United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on defendants Elfigo Sandoval,
Joey Romero and Mathew Borrego's (collectively
“Detention Officer Defendants”) Motion for
Dismissal of Seventh Cause of Action (Doc. 133), and
defendants San Miguel County Detention Center
(“SMCDC”), Board of Commissioners of San Miguel
County, Warden Patrick Snedeker, and Antonio Padilla's
(collectively “County Defendants”) Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, in Part,
Based on Qualified Immunity (Doc. 140). For the following
reasons, the Court GRANTS the Detention Officer
Defendants' and the County Defendants' motions to
dismiss the seventh cause of action, but it otherwise DENIES
the County Defendants' motion to dismiss the first,
second, fifth, and sixth causes of action.
case arises out of an incident that occurred in May, 2013.
The facts are taken from the allegations in Ms. Tenorio's
first amended complaint, which the Court assumes are true for
the purposes of the pending motions. In April 2013, defendant
Health Care Partners Foundation, Inc. (hereafter
“Health Care Partners') and defendant Rita Torres
hired Ms. Tenorio as a medical technician and assigned her to
work at SMCDC under the direction and supervision of SMCDC,
Warden Snedeker, and other supervisory staff employed by
defendants San Miguel County and SMCDC. Doc. 128 ¶ 23.
Ms. Tenorio alleges that she was an employee of both SMCDC
and Health Care Partners as that term is defined in the New
Mexico Human Rights Act, N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 28-1-1
et seq., and the United States Equal Employment
Opportunity Act,  and that both SMCDC and Health Care
Partners supervised, controlled, and directed Ms.
Tenorio's day-to-day work assignments as a medical
technician at SMCDC. Doc. 128 ¶¶ 24-25.
supervisor on-site at SMCDC supervised Ms. Tenorio, set her
hours, and controlled her shifts. Id. ¶ 26.
Shifts were set to ensure twenty-four hour coverage by a
medical officer at SMCDC. Id. Health Care Partners
determined whether Ms. Tenorio would work at SMCDC or at
other locations. Id. ¶ 28. Another medical
officer at SMCDC trained Ms. Tenorio, and her work always was
supervised. Id. ¶ 29. Ms. Tenorio used medical
equipment that was kept in a medical office at SMCDC to
perform her job. Id. ¶ 31. She also used
computers that were kept on site at SMCDC to complete
necessary records and other documentation as part of her
duties. Id. ¶ 32. Ms. Tenorio received $10 per
hour from “HCP Systems LLC, ” presumably another
name for Health Care Partners, for her work at SMCDC.
Id. ¶ 34. HCP Systems LLC deducted state and
federal taxes from her paychecks. Id. SMCDC was
required to have medical technicians physically present and
on-duty at all times, and Health Care Partners earned revenue
by supplying the necessary medical technicians. Id.
¶ 37. Ms. Tenorio's job duties as a medical
technician at SMCDC were an integral part of SMCDC's and
Health Care Partners' businesses. Id. ¶ 36.
As a medical technician, Ms. Tenorio was required to begin
and end her work at SMCDC at specified times. Id.
approximately 9:00 p.m. on May 11 or 12, 2013, Ms. Tenorio
was getting ready to leave SMCDC after finishing her shift.
Id. ¶¶ 39-40. Before leaving, she walked
into the master control room to deliver some paperwork to
Officers Borrego and Romero. Id. ¶ 41. After
entering the control room, Officers Borrego and Romero
forcibly placed Ms. Tenorio in handcuffs and cuffed her to a
chair. Id. ¶ 42. After a while, Officers
Borrego and Romero removed the cuffs, but then immediately
attempted to handcuff Ms. Tenorio again. Id. ¶
43. Ms. Tenorio struggled, and during the course of the
struggle Officers Borrego and Romero injured Ms. Tenorio,
causing bruising, swelling and pain to her wrists and arms.
Id. ¶ 44. Officers Borrego and Romero succeeded
in forcibly handcuffing Ms. Tenorio again. Id.
¶ 45. At one point, Ms. Tenorio was handcuffed to a
toilet in the master control room. Id. ¶ 47.
After some time, one officer freed her, but then Officers
Borrego and Romero attempted to handcuff her again.
Id. ¶ 48. At some point, Officer Sandoval and
another officer entered the master control room, and Officer
Sandoval joined in the struggle. Id. ¶¶
46, 48. Officer Sandoval succeeded in placing Ms. Tenorio in
handcuffs again, and Officers Sandoval, Borrego and Romero
again cuffed her to a chair. Id. ¶ 48. While
Ms. Tenorio was cuffed to the chair, she attempted to escape
by scooting herself and the chair through the door into the
hallway. Id. ¶ 50. Officer Borrego, Romero, or
Sandoval forcibly pulled her back into the master control
room. Id. ¶ 51. After several cuffings and
struggles, Officers Borrego, Romero, and Sandoval finally set
Ms. Tenorio free, and she left SMCDC. Id. ¶ 55.
scooting into the hallway, Ms. Tenorio not only was
attempting to escape but also was hoping she would be seen on
the video surveillance cameras that panned that area.
