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Trujillo v. City of Hobbs

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 22, 2019

NATHANIEL TRUJILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HOBBS, et al., Defendants.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          CARMEN E. GARZA, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant City of Hobbs' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims That it Violated NMSA 1978, Section 60-3A-6.1 (the “Motion to Dismiss”), (Doc. 32), filed July 31, 2017; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant City of Hobbs' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims That it Violated NMSA 1978, Section 60-3A-6.1, (Doc. 34), filed August 14, 2017; and Defendant City of Hobbs' Reply in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims That it Violated NMSA 1978, Section 60-3A-6.1, (Doc. 45), filed September 5, 2017.

         On August 5, 2019, United States District Judge J. Thomas Marten referred this matter to the undersigned to make findings of fact, conduct legal analysis, and recommend an ultimate disposition. (Doc. 79). After considering the parties' filings, the record, and the relevant law, the Court RECOMMENDS that Defendant City of Hobbs' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims That it Violated NMSA 1978, Section 60-3A-6.1, (Doc. 32), be DENIED.

         I. Factual Background

         On the evening of January 16, 2015, into the early hours of January 17, 2015, Plaintiff Nathaniel Trujillo was at Diamond Lil's, a bar in Hobbs, New Mexico. (Doc. 1 at 3). When the bar closed, Mr. Trujillo sat in the rear parking lot, waiting in the passenger seat of his friend's car. Id. Kyle Laughrin, another patron exiting Diamond Lil's, walked into the rear parking lot and began waving a handgun and pointing the weapon at the vehicle where Mr. Trujillo was seated. Id. Concerned for the safety of himself and the other patrons in the parking lot, Mr. Trujillo exited the vehicle and asked Mr. Laughrin to put the handgun away. Id. at 4. In response, Mr. Laughrin fired two shots from the handgun into the air and proceeded to pull a rifle from a nearby vehicle belonging to a friend. Id. Mr. Trujillo continued to reason with Mr. Laughrin to put the weapons away as law enforcement arrived on the scene. Id.

         Officer Royal Hopper arrived at Diamond Lil's and fired his service weapon at Mr. Laughrin and Mr. Trujillo “six to eight times.” (Doc. 1 at 5). After being shot by Officer Hopper, Mr. Laughrin fled to a nearby vehicle. Id. Mr. Trujillo remained in the rear parking lot, bleeding as a result of two gunshot wounds to his upper thigh, and waited roughly fifteen minutes for emergency personnel to arrive and administer aid. Id. at 5-6. As a result of his injuries, Mr. Trujillo was airlifted to University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. Id. at 6. Mr. Trujillo has undergone multiple surgeries since the shooting and was unable to return to work for nearly four months as he recovered from his injuries. Id.

         Mr. Trujillo contends Diamond Lil's is known in the community for its “illustrious criminal history, ” including sixty-six “serious incidents” between January 1, 2008 and November 1, 2008. (Doc. 1 at 8). Mr. Trujillo alleges the Hobbs Police Department served “as Diamond Lil's publicly-paid security guards, ” protecting the establishment even in light of the “repeated creation of danger for its patrons, the community, and [the] officers.” Id. at 25-26. In addition, Mr. Trujillo argues that despite the Hobbs Police Department's knowledge that Diamond Lil's routinely violated both the Liquor Control Act and state and local laws, the City of Hobbs (the “City”) allowed crime to remain unabated and failed to appropriately respond to what had become a “nuisance establishment.” Id. at 8.

         In his Complaint, Mr. Trujillo alleges five causes of action against the City and Officer Hopper. (Doc. 1 at 27-31). First, Mr. Trujillo states two claims against the City: one count of “negligence resulting in battery” under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”) and one count of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Monell liability under a theory of failure to train and the excessive use of force under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 34 at 1). Next, Mr. Trujillo states three claims against Officer Hopper in his individual capacity: one count of battery under the NMTCA and two counts of deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for his use of deadly force and his failure to administer aid. (Doc. 1 at 27-31).

         Defendants have now moved to dismiss one of Mr. Trujillo's legal theories supporting his claim for “negligence resulting in battery” under the NMTCA based on the City's alleged violations of the Liquor Control Act, N.M.S.A. Section 60-3A-6.1 (the “Liquor Control Act” or “§ 60-3A-6.1”). (Doc. 32 at 1). The scope of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is narrow - their three-page motion and four-page reply only seek to establish that Mr. Trujillo “fails to allege sufficient facts to support a violation of [the Liquor control Act].” (Doc. 32 at 2). Indeed, Defendants have not contested that the City has a general duty to enforce the criminal provisions of the Liquor Control Act, nor do they debate any other element of Mr. Trujillo's negligence claim. (Doc. 46 at 2-3) (“Criminal offenses that are violations of the Act are specifically delineated. Importantly, none of the incidents listed in paragraph 71 of Plaintiff's Complaint are violations of the Liquor Control Act, nor on any of the occasions listed in paragraph 71 did the City or its officers violate [the Liquor Control Act] by failing to notify the [alcohol and gaming commission] within 30 days of issuing a citation for a violation of the Act.”) (citations omitted). The Court will therefore only address whether Mr. Trujillo has presented enough factual support to demonstrate the City's plausible failure to enforce the criminal provisions of the Liquor Control Act. The question of whether such failure satisfies the elements of negligence under the NMTCA is not before the Court.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a complaint must contain a “short and plain” statement of: (1) the grounds supporting the court's jurisdiction; (2) the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). A defendant may move the court to dismiss a complaint for, inter alia, “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 12(b)(6), a “plaintiff must allege enough factual matter, taken as true, to make his claim to relief … plausible on its face.” Bryson v. Gonzales, 534 f.3d 1282, 1286 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         “The complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, but the factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Hall v. Witteman, 584 F.3d 859, 863 (10th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, the court cannot consider matters outside of the pleading, nor is it required to accept conclusory or unsupported allegations. Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1190 (10th Cir. 1989). Moreover, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” will not suffice to state a claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Finally, “[t]he nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context.” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Trujillo's first cause of action against the City, alleging “negligence resulting in battery” under the NMTCA, includes serval theories to support his accusation of negligence. (Doc. 34 at 5). For example, Mr. Trujillo contends the City failed to exercise reasonable care, failed to adequately train and supervise officers, failed to forward liquor control violations, failed to enforce nuisance abatement ordinances and state law, provided an inadequate response to increasing rates of deadly force, and negligently adopted and ratified a culture of violence. (Doc. 1 at ...


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