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Handy v. Luenza

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 17, 2017

WYATT T. HANDY, JR., and ASHLEE M. HANDY, Plaintiffs,
v.
LUENZA, Mailroom Clerk #13083, and UNKNOWN MAILROOM CLERK, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court is the named Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' State Tort Claims filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) [filed March 3, 2017; ECF No. 40]. The motion is fully briefed, and the Court finds that oral argument will not assist in the adjudication of the motion. Based on the record and for the reasons that follow, the Court respectfully recommends that the Honorable Wiley Y. Daniel grant in part and deny in part the Defendant's motion.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs (“Mr. Handy” and “Mrs. Handy”) initiated this lawsuit on August 19, 2016, then filed the operative Amended Complaint on September 12, 2016 in accordance with Magistrate Judge Gallagher's order during initial review.

         I. Facts

         The following are factual allegations (as opposed to legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory allegations) made by the Plaintiffs in the Amended Complaint concerning Defendant “Luenza, ” correctly identified as Laura Vezina (“Vezina”), which are taken as true for analysis under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) pursuant to Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         On November 24, 2014, Mr. Handy sent mail to the Arapahoe County Detention Facility (“ACDF”) for his wife, Mrs. Handy. The next day, Defendant Vezina rejected the mail based on “sexually explicit materials” and “references to gang related communications or activities.” The letter contained information “related to a sexual assault on Mrs. Handy by gang members, and Mr. and Mrs. Handy[‘s] attempt[ ] to determine who the gang members where [sic], to report the crime to authorities.” On August 7, 2015, Mr. Handy sent mail to the ACDF for his wife, Mrs. Handy. Four days later, on August 11, 2015, Defendant Vezina rejected the mail based on Plaintiff's enclosure of a “thinking of you” card that was a “multi-layered glued” card. Mr. Handy obtained the card while incarcerated by the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”), and such cards were sold at the canteen and given to inmates by prison chaplains.

         On September 14, 2015, Mr. Handy set mail to the ACDF for his wife, Mrs. Handy. Two days later, on September 16, 2015, Defendant Vezina rejected the mail because “the mail contain[ed] threats of physical harm against a person.” The letter “related to contacting authorities due to the physical abuse” to which Mrs. Handy was subjected.

         II. Procedural History

         Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiffs claim Defendant Luenza violated their First and Fourteenth Amended (due process) rights and committed negligence and negligence per se. Am. Compl., ECF No. 7. Plaintiffs request “appropriate declaratory and other injunctive relief, ” compensatory damages, and punitive damages. Id. at 10.

         Defendant Vezina filed the present motion arguing the Plaintiffs fail to state plausible claims for negligence (Claim Three) and negligence per se (Claim Four). In addition, Vezina contends any negligence claim brought on behalf of Mrs. Handy is barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act for her failure to file a notice of claim (“NOC”).

         Plaintiffs counter that they have alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate a duty on the part of Vezina to “not fabricate reasons to reject mail, ” which arises under the First Amendment and ACDF's mailroom policy. Resp. 4. In addition, they argue Vezina cites no legal authority for her position that a NOC must be filed for each injured individual. Plaintiffs contend that, under Colorado law, the notices filed by Mr. Handy provided Vezina sufficient notice as to the claims of both Mr. and Mrs. Handy.

         Vezina replies that neither the First Amendment nor the ACDF mailroom policy set forth or create any duty or standard of care owed to Plaintiffs. Further, Vezina contends that the law on which Plaintiffs rely to demonstrate sufficient notice is factually and legally distinguishable and, thus, not persuasive.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Vezina seeks dismissal for this Court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction over certain claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and for Plaintiffs' failure to state claims for relief pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         I. Dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

         Rule 12(b)(1) empowers a court to dismiss a complaint for “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is not a judgment on the merits of a plaintiff's case, but only a determination that the court lacks authority to adjudicate the matter. See Castaneda v. INS, 23 F.3d 1576, 1580 (10th Cir. 1994) (recognizing federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only exercise jurisdiction when specifically authorized to do so). A court lacking jurisdiction “must dismiss the cause at any stage of the proceeding in which it becomes apparent that jurisdiction is lacking.” Full Life Hospice, LLC v. Sebelius, 709 F.3d 1012, 1016 (10th Cir. 2013). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss must be determined from the allegations of fact in the complaint, without regard to mere conclusory allegations of jurisdiction. Smith v. Plati, 258 F.3d 1167, 1174 (10th Cir. 2001). The burden of ...


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