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Rodriguez v. Chavez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 16, 2014

IRENE RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTINE CHAVEZ, individually and as a Police Officer of the City and County of Denver, JOEY GASCA, individually and as a Police Officer of the City and County of Denver, KRISTY GARCIA, individually and as a Police Officer of the City and County of Denver, DAMON BOWSER, individually and as a Police Officer of the City and County of Denver, GERALD R. WHITMAN, as the former Chief of Police of the City and County of Denver, CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, a municipal corporation, Defendants.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Partial Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) [Docket No. 95] filed by defendants Christine Chavez, Joey Gasca, Kristy Garcia, Damon Bowser, Gerald R. Whitman (collectively the "individual defendants") and the City and County of Denver ("defendant Denver").

I. BACKGROUND[1]

On April 22, 2010, plaintiff Irene Rodriguez was returning to her residence at the Shady Nook Trailer Park in Denver, Colorado. Docket No. 1 at 3, ¶ 10. At approximately 2:00 p.m., Patricia Medina approached Ms. Rodriguez and asked to use her mobile telephone. Id. at 3, ¶ 11. Ms. Medina spoke only in English and had "blood all over [her]." Id. at 4, ¶ 13. Ms. Rodriguez gave Ms. Medina her mobile telephone. Ms. Medina left with the telephone, so Ms. Rodriguez followed her to retrieve it. Id. at 4, ¶ 14. Ms. Rodriguez was walking several feet behind Ms. Medina when Denver police officers arrived. Id. at 4, ¶ 15. Officer Joey Gasca and Officer Brock Ellerman took Ms. Medina into custody on suspicion of stabbing her husband. Id. at 4, ¶ 17. Officer Christine Chavez came towards Ms. Rodriguez and grabbed her arms, twisted her hands behind her back, and handcuffed her. Id. at 4, ¶ 18. Ms. Rodriguez attempted to explain in Spanish that she was attempting to retrieve her phone from Ms. Medina. Id. at 5, ¶¶ 19-20. Officer Chavez responded, "This is America you need to speak English, " and pushed Ms. Rodriguez face down into a flowerbed. Id. Officer Chavez held Ms. Rodriguez' head down, at which point Officer Gasca and Officer Kristy Garcia "began assaulting and battering Plaintiff" and told her to "shut up." Id. at 5, ¶¶ 21-22. Officer Gasca got on top of Ms. Rodriguez and yanked her left arm while Officer Chavez was "violently yanking and pulling Plaintiff's legs." Id. at 5, ¶¶ 23-25. Ms. Rodriguez felt severe pain in her left arm and elbow. As a result of the actions of Officers Gasca, Garcia, and Chavez, Ms. Rodriguez' left arm was broken. Id.

Ms. Rodriguez claims that Officer Damon Bowser took a statement from a witness, but falsely transcribed the statement so as to be consistent with the other officers' version of events. Id. at 7, ¶ 27. Plaintiff claims that Officers Bowser, Chavez, Gasca, and Garcia (collectively the "Officers") conspired to cover up their unconstitutional actions and conspired to have Ms. Rodriguez charged and prosecuted for interference and resisting arrest. Id. at 7, ¶ 28. Although Ms. Rodriguez was so charged, she was found not guilty at trial. Id. at 7, ¶ 29. Ms. Rodriguez alleges that defendants' actions in disregarding her constitutional rights were intentional, knowing, willful, wanton, malicious, and motivated by her race. Id. at 7, 8-9, ¶¶ 30, 35. She claims defendants deprived her of her constitutional rights "pursuant to the preexisting and ongoing deliberately indifferent policy[, ] custom, practice, decision, training, and supervision" of defendant Denver and Chief of Police Gerald Whitman.[2] Id. at 7, ¶ 30. Ms. Rodriguez claims that defendant Denver and Chief Whitman had a practice and/or policy permitting officers to use excessive force and failed to train and supervise law enforcement personnel as to the use of force. Id. at 8, ¶¶ 31-32. Ms. Rodriguez alleges that, between 1997 and 2009, the Denver Police Department received 1, 625 complaints concerning officers' use of force, 20 of which were sustained. Id. at 8, ¶ 33.

