Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tenorio v. San Miguel County Detention Center

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 15, 2017

ESTRELLA TENORIO, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY DETENTION CENTER, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF SAN MIGUEL COUNTY, WARDEN PATRICK SNEDEKER, in his Individual and official capacities, ANTONIO PADILLA, ELFIGO SANDOVAL, JOEY ROMERO, and MATHEW BORREGO, in their individual capacities, HEALTH CARE PARTNERS FOUNDATION, INC., and RITA TORRES, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Laura Fashing United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS 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.

         I. Relevant Facts

         This 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, [1] 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.

         A 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. ¶ 38.

         At 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.

         By 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. ¶ 54.

         The 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.

         Ms. 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. ¶ 69.

         On 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.

         Ms. 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.

         II. The First Amended Complaint

         The 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. ¶¶ 88-96.

         In her 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         III. Discussion

         The 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. 133.

         Ms. 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.

         A. Motions to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.