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Trujillo v. City of Hobbs

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 9, 2019

CITY OF HOBBS, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants City of Hobbs and Royal Hopper's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (the “Motion”), (Doc. 35), filed August 16, 2017; Plaintiff Nathaniel Trujillo's Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (the “Response”), (Doc. 67), filed February 1, 2019; and Defendants' Reply in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (the “Reply”), (Doc. 74), filed March 7, 2019.

         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 Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. 35), be DENIED.

         I. Background

         On January 16, 2015, Defendant Royal Hopper was working as a patrol officer for the City of Hobbs Police Department. (Doc. 35 at 2). In the early hours of January 17, 2015, he received a call on his radio indicating that a fight was in progress at Diamond Lil's, a local bar in Hobbs, New Mexico. Id. Officer Hopper arrived at Diamond Lil's in his patrol vehicle without activating his lights or sirens. Id. As he approached, Officer Hopper saw a “crowd of people on the side of the bar.” Id. Officer Hopper pulled into the area where the crowd was located, and witnessed people starting to walk away. Id. Upon entering the parking lot, Officer Hopper believed the fight that resulted in his initial dispatch to the scene was over. Id.

         Officer Hopper exited his patrol vehicle to ensure the scene was secure and no fighting continued. (Doc. 35 at 3). Officer Hopper was in full uniform, with his badge and duty weapon. Id. at 4. As he walked to the back parking lot to assess the scene, Officer Hopper did not use his flashlight because “he did not want people to see him from afar.” (Doc. 74 at 10). After viewing at least one individual with a rifle and yelling something akin to “Freeze, HPD, ” Officer Hopper fired his duty weapon “six to eight times.” (Doc. 67 at 14). Plaintiff Nathaniel Trujillo was shot twice in the upper thigh and Kyle Laughrin was shot once. (Doc. 1 at 5). Mr. Trujillo was severely injured as a result of the gunshot wounds and was later airlifted to University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, for emergency medical treatment. Id. at 6.

         In his Complaint, Mr. Trujillo alleges five causes of action against the City of Hobbs (the “City”) and Officer Hopper. (Doc. 1 at 27-31). Defendants now seek summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity on each of Mr. Trujillo's five claims. (Doc. 35 at 1). In response to Defendants' Motion, Mr. Trujillo has abandoned one of his claims - a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging Officer Hopper violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to receive medical aid after being shot. (Doc. 67 at 2, n. 1). Thus, what remains before the Court are: two claims against Officer Hopper in his individual capacity, including one count of battery under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”) and one Fourth Amendment claim for the use of excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”); and two claims against the City, including one count of “negligence resulting in battery” under the NMTCA and one count of Section 1983 Monell liability under a theory of failure to train and the excessive use of force under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1 at 27-32).

         In their Motion, Defendants have divided the “undisputed material facts” of this case into four subsections, each section detailing a different actor's or witness's “recollection of events” from the early morning hours of January 17, 2015. (Doc. 35 at 2) (“Officer Hopper's Recollection of Events”); id. at 5 (“Events described by Kyle Laughrin”); id. at 6 (“Adam McGranahan's Recollection of Events”); id. at 8 (“Plaintiff's Recollection of Events”). Defendants then argue that under each of the factual recitations provided, it remains undisputed that: (1) Officer Hopper announced his presence; and (2) the gun pointed in his direction was not lowered when Officer Hopper issued his commands. Id. at 16-17. Essentially, Defendants argue, based on these two undisputed facts alone, the Court should conclude that Officer Hopper's decision to shoot Mr. Trujillo was reasonable and he is therefore entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. Id.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it could have an effect on the outcome of the lawsuit. Smothers v. Solvay Chems., Inc., 740 F.3d 530, 538 (10th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence presented could allow a rational jury to find in favor of the non-moving party. E.E.O.C. v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal citation omitted). “Genuine factual issues must exist that ‘can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.'” Harapat v. Vigil, 676 F.Supp.2d 1250, 1258-59 (D.N.M. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986)).

         In considering a summary judgment motion, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Shero v. City of Grove, 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-71 (10th Cir. 1998). When the movant does not have the burden of persuasion at trial, it can satisfy its burden at the summary judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence on an essential element of the claim. Id. at 671. If the party seeking summary judgment satisfies its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-movant. Id.

         The non-movant cannot rest on the pleadings but must “designate specific facts so as to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case in order to survive summary judgment.” Sealock v. Colo., 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Specifically, the non-movant must identify facts from which a rational trier of fact could find in the non-movant's favor, utilizing evidence such as affidavits, deposition transcripts, or incorporated exhibits. Adler, 144 F.3d at 671. The party cannot rest on ignorance of the facts, speculation, or unsubstantiated conclusory allegations. Harvey Barnett, Inc. v. Shidler, 338 F.3d 1125, 1129 (10th Cir. 2003).

         “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence will not avoid summary judgment.” Harapat, 676 F.Supp.2d at 1259 (citing Vitkus v. Beatrice Co., 11 F.3d 1535, 1539 (10th Cir. 1993)). If the evidence in favor of the nonmovant “is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative, . . . summary judgment may be granted.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). “A fact is ‘disputed' in a summary-judgment proceeding only if there is contrary evidence or other sufficient reason to disbelieve it; a simple denial, much less an assertion of ignorance, does not suffice.” Grynberg v. Total S.A., 538 F.3d 1336, 1345 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         III. ...

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