Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
N.M. Dep’t of Workforce Solutions v. Garduno
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
Fowler v. Vista Care
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
Bartlett v. Cameron
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
Palenick v. City of Rio Rancho
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
Flemma v. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc.
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
Gonzalez v. Performance Painting, Inc.
Jesus Gonzalez is an undocumented immigrant, coming to this country from Mexico for the first time in 2003 and again in 2005. In early February of 2006, he was hired by Performance Painting, Inc. as a painter's helper. By all accounts, Gonzalez was a good employee and worked without incident until August 31, 2006. On that day, he fell off a ladder, injuring his shoulder. As a result of the injury, Gonzalez was temporarily totally disabled and unable to work. The injury required multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy. While all workers are encouraged to return to work when medically feasible, federal law may preclude some employers from extending rehire offers to undocumented workers once they learn of their status. Because an offer to rehire must be a legitimate offer, the Supreme Court held that employers who cannot demonstrate such good faith compliance with federal law in the hiring process cannot use their workers' undocumented status as a defense to continue payment of modifier benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act. View "Gonzalez v. Performance Painting, Inc." on Justia Law
Schultz v. Pojoaque Tribal Police Department
In 2002, Pojoaque Tribal Police Officer Kevin Schultz drowned while rescuing a twelve-year-old boy from the Rio Grande near Pilar. On the day of the accident, he had taken the day off from work to chaperone a group of children from his church on a recreational outing. This case arose when Schultz's widow, Cheryl, filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits resulting from her husband's death, but only after the statute of limitations had expired. Notwithstanding the late filing, Mrs. Schultz contended that the conduct of the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department caused her to file after the deadline, and thus, the Supreme Court should consider her complaint timely filed. Both the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) and the Court of Appeals decided that Mrs. Schultz's complaint was not timely filed. However, upon review, the Supreme Court found that based on the fact of this case, the statute was tolled. Therefore the Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Schultz v. Pojoaque Tribal Police Department" on Justia Law
Horne v. Los Alamos Nat’l Sec., L.L.C.
This case arose from an employee grievance at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC. After succeeding in arbitration, the employee, John Horne, filed a lawsuit in state district court in 2008, in which he alleged more expansive claims arising out of the same subject matter covered in the arbitration agreement. LANL objected, claiming that it should not have to defend against claims that either were subject to arbitration or were waived by the arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court took the opportunity of this case opinion to discuss the consequences that follow when an employee voluntarily contracts to arbitrate grievances and what the employee must do to preserve a subsequent lawsuit if that is his intention. In this case the Court sided with the district court's ruling in favor of LANL, and reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Horne v. Los Alamos Nat'l Sec., L.L.C." on Justia Law
Lenscrafters, Inc. v. Kehoe
The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a Memorandum Opinion of the Court of Appeals and to address four issues stemming from a lawsuit by LensCrafters to enforce a noncompete provision against optometrist Dennis Kehoe after a sublease contract between the two parties ended. After review of the "complex, convoluted, and contentious eleven-year dispute," the Supreme Court held that (1) the district court properly dismissed LensCrafters' breach of contract claim on summary judgment because LensCrafters terminated the parties' contract as a matter of law and, with it, the contract's noncompete provision; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Kehoe's request to supplement his pleadings shortly before trial; and (3) summary judgment dismissing Kehoe's malicious abuse of process and tortious interference with contract counterclaims was proper because Kehoe did not demonstrate genuine issues of material fact. Because we hold that the noncompete provision was not in effect during any relevant time, the Court did not address Kehoe's fourth issue, whether the provision would have been contrary to public policy. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Memorandum Opinion of the Court of Appeals in part and reversed in part.
Sais v. NM Dept. of Corrections
In June 2005, the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC) adopted an Employee DWI Policy. The DOC hired Respondent Rudy Sais in April 2006 as a Correctional Officer I. Respondent reviewed the Policy and signed a DWI acknowledgment form, noting that he received a copy of the Policy and he understood its requirements. In 2006, Respondent was arrested on suspicion of aggravated DWI. Respondent received a seven-day suspension as a result of the arrest. The criminal charges against Respondent were ultimately dismissed without an adjudication of guilt or innocence. In 2008, Respondent was again arrested on suspicion of DWI. The criminal charges against Respondent were once again dismissed. After a DOC investigation, Respondent was dismissed based on a second offense under the Policy. Respondent appealed his termination to the State Personnel Board and a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the hearing, Respondent claimed that he was treated differently than other employees under the Policy. After the hearing, the ALJ submitted an extensive recommended decision to the Personnel Board that supported Respondent’s termination. The Personnel Board adopted the ALJ’s proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law in their entirety and upheld Respondent’s termination. The district court reversed the Personnel Board, finding that "[t]he termination of [Respondent] was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law" because "he was not treated in a similar fashion to several other officers in similar circumstances." The DOC then petitioned for certiorari to the Court of Appeals, which denied the petition. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in order to address the important policy issues implicated "when DWI and public employment intersect, especially in light of [the] Court’s precedent on the same subject." After review, the Supreme Court reversed: "[w]hen the district court concluded that Respondent 'was not treated in a similar fashion to several other officers in similar circumstances,' the court was simply incorrect based upon the record before it."