Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court

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The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico certified a question of New Mexico law to the state Supreme Court. The question centered on whether a worker injured in the course of employment by a co-worker operating an employer owned motor vehicle was a person “legally entitled to recover damages” under his employer’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Andrew Vasquez was killed at the workplace after being struck by a steel beam that fell off of a forklift during the course of his employment at Coronado Wrecking and Salvage. A coworker operating the forklift had jumped off to check whether the steel beam being lifted was secure, leaving the forklift unattended as the steel beam slid off of the forks, striking and killing Vasquez. Plaintiff, Vasquez’s estate, subsequently collected workers’ compensation benefits from Coronado’s workers’ compensation carrier. Related to the forklift accident, Plaintiff also collected uninsured motorist benefits under Vasquez’s own automobile insurance policy.The certified question from the district court arose from an alleged discontinuity among the plain language of New Mexico’s Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the Uninsured Motorist statute, and the New Mexico Court’s case law. Because the WCA provided the exclusive remedy for an employee injured in a workplace accident by an employer or its representative, the employee was not legally entitled to recover damages from the uninsured employer tortfeasor under the Uninsured Motorist statute. The Court therefore answered the certified question in the negative. View "Vasquez v. American Cas. Co. of Reading" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals presented an issue to the New Mexico Supreme Court on whether farm and ranch laborers' exclusion from coverage under the state Workers' Compensation Act violated the rights of those workers under the Equal Protection Clause of Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution in light of the fact that other agricultural workers are not singled out for exclusion. After review of these cases, the Supreme Court concluded that there was nothing to distinguish farm and ranch laborers from other agricultural employees and that purported government interests such as cost savings, administrative convenience, and other justifications related to unique features of agribusiness bore no rational relationship to the Act’s distinction between these groups. "This is nothing more than arbitrary discrimination and, as such, it is forbidden by our Constitution." Accordingly, the Court held that the farm and ranch laborer exclusion contained in Section 52-1-6(A) of the Act was unconstitutional, and these cases were remanded for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 18, AFL-CIO, Locals 1461, 2260 and 2499 (AFSCME), brought a declaratory-judgment action challenging the grandfather status of Respondent’s Board of County Commissioners of Bernalillo County (County Commission), local labor relations board. Both the trial and appellate courts rejected AFSCME’s claims. In its review, the New Mexico Supreme Court focused on the statutory jurisdictional prerequisites of New Mexico’s Declaratory Judgment Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 44-6-1 to -15 (1975), and held that AFSCME’s claims were not ripe, and AFSCME failed to assert an injury-in-fact. Accordingly, the district court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate AFSCME’s declaratory-judgment action. The case was remanded to the district court to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals also lacked jurisdiction, and its opinion was vacated. View "AFSCME v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bernalillo Cty." on Justia Law

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Phillip Ramirez, a member of the New Mexico Army National Guard, was employed by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). In July 2005, Ramirez was ordered to federal active duty and deployed to Iraq. After Ramirez returned to work in New Mexico, CYFD terminated his employment. Ramirez sued CYFD, asserting a Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) claim. A jury found in his favor and awarded Ramirez monetary damages. The Court of Appeals reversed the damages award, concluding that CYFD as an arm of the State was immune to Ramirez’s USERRA claim. After review of that decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed: by enacting NMSA 1978, Section 20-4-7.1(B) (2004), the Legislature specifically extended “[t]he rights, benefits and protections” of USERRA to members of the New Mexico National Guard who were ordered to federal or state active duty for a period of thirty or more consecutive days. In so doing, the Legislature consented to suits brought against state employers who violate the protections guaranteed by USERRA. View "Ramirez v. CYFD" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Heather Spurlock, Sophia Carrasco, and Nina Carrera were former inmates of the Camino Nuevo Correctional Center, a prison housing female offenders, directed by Third-Party Defendant Warden Barbara Wagner and privately operated by Third-Party Defendant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). While incarcerated, Plaintiffs were sexually assaulted by Defendant Anthony Townes, a corrections officer employed by CCA. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of New Mexico law to the New Mexico Supreme Court centering on the question of the civil liability under New Mexico law of a private prison when a non-duty corrections officer sexually assaults inmates in the facility. The New Mexico Court held that the private prison was vicariously liable for damages caused by the intentional torts of its employee when those torts were facilitated by the authority provided to the employee by the prison. The liability of the prison may not be reduced by any fault attributed to the victims of the sexual assaults. View "Spurlock v. Townes" on Justia Law

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Respondent Nancy Garduno was ineligible for unemployment benefits because her employer terminated her for misconduct connected with her employment. The Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions ordered respondent to repay $11,256 in overpaid unemployment benefits. A majority of the Court of Appeals held that due process precluded the Department from collecting the overpaid unemployment benefits from respondent where she received benefits payments during the ongoing appeals process because she was unaware of her employer’s appeal for over 100 days. The Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that respondent’s procedural due process rights were not violated because the Department provided respondent with constitutionally adequate procedural protections prior to terminating her benefits and ordering her to reimburse the Department for the overpaid benefits. View "N.M. Dep't of Workforce Solutions v. Garduno" on Justia Law

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While working for Vista Care (Employer), appellant Sherrie Fowler suffered a back injury. Appellant began receiving TTD and subsequently underwent back surgery. Several years later, a physician determined that appellant reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). This case began when appellant filed a complaint with the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) in 2010, for reinstatement of her TTD benefits and for an increase in her PPD rating. The Court of Appeals held that the Act limited appellant's eligibility for TTD benefits to 700 weeks of benefits and reversed a contrary decision of the Workers’ Compensation Administration judge. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act imposed no such limitation; TTD benefits are payable during any period of total disability for the remainder of a worker’s life. View "Fowler v. Vista Care" on Justia Law

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Petitioners were retired teachers, professors and other public education employees who sought a writ of mandamus against the New Mexico Education Retirement Board (ERB). They sought to compel the ERB to pay them an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their retirement benefits, calculated according to the statutes “in effect at the time of Petitioners’ date of maturity of their rights,” instead of the current statutes as recently modified by the Legislature. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the New Mexico Constitution affords Retirees no such right, and therefore denied the writ of mandamus. View "Bartlett v. Cameron" on Justia Law

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James Palenick was hired by the City of Rio Rancho to serve as City Manager. This appeal stemmed from his termination and whether Palenick was estopped from suing the City for breach of contract based on an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA). The Supreme Court found that there was substantial evidence to support the district court's finding that Palenick waived his right to sue on the contract claim. View "Palenick v. City of Rio Rancho" on Justia Law

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Defendant Halliburton Energy Services hired Plaintiff Edward Flemma to work as a cement equipment operator in Houma, Louisiana, in January of 1982. During his twenty-six years of employment with Halliburton, Flemma was promoted several times and worked for the company in Louisiana, Texas, Angola, and New Mexico. The last position he held was as district manager in Farmington, New Mexico, where he worked from 2006 until the time of his termination in 2008.The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case centered on a conflict of laws issue that requires the Court to determine whether enforcement of an arbitration agreement, formed in the State of Texas, would offend New Mexico public policy to overcome our traditional choice of law rule. Upon review, the Court concluded that the agreement formed in Texas would be unconscionable under New Mexico law, and it therefore violated New Mexico public policy. Thus, the Court applied New Mexico law and concluded that no valid agreement to arbitrate existed between the parties because Halliburton's promise to arbitrate was illusory. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Flemma v. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law