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Family Claims SWAT Team Used Excessive Force

Lujan v. Bernalillo County Sheriff's, Case No. 09-2119 (C.A. 10, Nov. 27, 2009)

Doris Lujan, on behalf of herself and her minor daughters, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that several individually named deputies in the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, as well as other unnamed members of the County’s SWAT team, acted with excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, when they executed a search warrant on her home. Ms. Lujan’s complaint also alleged culpability on the part of Bernalillo County and its Sheriff’s Office and further alleged that the defendants wrongfully indicted her for distributing methamphetamine, in violation of a New Mexico state statute barring malicious prosecutions. After discovery, the district court entered summary judgment for the individually named sheriff’s deputies and the County on the federal claims. Meanwhile, it dismissed without prejudice Ms. Lujan’s state law claim, her federal claims against the unnamed SWAT team members, and her federal claims against the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. Before us on appeal, Ms. Lujan contests certain of these rulings and not others. Discerning no error in the rulings she contests, we affirm

According to the allegations in Ms. Lujan’s complaint, during the course of the search of her home certain sheriff’s deputies or SWAT team members unnecessarily discharged their weapons, injured and improperly searched her daughters, and damaged her property, among other things. While the search did uncover a substance that field testing identified as methamphetamine and Ms. Lujan was arrested for narcotics trafficking, the state prosecutor ultimately chose not to pursue the case. Based on these events, Ms. Lujan subsequently filed this federal lawsuit alleging that the defendants used excessive force against her and her daughters, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and also engaged in malicious prosecution, in violation of state law. The complaint did not dispute that probable cause existed for a search of the home, but focused instead on the allegedly improper manner in which that search was conducted. Ms. Lujan named as defendants various individual sheriff’s deputies, the County of Bernalillo, the County Sheriff’s Office, and “approximately eight (8) unidentified members” of the County’s SWAT team.

During the course of discovery, and under oath, each of the named sheriff’s deputies denied participation in the initial entry into the house and the unlawful conduct Ms. Lujan alleged. None categorically denied that the conduct alleged by Ms. Lujan took place, but each instead suggested that it was members of the SWAT team who were responsible. The named sheriff’s deputies emphasized that the SWAT team effected the initial intrusion into the house and that they, the deputies, either did not personally participate at all in the search, or participated in the search only after the initial SWAT team intrusion, or were otherwise uninvolved in the alleged misconduct. Cf. Aplt. App. at 111 (Pretrial Order) (stating defense position that alleged conduct was “all performed by SWAT team members who are not named as Defendants in this case”).

For its part, the County argued that it could not be held liable for its employees’ alleged constitutional violations unless those employees acted pursuant to an official custom or policy. And, the County continued, Ms. Lujan had not alleged any County policy permitting — let alone endorsing — the sort of misbehavior recounted in her complaint. The County also asserted that the Sheriff’s Office, as a governmental sub-unit, could not be sued separately from the County, and that the claims against the unnamed individual defendants should also be dismissed.
 

 

Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
Related Categories: Civil Procedure , Civil Rights , Constitutional Law
 
Circuit Court Judge(s)
Neil Gorsuch
Jerome Holmes
Carlos Lucero

 
Appellant Lawyer(s) Appellant Law Firm(s)
Judith A. Rosenstein
Dennis W. Montoya Montoya Law, Inc.

 
Appellee Lawyer(s) Appellee Law Firm(s)
Jonlyn Martinez Slease & Martinez PA
William Slease Slease & Martinez PA

 

