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New Mexico Federal Trial Court Balances Parties’ Rights by Granting the Plaintiff Leave to File an Amended Complaint

In a recent New Mexico civil case the plaintiff sought to recover damages for physical injuries and post-traumatic stress allegedly resulting from an incident during which he was forcibly handcuffed by a police officer.  The plaintiff’s complaint was filed in state court and included claims under state law for assault, battery and false imprisonment.  Additionally the plaintiff alleged violations of his constitutional rights.

The defendants to the state court action were the State of New Mexico and a police officer.  The defendants filed a notice of removal with the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, thereby removing the case out of state court and into federal court.  The defendants then moved the District Court for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12.

The federal trial court began its analysis of the relief requested in the defendants’ motion by turning to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.  Rule 8 requires that a complaint set out a short, plain statement of the claims showing that the pleader, here the plaintiff, is entitled to relief. The court observed that Rule 8 also directs courts to construe pleadings “so as to do justice.”

The court then continued its review of pertinent Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  Rule 12 allows for dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.  This Rule has some flexibility built in.  It also permits a federal court to order the filing of a more definite statement in instances where a complaint is so vague or ambiguous that an opposing party cannot reasonably be expected to prepare a response. Rule 15, in turn, provides that leave to amend should be freely given “when justice so requires.”

The court also cited a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over appeals from New Mexico federal trial courts, for the guidance that a court reviewing a motion to dismiss is to determine whether the complaint sufficiently alleges facts supporting all the elements necessary to establish a party’s entitlement to relief under the legal theory proposed by the party.

Applying these standards to assessment of the sufficiency of the allegations in the the plaintiff’s complaint, the court was not satisfied that the plaintiff had put the defendants on notice of the grounds, or legal theory, of the claims against them.  The court characterized the complaint as 3 pages long and containing brief conclusory statements.  As such the court was of the view that the complaint was not legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief could be granted.  This could have resulted in dismissal of the complaint, but the court then considered that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(e) requires the court to construe the complaint “so as to do justice,” and leave to amend should be freely given under Rule 15(a)(2) “when justice so requires.”  Additionally, the court was satisfied that the complaint alleged enough facts to suggest that amendment would not be futile.  Therefore the court balanced the parties’ rights by granting the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings and granting the plaintiff leave to amend his complaint.

If you or someone you love has been hurt in an accident, you may be entitled to receive a monetary award for damages.  Being compensated monetarily can help people recover out-of-pocket costs resulting from accidents including medical bills, and lost wages.  Navigating the legal process can be complicated.  We can help.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance. At the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., we provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 (Phone) or (505) 317-3118 (Skype).  Alternatively, we can also be reached by email at the following email addresses:

mattvance@mattvancelaw.com
jennifer@mattvancelaw.com
amanda@mattvancelaw.com