered the motion, briefs, and relevant law, and being otherwise fully informed, finds that the Motion is well-taken and will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case have been repeatedly recited, most recently in this Court's Order of January 22, 2018. Doc. 174. The Court here reviews only the facts relevant to the instant Motion.

         In a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on August 3, 2011, this Court adopted the Report and Recommendations of the Magistrate Judge in finding that Plaintiff Jesse Trujillo, a New Mexico prisoner housed in Virginia, was being denied legal access. Doc. 120. The Court consequently ordered Defendants to "file with the Court a plan that will enable Plaintiff to send legal requests and grievances to the NMCD [("New Mexico Corrections Department")] at no expense to himself." Id. at 5. Defendants complied, filing a Plan to Allow Postage Free Legal Request by Plaintiff to NMCD. Doc. 121. In its Plan, Defendants proposed that (1) NMCD would initially provide Plaintiff with three standard pre-stamped envelopes and that, thereafter, (2) NMCD would enclose a pre-stamped envelope in any response or reply sent to Plaintiff. See id. at 1. The Court adopted Defendants' proposed plan in its September 30, 2011 Order Adopting Postage Plan ("Postage Plan Order"). Doc. 129. The Court also entered its Final Judgment. Doc. 130.

         Approximately five years later, on August 4, 2016, Plaintiff moved to reopen the case and find Defendants in contempt due to their failure to comply with the Postage Plan Order. Doc. 147. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on February 12, 2018 ("Contempt Order"), the Court declined to reopen the case, but granted Plaintiffs motion as it pertained to enforcement of the Postage Plan Order, holding as follows:

In this case, Plaintiff Trujillo's Motion and the Court record establish the existence of the Court's September 30, 2011 Order, that Defendants have knowledge of that Order, and that Defendants have ceased to comply with the Order. Defendants do not contend that they have continued to comply with the Order or could not comply but, instead, seek to have the Court relieve them of further obligation to comply. The Court finds that Defendants have not complied with the Court's September 30, 2011 Order and will impose a civil-contempt sanction.

Doc. 153 at 5 (internal citations omitted). The Court held Defendants in contempt for their failure to comply with the Postage Plan Order, indicated that Defendants could "purge the contempt by continuing to comply with the [Postage Plan Order]," and "DIRECTED [Defendants] to continue to comply with the postage plan adopted by this Court's September 30, 2011 Order." Id. At 5, 6. The Court further directed that, if Defendants wished "to be relieved of the obligation to comply with the [Postage Plan Order], they were required to file a motion made in compliance with the requirements of Rule 60(b)." Id. at 6.

         On May 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed his instant motion, requesting that the Court impose civil contempt sanctions on Defendants for their continued failure to comply with the Postage Plan Order ("Motion for Sanctions"). Doc. 154. In his motion, Plaintiff states that "nearly 3 months have passed since this Court issued the [Contempt] Order and the Defendants have made absolutely no effort to comply, by providing Plaintiff postage free envelopes for him to file grievances in New Mexico." Id. Plaintiff requests that this Court impose civil contempt sanctions against Defendants and order that Defendants return Plaintiff to New Mexico. Id.

         Defendants failed to timely respond to Plaintiffs Motion for Sanctions, and on August 1, 2018, Magistrate Judge Gregory B. Wormuth entered an Order to Respond, ordering that Defendants respond to Plaintiffs Motion for Sanctions no later than August 14, 2018. Doc. 155. On August 23, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for an extension of time in which to respond to Plaintiffs Motion for Sanctions, stating that they did not have notice of Plaintiff s Motion for Sanctions or the Order to Respond until August 23, 2018. Doc. 157. On August 24, 2018, Judge Wormuth granted Defendants' motion for an extension, and set a deadline of September 4, 2018 for Defendants' response. Doc. 158. Defendants filed their response on September 4, 2018, in which they object to Plaintiffs request for sanctions. Doc. 160.

         Thereafter, on October 3, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to vacate the Postage Plan Order, pursuant to Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 163. Plaintiff filed a Response arguing against modification of the Postage Plan Order, Doc. 167, and Defendants filed a Reply. Doc. 169. Pursuant to this Court's Order of Reference, Judge Wormuth filed his Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition ("PFRD") on November 27, 2018, recommending that Defendants' motion be denied. Doc. 171. Defendants filed objections to the PFRD on December 11, 2018. Doc. 173. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated January 22, 2019 ("Order Denying Motion to Vacate"), this Court overruled Defendants' objections and adopted the PFRD. Doc. 174. In the Order Denying Motion to Vacate, the Court found that Defendants failed to meet the standard under Rule 60(b) for several reasons, including the fact that Defendants "exhibited an exceptional lack of attempting to comply with the Postage Plan Order." Id. at 11. Specifically, "[r]ather than filing their Motion for relief immediately upon determining that compliance was too arduous, Defendants elected to ignore and defy the Court's Order. As a result, Defendants have been non-compliant since at least 2016." Id.

         With this background, the Court now must determine the merits of Plaintiff s request that the Court impose civil contempt sanctions on Defendants for their failure to comply with the postage plan adopted in the Postage Plan Order and reaffirmed in the Contempt Order.

         STANDARD

         "A district court may exercise broad discretion in using its contempt power to assure compliance with its orders." Rodriguez v. IBP, Inc.,243 F.3d 1221, 1231 (10th Cir. 2001). Civil contempt "is a sanction to enforce compliance with an order of the court or to compensate for losses or damages sustained by reason of noncompliance." Law v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n ("Law I"),134 F.3d 1438, 1442 (10th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). Accordingly, sanctions may be employed in civil contempt proceedings "for either or both of two purposes: to coerce the defendant into compliance with the court's order, and to compensate the complainant for losses sustained." Id. (citation omitted). If the purpose is compensatory, "a fine is imposed, payable to the complainant." Id. (citation omitted). "Such fine must of course be based upon evidence of complainant's actual loss." Id. (citation omitted). "The offending party is punished, but a critical feature of civil contempt is that "the punishment is remedial." Id. at 1443 (citation omitted). Fines may also be imposed if the purpose of the sanction is coercive, "as long as the offending party can avoid them by complying with the court's order." Id.; In re Lucre Mgm 't Group, LLC, 365 F.3d 874, 876 (10th Cir. 2004) ("In civil contempt, the contemnor is able to purge the contempt and obtain his release by committing an affirmative act, and thus carries the keys of his prison in his own pocket.") (citation omitted); see also ...


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