Id. ¶ 52. San Miguel County's internal
investigative report states that Officer Sandoval claimed
“that as he walked in [to the hallway] he saw Medical
Tenorio cuffed to a chair and asked her to go back into
master control and asked Officer Borrego to uncuff
her.” Id. ¶ 53. But SMCDC officials,
including Warden Snedeker, now claim that there is no video
recording of Ms. Tenorio in the hallway. Id. ¶
incident was brought to the attention of Ms. Torres and
Warden Snedeker, and a supervisor or supervisors questioned
Ms. Tenorio on June 6, 2013 about the incident. Id.
¶ 56. Although she was afraid to report what had
happened, she did so. Id. ¶ 57. After learning
of the incident, defendants San Miguel County, SMCDC, Warden
Snedeker, and Health Care Partners retaliated against Ms.
Tenorio for her testimony concerning the incident and engaged
in a coordinated effort to blame her for what happened.
Id. ¶¶ 58-59. Before the incident was
reported, Health Care Partners regularly scheduled Ms.
Tenorio to work at SMCDC, which was close to her residence.
Id. ¶ 60. About one month after the incident
was reported, Ms. Tenorio learned that she no longer would be
scheduled to work at SMCDC. Id. ¶ 61. Ms.
Torres informed Ms. Tenorio that she would be assigned to
“travel” for Health Care Partners, and would work
in a facility in Trinidad, Colorado, which was a two-hour
drive from Ms. Tenorio's home in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Id. ¶¶ 62-63.
Tenorio attempted to get copies of documents related to the
incident and the reporting of the incident, but Warden
Snedeker and Ms. Torres refused to provide her copies of the
documents she requested. Id. ¶ 64. Ms. Tenorio
became aware that SMCDC personnel were engaging in
disparaging communications about her, attacking her
character, and blaming her for what happened. Id.
¶ 66. Most of the people with whom she worked at SMCDC
began to ignore or shun her. Id. Warden Snedeker and
Officer Padilla investigated the incident and concluded that
Ms. Tenorio was complicit in and encouraged the abusive
handcuffing and restraint, which partially excused the
actions of Officers Borrego, Romero and Sandoval.
Id. ¶ 67. Ms. Tenorio's working
relationship with SMCDC and Health Care Partners became
intolerable. Id. ¶ 65. Given Ms. Torres's
and Warden Snedeker's treatment of her, the lengthy
commute to Trinidad, and the general ongoing discrimination
and harassment, Ms. Tenorio had no choice but to leave her
employment at SMCDC and Health Care Partners. Id.
¶ 68. Ms. Tenorio was constructively terminated from
SMCDC and Health Care Partners on July 22, 2013. Id.
September 25, 2013, Ms. Tenorio, through counsel, sent a
preservation letter to Warden Snedeker and SMCDC that
specifically requested preservation of “San Miguel
County Detention Center Surveillance Footage of May 12, 2013
of the hallway and entrance to the Master Control Room from
approximately 6:00 p.m. to midnight.” Id.
¶ 74. SMCDC and Warden Snedeker responded on September
30, 2013 that “[t]here is no surveillance video
recording documentation. Facility recording equipment has a
storage preservation capacity of one and a half months (six
(6) weeks).” Id. ¶ 75. Ms. Tenorio
believes that Warden Snedeker and Officer Padilla viewed this
video during their investigation of the handcuffing of Ms.
Tenorio, but that someone either destroyed the video or
simply refused to provide it to Ms. Tenorio or her counsel.
Id. ¶ 76. Alternatively, Ms. Tenorio believes
that the video is in the defendants' possession but
because the preservation letter mistakenly referred to May
12, 2013, and the incident actually occurred on May 11, 2013,
defendants responded that video from May 12, 2013 did not
exist. Id. ¶ 78. Because the handcuffing
incident was reported on or about June 6, 2013-less than four
weeks after the incident and well within the preservation
capacity of the recording equipment-the defendants should
have been on notice that they should preserve the video.
Id. ¶ 77.
Tenorio filed a charge with the EEOC for discrimination and
retaliation based on sex on March 4, 2014. Id.
¶ 71. The EEOC thereafter issued a notice of right to
sue. Id. ¶ 72.
