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Weeks v. Claussen

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 31, 2017

HUNTER LEE WEEKS, Plaintiff,
v.
CONNIE CLAUSSEN, R.N. At Sterling Correctional Facility, and BERNADETTE SCOTT, Lt. And ADA Inmate Coordinator at Sterling Correctional Facility, Defendants.

          ORDER ADOPTING AND AFFIRMING OCTOBER 31, 2016 RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on review of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint under Federal Rules of Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 17.) This Court referred the motion to United States Magistrate Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya for review. On October 31, 2016, Magistrate Judge Tafoya issued her Recommendation that this Court grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. # 17) and dismiss the case in its entirety (Doc. # 32).

         The Recommendation advised the parties that specific written objections were due within fourteen days after being served with a copy of the Recommendation. (Doc. # 32 at 14-15.) Plaintiff filed a partial objection to the Recommendation on November 14, 2016. (Doc. # 32.) Plaintiff objects to Magistrate Judge Tafoya's Recommendation that the Court dismiss four of Plaintiff's claims[1]: (1) retaliation for exercise of his First Amendment rights; (2) Fourteenth Amendment violations; (3) violation of a Sixth Amendment right to court access; and(4) retaliation under 28 C.F.R. § 135.134(a), (b). Plaintiff also objects to Magistrate Judge Tafoya's finding that Defendants Claussen and Scott are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and Qualified Immunity for his claim brought pursuant to the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff did not object to Judge Tafoya's Recommendation that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's fifth and sixth claims, or the Recommendation that Defendants Claussen and Scott are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and Qualified Immunity for the constitutional claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Magistrate Judge Tafoya's Recommendation provides an extensive recitation of the factual and procedural background of this case. The Recommendation is incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Additional facts will be set forth below as necessary to address Plaintiff's objections.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         In the absence of objection, “the district court may review a magistrate [judge's] report under any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v. Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991) (citing Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985) (stating that “[i]t does not appear that Congress intended to require district court review of a magistrate's factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo or any other standard, when neither party objects to those findings.”)). However, Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) requires that the district judge conduct a de novo review of any part of the recommendation that has been properly objected to. In conducting the review, a “district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id. Any arguments raised for the first time in objections are deemed waivable and need not be considered by the district court. Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(1), the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true but has discretion to review additional evidence submitted by parties without transforming the motion into a motion of summary judgment. Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002-03 (10th Cir. 1995).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and must construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Thomas v. Kaven, 765 F.3d 1183, 1190 (10th Cir. 2014). To survive dismissal, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         The Court has reviewed all relevant pleadings and legal authority concerning Defendants' Motion (Doc. # 17) and the Recommendation (Doc. # 32.) Based on this review, the Court concludes-with regard to all portions of the Recommendation to which no objection has been lodged-that Magistrate Judge Tafoya's thorough and comprehensive analysis and recommendations are correct. “[T]here is no clear error on the face of the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note. The Court therefore adopts those recommendations without further analysis.

         However, with respect to Magistrate Judge Tafoya's Recommendation that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's first, second, third, and fourth claims, as well as Magistrate Judge Tafoya's finding that Defendants Claussen and Scott are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and Qualified Immunity on the claim brought pursuant to the ADA, the Court provides the following findings, analysis, and conclusions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3) (requiring that the district judge conduct a de novo review of any part of the recommendation to which a party has properly objected).

         III. ELEVENTH AMENDMENT IMMUNITY

         Plaintiff alleges violations of his constitutional rights as well as a statutory claim, based on the Defendants' actions in their official capacities at Sterling Correctional Facility (“SCF”) in the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”). (Doc. #7.) Defendants move to dismiss the claims as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. (Doc. # 17 at 4-5.)

         The Eleventh Amendment bars action for damages against a state in federal court unless that state waives its sovereign immunity. See U.S. Const. amend. XI; Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974). In Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), the Supreme Court recognized an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity under which a state officer may be enjoined from “taking any steps towards the enforcement of an unconstitutional enactment, to the injury of complainant.” 209 U.S. at 159. The Ex parte Young exception, however, is narrow and applies only to prospective relief and may not be used to obtain a declaration that a state officer has violated a plaintiff's federal rights in the past. Buchwald v. Univ. of New Mexico Sch. of Med., 159 F.3d 487, 495 (10th Cir. 1998).

         A suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official; rather, it is a suit against the official's office and, therefore, is no different from a suit against the state. See, e.g., Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-166 (1985). The Eleventh Amendment is not abrogated by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, nor does § 1983 provide a jurisdictional basis for a suite against a state official acting in his or her official capacity. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         Magistrate Judge Tafoya held that Plaintiff could proceed only with claims seeking prospective relief and denied Plaintiff's requests for monetary damages and retrospective relief due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. # 32 at 7.) Plaintiff objects to Magistrate Judge Tafoya's ruling as it relates to Plaintiff's ADA claim, but does not object to the ruling regarding his constitutional claims. (Doc # 33 at 2.) Plaintiff is correct that “[i]nsofar as Title II creates a private cause of action for damages against the States for conduct that actually violates the Fourteenth Amendment, Title II validly abrogates state sovereign immunity.” United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 159, 126 S.Ct. 877, 882, 163 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006) (emphasis original). However, Plaintiff did not raise this argument in briefing prior to his Objections, thus the Court need not consider it. Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996) ("[I]ssues raised for the first time in objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation are deemed waived.").

         Even if the Court were to engage in addressing the procedurally inappropriate argument, the Court would find that Plaintiff does not have a viable cause of action pursuant to the ADA. Magistrate Judge Tafoya's Recommendation to dismiss Plaintiff's claims requesting monetary damages ...


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