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and her daughters, in violation of the fourth amendment of the united states policies. we are, thus, obliged to affirm. unnecessarily discharged their weapons, injured and improperly searched her participating in a raid proper where plaintiff failed to identify and serve unnamed defendant before close no error in the rulings she contests, we affirm. and in his official capacity; deputy genuine dispute of material fact in need of resolution by a factfinder and conclude daughters, and damaged her property, among other things. while the search did ms. lujan, however, has not presented evidence to indicate that the named -6- they had acted pursuant to an "official policy or custom," as is required to make malicious prosecution claim, leaving her free to pursue that claim in state court. tenth circuit in albuquerque, new mexico and collateral estoppel. it may be cited, however, for its persuasive value the county, and that the claims against the unnamed individual defendants should before us suggesting that the conduct ms. lujan alleged represented the execution deputies denied participation in the initial entry into the house and the unlawful entered for the court bernalillo county sheriff's individually and in his official county's swat team, acted with excessive force, in violation of the fourth yet she had not done so, a situation the district court found "passing strange." deputies and the county on ms. lujan's federal claims. as to the named sheriff's individual sheriff's deputies were responsible for the alleged fourth amendment v. felix-lujan, on her own behalf and on -2- lujan and doris lujan, the district court granted summary judgment for the named sheriff's county of bernalillo; violations; indeed, all the evidence, at least as developed by the parties in the pursuant to an official custom or policy. and, the county continued, ms. lujan "execut[ing the] government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers shureke covington, bernalillo conduct ms. lujan alleged. none categorically denied that the conduct alleged by sheriff joel harvey, bernalillo sheriff's office and further alleged that the defendants wrongfully indicted her county sheriff's office, individually approximately eight (8) swat team who were responsible. the named sheriff's deputies emphasized that and in his official capacity; deputy misbehavior recounted in her complaint. the county also asserted that the (stating defense position that alleged conduct was "all performed by swat team state of new mexico; deputy personal participation, his exercise of control or direction, or his failure to elisabeth a. shumaker constitution, and also engaged in malicious prosecution, in violation of state law. before lucero, gorsuch, and holmes, circuit judges. 81 f.3d 124, 126 (10th cir. 1996) (observing that dismissal may be appropriate the complaint did not dispute that probable cause existed for a search of the actions," d. ct. op. at 9, and it held that ms. lujan had failed to "develop the or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy." request to defer its summary judgment disposition. unidentified swat team members, noting that ms. lujan had been provided with disposition of these claims on summary judgment de novo, and will affirm only if, affirmative link . . . between the constitutional deprivation and either the officer's for its part, the county argued that it could not be held liable for its deputies, the court noted that " 1983 requires some causal connection between the search of her home certain sheriff's deputies or swat team members uninvolved in the alleged misconduct. cf. aplt. app. at 111 (pretrial order) united states court of appeals sheriff roldan large, clerk of court deputies, the county of bernalillo, the county sheriff's office, and "[b]ecause governmental sub-units are not properly suable entities in 1983 when unnamed defendants remain unidentified for a lengthy period of time); its opinion. and her federal claims against the bernalillo county sheriff's office. before us -3- therefore ordered submitted without oral argument. this order and judgment is for the tenth circuit by governmental officials does not violate the due process clause of the federal doris lujan, a/k/a doris bernalillo county sheriff's office, the swat team effected the initial intrusion into the house and that they, the filed first, the court dismissed the claims against the sheriff's department -4- not binding precedent, except under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, uncover a substance that field testing identified as methamphetamine and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, we discern no (d.c. no. 6:07-cv-01035-pjk-djs) county v. brown, 520 u.s. 397, 403 (1997)); see also nielander v. bd. of county (d.n.m.) defendants -- the complaint does not state which ones -- negligently failed to the county liable for the actions "of the individual defendants on a theory of state law claim, her federal claims against the unnamed swat team members, capacity; deputy sheriff bernalillo county sheriff's office, as well as other unnamed members of the liable for its employees' constitutional violations only when those employees are according to the allegations in ms. lujan's complaint, during the course of no. 09-2119 declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her remaining state law * of an official policy rather than gross deviations from such policy. of discovery). summary judgment for the individually named sheriff's deputies and the county bernalillo county sheriff's order and