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Baeza v. Munro

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 7, 2019

JESUS BAEZA, TERESA BAEZA MIRALDA, and JESUS D. BAEZA CONTRERAS, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARK MUNRO, and ELI GOMEZ, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         On March 5, 2018, Plaintiffs Jesus Baeza (Baeza), Teresa Baeza Miralda (Miralda), and Jesus Baeza Contreras (Contreras) (together, Plaintiffs) brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Hobbs Police Officers Mark Munro (Munro) and Eli Gomez (Gomez) (together, Defendants) in their official and individual capacities.[1] (FAC ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights in a search of Plaintiffs' residence under a search warrant issued in an investigation of a murder in Hobbs, New Mexico. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) Asserting qualified immunity, Defendants move to dismiss.[2] The Motion is fully briefed.[3]Because Plaintiffs have failed to show that Defendants violated their clearly established constitutional rights, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) a court may dismiss a claim “for failure 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 ... to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Brokers' Choice of America, Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc., 757 F.3d 1125, 1135 (10th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must “accept as true all well-pleaded facts, as distinguished from conclusory allegations, and view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Maher v. Durango Metals, Inc., 144 F.3d 1302, 1304 (10th Cir. 1998). However, the court is not required to accept legal conclusions without factual support. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). To summarize, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true....” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Although courts usually analyze only facts alleged in a complaint, if a plaintiff refers to certain documents in the complaint and those documents are central to the plaintiff's claims, the court may consider the documents as part of the pleadings. GFF Corporation v. Associated Grocers, Inc., 130 F.3d 1381, 1384 (10th Cir. 1997). See also County of Santa Fe v. Public Service Co. of N. M., 311 F.3d 1031, 1035 (10th Cir. 2002) (in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider documents referred to in a complaint if the documents are central to the plaintiff's claim and the parties do not dispute authenticity). Plaintiffs attached to the FAC a copy of the SEARCH WARRANT (hereinafter, Warrant), the Affidavit for Search Warrant (hereinafter, Affidavit), and Attachments A-D (Att. A-D).[4] (See FAC Ex. 1.) In the Motion and Reply, Defendants have also referred to the Warrant, the Affidavit, and Attachments A-D. Attachment A is a description of the premises to be searched. Attachment B is a list of items to be seized. Attachment C is an account of the murder and a description of the exculpatory evidence that Baeza presented to the prosecutor. Id. Attachment D is the inventory (Inventory) of items seized under the Warrant. (Id.) The Court will consider these documents.

         “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects public or government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Once a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden of satisfying a “strict two-part test.” McBeth v. Himes, 598 F.3d 708, 716 (10th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). The plaintiff must establish 1) that the defendant violated a constitutional or statutory right, and 2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's conduct. Courtney v. Oklahoma ex rel., Dep't of Pub. Safety, 722 F.3d 1216, 1222 (10th Cir. 2013). “If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either part of this two-part inquiry, the court must grant the defendant qualified immunity.” Hesse v. Town of Jackson, Wyo., 541 F.3d 1240, 1244 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations omitted). If the plaintiff succeeds in carrying his two-part burden, the burden shifts to the defendant who must show there are no remaining material issues of fact that would defeat qualified immunity. Walton v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 412 (10th Cir. 2014).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs live in a residence located at 115 East Park Place, Hobbs, Lea County, New Mexico. (FAC ¶¶ 3-4.) Baeza operates a vehicle repair business known as LBG Service and Repair, LLC (LBG) in an adjacent commercial building with the same street address. (Id. ¶ 3.) Although Miralda and Contreras live in the residence, they are not involved in the operation of LBG. (Id. ¶ 4.)

         On October 28, 2014, Gary Nash was killed in a drive-by shooting while standing in the driveway of his residence in Hobbs, New Mexico. (Id. ¶ 6.) Eye witnesses told police that the shots were fired from a gold Nissan Maxima driven by Jimmy Thompson (Thompson). (Id. ¶ 7; FAC Ex. 1 Aff. Att. C.) Thompson, then a juvenile, was charged with murder. (FAC ¶ 7.) Police officials discovered that Thompson's mother, Christina Salazar (Salazar), owned a gold Nissan Maxima. (Id. ¶ 9.) Police questioned Salazar on October 29, 2014, and Salazar told police that her car could not have been involved in the shooting because it was at LBG being repaired on the day of the shooting. (Id. ¶ 10.) Salazar provided police with the contact information for LBG; however, police did not contact Baeza or LBG at that time. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.)