The First Amended Complaint
first cause of action in Ms. Tenorio's first amended
complaint alleges that Ms. Torres, Health Care Partners,
Warden Snedeker, SMCDC, and San Miguel County constructively
discharged Ms. Tenorio from her employment at Health Care
Partners and SMCDC. Doc. 128 ¶¶ 80-83. In her
second cause of action, Ms. Tenorio alleges that the same
defendants discriminated against her in violation of the New
Mexico Human Rights Act, N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 28-1-1
et seq. Id. ¶¶ 84-87. In her
third cause of action, Ms. Tenorio alleges that Officers
Borrego, Romero, Sandoval, Padilla, and Warden Snedeker
breached their duty of care toward Ms. Tenorio and caused her
injury, and that SMCDC and San Miguel County are vicariously
liable for their employees' torts. Id.
fourth cause of action, Ms. Tenorio alleges that Ms. Torres,
Health Care Partners, Warden Snedeker, SMCDC, and San Miguel
County intentionally destroyed, failed to preserve, or
withheld the surveillance video of part of the handcuffing
incident, knowing that the incident potentially would result
in a lawsuit. Id. ¶¶ 97-105. The fifth
cause of action alleges that Ms. Torres, Health Care
Partners, Warden Snedeker, SMCDC, and San Miguel County
discriminated against Ms. Tenorio on the basis of sex, in
violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.
Id. ¶¶ 106- 09.
sixth cause of action alleges various violations of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against all defendants except SMCDC. Id.
¶¶ 110-20. It alleges that Ms. Torres, Warden
Snedeker, and Officer Padilla retaliated against Ms. Tenorio
after she provided testimony regarding the handcuffing
incident, in violation of Ms. Tenorio's First Amendment
rights. Id. ¶¶ 110-12. It further alleges
that these three defendants violated Ms. Tenorio's First
Amendment right of access to the courts by destroying or
otherwise denying Ms. Tenorio access to the surveillance
video of part of the handcuffing incident. See Id.
¶ 113. It also alleges that Officers Borrego, Romero,
and Sandoval, violated Ms. Tenorio's Fourth Amendment
right to be free from wrongful detention and the excessive
use of force. See Id. ¶¶ 114-15. And it
alleges that “Defendants” failed to create and
inculcate appropriate procedures for supervisors, failed to
properly train supervisors, and failed to institute adequate
procedures and policies to protect Ms. Tenorio's rights.
See Id. ¶ 118.
seventh cause of action alleges that all defendants except
SMCDC conspired to violate Ms. Tenorio's civil rights, in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. See Id.
¶¶ 121-27. Specifically, the seventh cause of
action alleges that Ms. Torres and Warden Snedeker explicitly
communicated about ways to obstruct Ms. Tenorio's efforts
to preserve and obtain her personnel file. Id.
¶ 123. It further alleges that Warden Snedeker and
Officer Padilla, and perhaps other individual defendants,
were aware of the surveillance video of the handcuffing
incident and either destroyed it or have withheld it.
Id. ¶ 124. And it alleges that Officers
Borrego, Romero, and Sandoval together violated Ms.
Tenorio's right to be free from wrongful detention and
excessive use of force, which included pulling her back into
the master control room from the hallway to continue their
abuse of her. Id. ¶ 125.
County Defendants seek to dismiss Ms. Tenorio's first,
second, and fifth causes of action for failure to state a
claim because SMCDC was not Ms. Tenorio's employer, and
therefore none of the County Defendants can be held
responsible for her claims of constructive discharge or
discrimination under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and
Title VII. See Doc. 140 at 1-2, 6-9. They seek to
dismiss the sixth cause of action on two grounds. They argue
that her First Amendment retaliation claim fails because she
is not an employee of the county. See Id. at 9-10.
They also argue that her First Amendment claim that she was
denied access to the courts fails because the destruction of
the surveillance video did not prevent her from filing suit.
See Id. at 10-11. The County Defendants seek to
dismiss Ms. Tenorio's seventh cause of action because
there has been no violation of Ms. Tenorio's civil
rights, and therefore her claim that there was a conspiracy
to violate her civil rights also must fail. See Id.
at 11-12. The Detention Officer Defendants seek to dismiss
Ms. Tenorio's seventh cause of action for failure to
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985. See Doc.
Tenorio responds that she has pled sufficient facts to
establish that SMCDC was her employer, and therefore the
Court should not dismiss her first, second and fifth causes
of action against the County Defendants. Doc. 149 at 7-11.
She argues that her sixth cause of action is not dependent on
whether she was an employee of SMCDC, and therefore that is
not a basis for dismissing that claim. See Id. at
11-13. She also argues that the deprivation of the
surveillance video did not need to prevent her from filing a
lawsuit in order to be actionable under § 1983, so that
aspect of her sixth cause of action should not be dismissed.
See Id. at 13-18. And finally, she argues that she
was denied her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights to be
free from gender discrimination at the hands of governmental
actors, which she says also is actionable under § 1983.
See id. at 18-19. With regard to the seventh cause
of action, Ms. Tenorio argues that she has pled sufficient
facts under § 1983 and § 1985(3) to allege a valid
conspiracy claim against both the County Defendants and the
Detention Officer Defendants. See Id. at 19-21; Doc.
137 at 4-10. For the following reasons, I grant the motions
to dismiss the seventh cause of action, but I otherwise deny
the County Defendants' motion to dismiss the first,
second, fifth and sixth causes of action.
Motions to ...