November 15, 2018

Tenth Circuit: Under New Mexico State Law, Defendants Were Responsible for Timeliness of Arraignments

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Moya v. Garcia on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

On August 27, 2014, a bench warrant was issued for Mr. Moya after he failed to appear for his scheduled arraignment. He was subsequently arrested on the outstanding bench warrant and booked into the Santa Fe County Adult Correctional Facility (SFCACF) on September 15, 2014. Mr. Moya was not brought before the district court for an arraignment until November 17, 2014—63 days after he was detained.

On July 21, 2015, a bench warrant was issued for Mr. Petry after he failed to appear for his scheduled arraignment. He was arrested the following day on unrelated charges and booked into the SFCACF. On July 27, 2015, shortly before he was to be released on the unrelated charges, Mr. Petry was served with the July 21 bench warrant and further detained by SFCACF. Mr. Petry was not brought before the district court for an arraignment until August 21, 2015—30 days after he was first detained.

These arraignments were in violation of New Mexico’s Rules of Criminal Procedure, which entitles defendants to arraignment within 15 days following arrest. Under the belief that Santa Fe County and Santa Fe County officials had a systematic policy and practice of failing to take action that would ensure detainees receive timely bail hearings as required by law, Mr. Moya and Mr. Petry filed a class action complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging their unlawful detainment was a deprivation of due process.

The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, finding that the complaint did not plausibly allege facts showing the sheriff or wardens had been personally involved in the untimely arraignments, either through their own participation or supervisory control. The district court also denied plaintiffs’ request to amend, reasoning that as the individual defendants’ were entitled to qualified immunity, any amendment would be futile.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the sheriff and wardens were responsible for the delays in the arraignments under the theory of supervisory liability. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that the sheriff and wardens were not the cause of the arraignment delays. After their arrests, jail officials notified the court that Mr. Moya and Mr. Petry were in custody. Once the court had been notified, it became the exclusive responsibility of the court to comply with the fifteen-day arraignment requirement—only the state trial court has the power to schedule arraignments. In further support of its conclusion that jail officials had not caused the arraignment delays, the Tenth Circuit brought attention to the fact that the plaintiffs had not alleged a failure by the defendants to tell the court of the arrests in a sufficient time to conduct the arraignment within the requisite fifteen days. There simply was no alleged conduct of the defendants that had prevented the court from scheduling the arraignments.

The Tenth Circuit next examined whether the defendants had any duty to ensure arraignments are timely scheduled. In the Tenth Circuit, the determination of the scope of defendant’s responsibility to ensure prompt hearings correctly focuses on state law. New Mexico law imposes no duty on the sheriff or warden to bring an arrestee to court in the absence of a scheduled arraignment. Further, the plaintiffs presented no authority that would provide guidance on what the sheriffs and wardens could have done to ensure timely court proceedings and avoid the due process violations, short of reminding the court of the court’s own failure to schedule an arraignment. But the Tenth Circuit reasoned that even with such a reminder, the arraignments could still only be scheduled by the court. Because the sheriff and wardens had no power to schedule the arraignments, the sheriff and wardens had no power to prevent or cure the alleged constitutional violations.

The dissent argued that the majority wrongly focused only on the arraignment and overlooked the detention. The dissent agreed that the sheriff and wardens were powerless to cause timely arraignments as the arraignments could only be schedule by the court, but theorized that the jail officials could have simply released Mr. Moya and Mr. Petry. The majority countered, stating that the plaintiffs had expressly disavowed this theory and had therefore waived any reliance on such theory as a basis for reversal. The majority noted than even if the issue was raised, under New Mexico law jailers commit a misdemeanor and must be removed from office if they deliberately release a prisoner absent a court order. Even in this scenario, the Tenth Circuit opined that the dismissal of the § 1983 action should be affirmed because the state law required detention absent a court order and the plaintiffs had not challenged the constitutionality of the law.

In addressing the plaintiffs’ claims against the county for failing to adopt a policy that would ensure timely arraignments, the Tenth Circuit found that as the sheriff and wardens did not cause the arraignment delays, the county could not incur liability under §1983 on the basis of the alleged inaction of the sheriff and wardens.

The issue of whether Mr. Moya and Mr. Petry had adequately alleged a deprivation of due process was not reached.

The Tenth Circuit also found the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend, as the plaintiffs had failed to explain how they could have cured the deficiencies in the complaint identified by the district court.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims for failure to state a valid claim.

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