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Eaves v. El Paso Board of County Commisioners

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 24, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants El Paso County Board of County Commissioners (“El Paso County”), Bill Elders (“Elders”), [1] Rob King (“King”), Zachary Margurite (“Margurite”), Canyon Parcell (“Parcell”), and Michael Kimberlain's (“Kimberlain”) Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6) [#19][2] (the “Motion”).[3] Plaintiff, who proceeds as a pro se litigant, [4] filed a Response [#22] in opposition, and Defendants filed a Reply [#23]. The Court has reviewed all briefing on the Motion, the entire case file, and the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion [#19] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Summary of the Case[5]

         Plaintiff is an inmate at the Bent County Correctional Facility in Las Animas, Colorado. See Notice of Change of Address [#26]. Defendants are employees of El Paso County, where Plaintiff was previously incarcerated. Am. Compl. [#6] at 2-5. On May 10, 2016, Plaintiff initiated this case by filing a Prisoner Complaint [#1]. On May 12, 2016, Plaintiff was ordered to file an amended complaint. Order [#5]. Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint [#6] on June 9, 2016, in which he asserts four claims.

         Plaintiff brings Claim One, titled “Denial of Due Process, ” against Defendants Margurite, Lieutenant John Does #5 and #6, [6] and Jane Doe (#14) based on his placement in Special Detention and denial of privileges for several months. Am. Compl. [#6] at 7-8. Plaintiff brings Claim Two, titled “Deliberate Indifference, ” against Defendant El Paso County for exposure to materials in the jail that caused him respiratory problems and eye irritation. Id. at 9. Plaintiff brings Claim Three, titled “Excessive Use of Force, ” against Defendants Parcell, Kimberlain, John Does #12 and #13, Sergeant John Does #7 and #8, Elders, and King related to Plaintiff's alleged beating by prison officials. Id. at 10-11. Claim Four is asserted against Defendant Correct Care Solutions, who was only recently served and has not yet filed an Answer or other response to the Amended Complaint [#6]. Defendants' Motion [#19] does not address Claim Four.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Am. Compl. [#6] at 15-20.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) is to test whether the Court has jurisdiction to properly hear the case before it. Because “federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ” the Court must have a statutory basis to exercise its jurisdiction. Montoya v. Chao, 296 F.3d 952, 955 (10th Cir. 2002); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Statutes conferring subject matter jurisdiction on federal courts are to be strictly construed. F & S Const. Co. v. Jensen, 337 F.2d 160, 161 (10th Cir. 1964). “The burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) may take two forms: facial attack or factual attack. Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir. 1995). When reviewing a facial attack on a complaint, the Court accepts the allegations of the complaint as true. Id. By contrast, when reviewing a factual attack on a complaint, the Court “may not presume the truthfulness of the complaint's factual allegations.” Id. at 1003. With a factual attack, the moving party challenges the facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction depends. Id. The Court therefore must make its own findings of fact. Id. In order to make its findings regarding disputed jurisdictional facts, the Court “has wide discretion to allow affidavits, other documents, and a limited evidentiary hearing.” Id. (citing Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990); Wheeler v. Hurdman, 825 F.2d 257, 259 n.5 (10th Cir. 1987)). The Court's reliance on “evidence outside the pleadings” to make findings concerning purely jurisdictional facts does not convert a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) into a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. Id.

         B. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test “the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (stating that a complaint may be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted”). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). To withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Shero v. City of Grove, 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (“The complaint must plead sufficient facts, taken as true, to provide ‘plausible grounds' that discovery will reveal evidence to support the plaintiff's allegations.” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

         “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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id. (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Christy Sports, LLC v. Deer Valley Resort Co., 555 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2009). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” a factual allegation has been stated, “but it has not show[n] that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (first alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation omitted).

         “Under Rule 8, a plaintiff must provide a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Tuttamore v. Lappin, 429 F. App'x 687, 689 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). As with Rule 12(b)(6), “to overcome a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's allegations must move from conceivable to plausible.” Id. Indeed, “Rule 8(a)'s mandate . . . has been incorporated into the 12(b)(6) inquiry.” United States ex rel. Lemmon v. Envirocare of Utah, 614 F.3d 1163, 1171 (10th Cir. 2010). Rule 8 enables “the court and the defendants to know what claims are being asserted and to determine how to respond to those claims.” Tuttamore, 429 F. App'x at 689.

         C. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity shields government officials from individual liability for civil damages when their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person in their position would have known. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). When a defendant raises qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to satisfy a strict two-part test. Escobar v. Reid, 668 F.Supp.2d 1260, 1293 (D. Colo. 2009).

First, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's actions violated a constitutional or statutory right. Second, the plaintiff must show that the constitutional or statutory rights the defendant allegedly violated were clearly established at the time of the conduct at issue. The question of whether the constitutional right was clearly established must be asked in the context of the particular case before the court, not as a general, abstract matter. That is, [t]he relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer [in the defendant's position] that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. In order for a constitutional right to be clearly established, there must be a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or the clear weight of authority from other circuits must establish the constitutional right. In other words, there must be case law in which a constitutional violation was found based upon similar conduct.

Id. (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Subsequent authority has clarified that either part of the qualified immunity analysis may be addressed by the Court first. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         III. Analysis

         A. Claim One: ‚ÄúDenial ...

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