On April 20, 2012, Ms. Rodriguez filed her complaint. Id. at 1. Ms. Rodriguez asserted three claims for relief: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the Officers in their individual and official capacities for excessive force, false arrest, unlawful seizure, and malicious prosecution, id. at 9, 12; (2) a § 1983 and § 1985 claim against the individual defendants in their individual and official capacities and against defendant Denver for conspiracy to violate civil rights, id. at 12, 14; and (3) a claim pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against Chief Whitman in his official capacity and against defendant Denver for deliberately indifferent policies, practices, and customs. Id. at 14. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), defendants filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Rodriguez' claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities and the claims against defendant Denver.[3] Docket No. 95.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court reviews a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) much as it would a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Park Univ. Enters., Inc. v. Am. Cas. Co. of Reading, PA, 442 F.3d 1239, 1244 (10th Cir. 2006) ("We review a district court's grant of a motion for judgment on the pleadings de novo, using the same standard that applies to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion."). Accordingly, the Court "accept[s] all facts pleaded by the non-moving party as true and grant[s] all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the same." Id. "Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only when the moving party has clearly established that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Sanders v. Mountain Am. Fed. Credit Union, 689 F.3d 1138, 1141 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Park Univ., 442 F.3d at 1244).

Therefore, to survive defendants' motion, "plaintiff must allege enough factual matter, taken as true, to make [her] claim to relief... plausible on its face.'" Bryson v. Gonzales, 534 F.3d 1282, 1286 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (internal quotation marks and alteration marks omitted). "[L]abels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" are insufficient. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, even though modern rules of pleading are somewhat forgiving, "a complaint still must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Bryson, 534 F.3d at 1286 (alteration marks omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Claims Against Officers Gasca, Chavez, Garcia, and Bowser in Their Official Capacities

Defendants argue that the Officers cannot be held liable in their official capacities because "they are rank and file police officers." Docket No. 95 at 10. "Local governing bodies... can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where... the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978) (footnote omitted).[4] "[O]nly those municipal officials who have final policymaking authority' may by their actions subject the government to § 1983 liability." City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123 (1988). Final policymakers are those decisionmakers who "possess[] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered." Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481 (1986). The fact that an official has discretion in exercising his duties "does not, without more, give rise to municipal liability based on an exercise of that discretion." Id. at 481-82.[5] In deciding whether an official is a final policymaker, the inquiry is focused only on "delegations of legal power. " Brammer-Hoelter v. Twin Peaks Charter Academy, 602 F.3d 1175, 1189 (10th Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original).

The Officers are alleged to be police officers employed by defendant Denver. See, e.g., Docket No. 1 at 2, ¶ 4 ("Defendant Christine Chavez was... acting under color of state law in her capacity as a police officer employed by the City and County of Denver."). However, Ms. Rodriguez' complaint contains no facts upon which to conclude that the Officers are final policymakers and does not address whether the Officers were at any point delegated the necessary legal power. See Brammer-Hoelter, 602 F.3d at 1189. In her response brief, Ms. Rodriguez claims that Officer Chavez "was a Corporal and therefore a supervisor." Docket No. 104 at 8. However, even assuming the assertion is taken as true, the fact that Officer Chavez supervised other officers does not mean that defendant Denver is liable, absent final policymaking authority, for an unconstitutional exercise of that discretion. See Randle, 69 F.3d at 448 (citing Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 483 n.12).

Ms. Rodriguez also argues that, because the Officers admitted to "acting under color of law, " the Officers were "acting in their official capacity." Docket No. 104 at 9. Ms. Rodriguez' argument is insufficient. Acting "under color of law" is a requirement for § 1983 liability, but "[m]ore is required in an official-capacity action, however, for a governmental entity is liable under § 1983 only when... the entity's policy or custom'... played a part in the violation of federal law." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Only the actions of final policymakers may subject a municipality to § 1983 liability. See Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 123. Because Ms. Rodriguez fails to allege facts upon which to conclude that any of the ...


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