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Trujillo v. City of Newton

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

July 2, 2013

CLAUDIA I. TRUJILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEWTON, KANSAS, et. al Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for an alleged deprivation of constitutional rights surrounding the arrest and strip search of Plaintiff Claudia Trujillo. Defendants City of Newton, Deanna Mowery, and Bryan Hall move for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 32), pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The Court grants Defendants Mowery and Hall qualified immunity on Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims as well as other claims that are subsumed by the Fourth Amendment claim. Moreover, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a plausible claim for Monell liability against Defendant City of Newton, for the same reasons it failed to state such a claim against Defendant Board of Commissioners of Harvey County, as this Court ruled in its previous orders.[1] Thus, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

I. Legal Standard

The standard for a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is the same as that applied to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (6).[2] The court must accept all facts pleaded by the non-moving party as true and grant all reasonable inference from the pleadings in favor of the non-moving party.[3] A motion for judgment on the pleadings should not be granted unless the movant has clearly established that there are no material facts to be resolved and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4] The court does not accept as true legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations, [5] but rather determines whether the factual allegations "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief."[6] To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must state a plausible claim, which requires "sufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'"[7]

II. The Original Complaint is the Operative Pleading

Plaintiff filed her original Complaint on June 18, 2012. Defendants Hall, Mowery and City of Newton answered. Defendants Janell Buford, T. Walton and Board of Commissioners of Harvey County filed a motion to dismiss. Thereafter, Plaintiff improvidently filed an Amended Complaint, without first seeking leave to file. This prompted Defendants Buford, Walton and Board of Commissioners to file a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint; while defendants Hall, Mowery and City of Newton filed their answer to the Amended Complaint. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on February 12, 2013, [8] this Court construed the Amended Complaint as Plaintiff's motion to amend, but having considered the substance of the Amended Complaint, the Court found that the amendment would be futile and thus denied the Amended Complaint as improvidently filed. The Court reiterated this ruling in its Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on March 22, 2013, [9] denying Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider. Thus, the operative pleading, for purposes of Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, is the original Complaint. The Court notes, however, that having reviewed the Amended Complaint again, it is still clear that the amendment would be futile. For even if the operative pleading was the Amended Complaint, the Court would nonetheless grant the Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings.

III. Factual Allegations

The Court previously set out the factual allegations of the Complaint, in its Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants Buford, Walton and Board of Commissioners' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Court fully incorporates those same factual allegations and merely summarizes them in this order.

Plaintiff Claudia Trujillo was a passenger in a car driven by Lizeth Trujillo-Garcia ("Garcia"). The only other occupant of the car was a baby, riding in the back seat. Garcia and Plaintiff were on their way to Hutchinson, Kansas, when Defendants Bryan Hall and Deanna Mowery, who are Newton police officers, effected a traffic stop of Garcia's car. They arrested Garcia almost immediately for driving with a suspended driver's license. Plaintiff told Hall and Mowery that she was 17 years old and did not have a driver's license or other form of identification. Hall told Plaintiff he would take her to a truck stop, where she could make arrangements for a ride. Mowery told Plaintiff to wait outside of the car, and Mowery searched Plaintiff's purse without Plaintiff's consent and found no contraband. Plaintiff identified this purse as her possession, and in fact, took her cell phone out of this purse in order to call someone for a ride. Meanwhile, Hall performed an inventory search of Garcia's car, at the scene of the traffic stop. He found a second purse on the passenger side floorboard where Plaintiff had been sitting. Garcia claimed ownership of that purse. Hall searched the purse and found two bags of alleged marijuana, one bag of crushed diet pills, and one bag of tobacco. All four bags were wrapped in tape and latex, in a manner used by those who conceal drugs in their body cavities. At the scene, Plaintiff repeatedly denied knowing anything about the contents of the purse or about drugs. Hall also had dispatch run a background check on Plaintiff, and quickly learned that she was 17 years old and that she had no outstanding warrants or prior drug convictions. Hall announced that he intended to arrest both Garcia and Plaintiff for possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Mowery had some reservation about whether Plaintiff should be charged, but Hall's view prevailed. Hall called dispatch to "start juvenile intake, " and Hall told Mowery to get "strip searches on both" women to check their "intimate hiding places."

At the Harvey County Detention Center, Mowery and Janell Buford, a female jailer, had Plaintiff remove her clothing and they visually inspected her naked body and body cavities. They found no contraband. Mowery and Buford knew that Plaintiff was 17 years old. Plaintiff was released after approximately three days of detention and no formal charges were ever filed against her. The original Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was in "three days of juvenile detention."[10]

IV. Discussion

A. Counts I and IV - Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments

In Count I, the Complaint states individual and official capacity claims against defendants Hall and Mowery for unreasonably seizing Plaintiff without probable cause. In Counts I and IV, the Complaint further states that the seizure violated Plaintiff's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff offers no argument or justification for analyzing her claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, as this Court ruled in its prior order, because the Fourth Amendment explicitly addresses the claims regarding Plaintiff's arrest and strip search, the Fourth Amendment is the proper basis under which to consider her claims, not the more general due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.[11] Thus, the Court proceeds to analyze Defendants' ...


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