APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, Jr., U.S. District Judge]
Javier A. Morales Ramos for appellants.
Susana I. Peñagarícano-Brown, Assistant Solicitor General, with whom Margarita L. Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor General, was on brief, for appellees Héctor Pesquera, Héctor Orozco, Carlos Rosa, Guillermo Somoza-Colombani, and Luis Sánchez-Betances.
Juan J. Casillas-Ayala, Luis F. Llach-Zúñiga, Natalia E. Del Nido-Rodríguez, and Casillas Santiago Torres LLC on brief for appellee José R. Román-Abreu.
Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Selya, Circuit Judges.
SELYA, Circuit Judge.
This case requires us to revisit the Rule 12(b)(6) pleading threshold. It involves a plaintiff who reasonably believes that he was shot by a police officer but who thereafter was deprived of access to information that would have enabled him to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident. The district court determined that the allegations in the plaintiff's amended complaint lacked the requisite plausibility and therefore dismissed the action. See Guadalupe-Báez v. Police Officers A-Z, No. 13-1529, 2014 WL 4656663, at *8 (D.P.R. Sept. 17, 2014). After careful consideration, we reverse in part.
We begin with the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD). The PRPD has a tarnished history of civil rights violations. In 2008, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) commenced an investigation into whether the PRPD had demonstrated a pattern and practice of conduct that deprived citizens of their constitutional rights. See 42 U.S.C. § 14141. Some three years later, the DOJ issued its report (the Report), which concluded that the PRPD was "broken in a number of critical and fundamental respects" and that PRPD officers had "engage[d] in a pattern and practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment." The Report went on to identify many other systemic deficiencies, including inadequate officer training, faulty supervision, lax discipline, and chronic failures to investigate and remediate officer wrongdoing.
In December of 2012, the DOJ - with the goal of reaching an agreement for the PRPD's reform - filed a section 14141 suit against the PRPD in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Roughly seven months thereafter, the DOJ and the PRPD reached a settlement. The district court continues to monitor the PRPD's compliance with the settlement agreement.
Against this backdrop, we turn to the case at hand. In July of 2012, plaintiff-appellant Raúl Alberto Guadalupe-Báez (Guadalupe) was shot and badly wounded in the vicinity of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, after one of several police vehicles closely approached him. Based on the proximity of the police vehicles, Guadalupe plausibly alleged that he had been shot by a police officer. But the police seem to have stonewalled, and Guadalupe was unable to ascertain either the identity of the shooter or other critical information about the circumstances surrounding the incident. For aught that appears, the shooting was entirely without justification.
Puerto Rico officials did launch a pair of investigations into the incident, one led by Héctor Orozco (Orozco) of the PRPD's Criminal Investigation Center in Caguas and the other led by Carlos Rosa (Rosa) of the Special Investigations Bureau (SIB) of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice. Neither investigation resulted in Guadalupe's learning the identity of his shooter, and the probes were terminated without any charges being filed.
In July of 2013 - ten days before the DOJ and the PRPD reached their settlement - Guadalupe filed suit. When motions to dismiss were served, the district court ordered Guadalupe either to amend his complaint or to show cause why his suit should not be jettisoned. In response, Guadalupe filed an amended complaint seeking damages against named and unnamed members of the PRPD, the San Lorenzo municipal police, and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985. The following parties were named as defendants:
● "Unnamed Police Officers A-Z" (the "John Doe" defendants), for various acts, including excessive force against Guadalupe in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
● Héctor Pesquera (Pesquera), Superintendent of the PRPD at the time of the shooting; José Román-Abreu (Román), the Mayor of the Municipality of San Lorenzo and commander-in-chief of the San Lorenzo municipal police at the time of the shooting; Guillermo A. Somoza-Colombani (Somoza), Secretary of Justice and commander-in-chief of the SIB at the time of the shooting; and Luis Sánchez-Betances (Sánchez), Somoza's successor as Secretary of Justice (collectively, the supervisory defendants), for negligent training, entrustment, and supervision of the unnamed police officers;
● Howard Delgado (Delgado), a PRPD officer, Orozco, and Rosa, for obstructing justice and conspiring to deprive Guadalupe of the right to seek legal redress.
Guadalupe's amended complaint relied on the Report to show, among other things, a "pattern and practice of use of excessive force . . . caused by the adoption and use of inadequate policies and procedures, insufficient training, inadequate ...