         Prior to Thompson's criminal trial, Thompson's attorney, Barry Crutchfield (Crutchfield), disclosed Baeza as a witness who would testify that LBG had possession of Salazar's gold Nissan Maxima at the time of the murder. (Id. ¶ 13.) On July 24, 2016, one week before Thompson's trial, Baeza and Crutchfield went to the Hobbs District Attorney's Office. (Id. ¶ 15.) Baeza showed the prosecuting attorney LBG Invoice Number 1012 (Invoice) for repairs on Salazar's vehicle, a gold 2000 Nissan Maxima with New Mexico License Plate 541-RSY. (Id. ¶ 16.) The Invoice, marked as paid, showed that the vehicle was repaired from October 6, 2014 through November 10, 2014 at a cost of $2, 279.28. (Id.)

         On July 25, 2016, Gomez submitted the Affidavit and Attachments A-D to State District Judge Mark Sanchez. (Id. ¶ 17.) Attachment A described the premises to be searched:

A single family residence located at 115 East Park Place in the city of Hobbs, County of Lea, State of New Mexico…. The numbers “115” are affixed to the front of the residence and are white in color…. West of the front door is an attached carport with a tan stucco exterior…. East of the residence is a detached sheet metal shop…. There is a garage door which faces north and a glass window just east of the garage door. East of the detached shop is a wooden storage shed which is used as an office…. The entire property is surrounded by a wire fence and several vehicles are parked in front of the shop and storage shed.

(Id.; Ex. 1 Aff. Att. A.) The Affidavit notes, “[t]his affidavit shall be filed in the same file as the search warrant. If no criminal proceedings are filed, the affidavit and warrant shall be filed in a miscellaneous file.” (Id.) Attachment A to the Warrant Affidavit was signed by Gomez and was approved by Assistant District Attorney Erik Scramlin. (Id.)

         Attachment B to the Affidavit is a description of the items to be seized under the Warrant:

1. Any and all invoices related to a 2000 Nissan Maxima bearing New Mexico license plate 541-RSY VIN: JNCA31D8YT712606
2. Any and all receipts related to a 2000 Nissan Maxima bearing New Mexico license plate 541-RSY VIN: JNCA31D8YT712606
3. Vehicle parts orders related to a 2000 Nissan Maxima bearing New Mexico license plate 541-RSY VIN: JNCA31D8YT712606
4. Computers, laptops, tablets, iPads, and electronic devices used in conjunction with LBG Services and Repair LLC invoicing, pricing and parts management.
5. Data retrieval from the electronic devices used in conjunction with LBG Services and Repair LLC invoicing, pricing, and parts management.
6. Service records and invoices from September 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 for repairs and services of vehicles.

(FAC Ex. 1 Aff. Att. B.) Attachment B to the Affidavit was signed by Gomez and was approved by Assistant District Attorney Erik Scramlin. (Id.)

         Attachment C to the Affidavit contains a recitation of the facts supporting issuance of the Search Warrant. After describing the drive-by shooting of Gary Nash and after discussing witnesses' statements that the car involved in the shooting was a gold colored Nissan Maxima driven by Jimmy Thompson, the Affidavit stated:

A records check was conducted and revealed Jimmy Thompson to be associated to a 2000 Nissan Maxima bearing New Mexico license plate 541-RSY. The registration returns to Christina or Cynthia Salazar…. On Thursday, July 21, 2016 Jesus Baeza, proprietor of LBG Service and Repair LLC, produced an invoice number 1012 for repairs on a 2000 Nissan Maxima bearing New Mexico license plate 541-RSY, VIN JN1CA31D8YT712606. Jesus claimed the vehicle was in his possession for repairs from October 6, 2014 through November 10, 2014. Jesus further claimed the vehicle was picked up after the total amount of $2279.28 was paid in full.
Jesus's claims of being in possession of the vehicle contradict eye witness statements of the Nissan Maxima being ...

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