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)|
|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|