judgment* had not alleged any county policy permitting -- let alone endorsing -- the sort of comm'rs of county of republic, 582 f.3d 1155, 1170 (10th cir. 2009). in so "approximately eight (8) unidentified members" of the county's swat team. on appeal, ms. lujan contests certain of these rulings and not others. discerning now on appeal before us, ms. lujan does not contest the district court's constitutional violation" by one of the named sheriff's deputies, "let alone" that capacity; deputy sheriff this appeal. see fed. r. app. p. 34(a)(2); 10th cir. r. 34.1(g). the case is under 42 u.s.c. 1983 alleging that several individually named deputies in the county sheriff's office, individually "ample time to name and serve them" during the course of the discovery process, prevail in a suit against governmental officials unless he or she demonstrates "an defendants-appellees. in the search only after the initial swat team intrusion, or were otherwise chose not to pursue the case. based on these events, ms. lujan subsequently filed remains before us on appeal, thus, concerns only the federal claims against the in doing so, we affirm for substantially the reasons given by the district court in requiring some evidence linking the individual defendants to the challenged on 1001 fairhaven, sw, bernalillo county sheriff's office, the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights and a particular defendant's unanimously that oral argument would not materially assist the determination of barring malicious prosecutions. after discovery, the district court entered sheriff anthony e. medrano, deputies, either did not personally participate at all in the search, or participated conduct, or in its ruling that the county may be held liable only for its official joaquin rodriguez, bernalillo prejudice. this federal lawsuit alleging that the defendants used excessive force against her with respect to the claim against the county, the primary deficiency is a legal one. as the district court correctly noted, a local government may be held doris lujan, on behalf of herself and her minor daughters, filed a complaint plaintiff-appellant, on august 10, 2006, rule 56(f) request, or its disposition of her supplemental state law claim. what monell v. dep't of soc. servs., 436 u.s. 658, 694 (1978). we have no evidence prejudice for failure to serve defendant in a timely fashion); roper v. grayson, after examining the briefs and appellate record, this panel has determined op. at 13. constitution. see d. ct. op. at 12 (citing daniels v. williams, 474 u.s. 327, 333 ms. lujan was arrested for narcotics trafficking, the state prosecutor ultimately -5- id. at 11. as to the county, the court held that ms. lujan had not "established a -7- without minimizing in any way the seriousness of the factual allegations facts indicating personal responsibility" by any of the named sheriff's deputies, department "s.w.a.t." team during the course of discovery, and under oath, each of the named sheriff's (1986)). having thus disposed of all of ms. lujan's federal claims, the court behalf of her minor daughters reina also be dismissed. neil m. gorsuch ms. lujan took place, but each instead suggested that it was members of the the district court also dismissed a number of ms. lujan's claims without williams v. rodriguez, 509 f.3d 392, 402 (7th cir. 2007) (stating that dismissal is contained in ms. lujan's complaint, we cannot say that the district court erred in office, a governmental entity of the was conducted. ms. lujan named as defendants various individual sheriff's of her federal claims against the unnamed swat team members, its denial of her supervise." poolaw v. marcantel, 565 f.3d 721, 732 (10th cir. 2009). members who are not named as defendants in this case"). employees' alleged constitutional violations unless those employees acted holding, the court denied ms. lujan's federal rule of civil procedure 56(f) supervise and care for ms. lujan's seized property, holding that mere negligence circuit judge amendment, when they executed a search warrant on her home. ms. lujan's consistent with fed. r. app. p. 32.1 and 10th cir. r. 32.1. individually and in his official actions [under] martinez v. winner, 771 f.2d 424, 444 (10th cir. 1985)." d. ct. county sheriff's office, individually united states court of appeals respondeat superior." see id. at 12-13 (citing bd. of county comm'rs of bryan d. ct. op. at 11-12; see fed. r. civ. p. 4(m) (providing for dismissal without november 27, 2009 sheriff's office, as a governmental sub-unit, could not be sued separately from on the federal claims. meanwhile, it dismissed without prejudice ms. lujan's finally, the district court dismissed a separate claim alleging that certain and in his official capacity; that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. fed. r. civ. p. 56(c). unidentified members of the home, but focused instead on the allegedly improper manner in which that search deficiency is, as the district court observed, a factual one. a plaintiff cannot with respect to the claims against the named sheriff's deputies, the primary dismissal without prejudice of the sheriff's office, its dismissal without prejudice second, the court dismissed without prejudice the federal claims against the for distributing methamphetamine, in violation of a new mexico state statute named sheriff's deputies and the county. we review the district court's record of this case, tends to suggest they were not the culpable parties. -8- complaint also alleged culpability on the part of bernalillo county and its


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