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Saiz v. Franco

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 23, 2017

JOSHUA SAIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
GERMAN FRANCO, individually; JOHN DOE Corrections EMPLOYEES 1-4 in their individual capacities; and the STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on German Franco's Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity, filed March 1, 2016. [Doc. 23] The Court has considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons discussed herein, a ruling on the Motion is DEFERRED.

         Plaintiff's request for additional discovery presented in his Response in Opposition to Defendant German Franco's Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity [Doc. 30] (a request that the Court construes as Rule 56(d) Motion) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a former inmate of the Penitentiary of New Mexico (PNM). [Doc. 18 ¶ 3] German Franco (Defendant) is the warden of PNM. [Doc. 23-1 ¶¶ 1-2] In May of 2013, Plaintiff was charged by PNM corrections officers with participating in a group inmate assault of another inmate. [Doc. 23-1 ¶ 4; Doc. 23-1 p. 4] After an evidentiary hearing held in June of 2013, a hearing officer found Plaintiff guilty of three “Category A offenses under the policy governing inmate discipline”-the offenses were among the “most serious” offenses recognized by PNM's policies. [Doc. 23-1 ¶ 4; Doc. 23-5 ¶ 4] Plaintiff appealed the hearing officer's decision to Defendant; and Defendant affirmed the decision. [Doc. 23-1 ¶ 4] As a consequence, Plaintiff lost “good-time” credits and he was placed in disciplinary segregation (solitary confinement). [Doc. 23-1 ¶ 4; Doc. 30-1 ¶ 9]

         Plaintiff appealed Defendant's decision to the cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) in August 2013. [Doc. 23-4 ¶¶ 2, 5] Larry Phillips, who is the Statewide Grievance-Appeals Coordinator for NMCD, reviewed Plaintiff's appeal. [Doc. 23-4 ¶¶ 2, 5] Mr. Phillips drafted a written recommended decision granting Plaintiff's appeal on the ground of “procedural errors”; and his recommendation was approved and signed by Joni Brown, the Deputy Director of Adult Prisons for the NMCD, acting on behalf of Jerry Roark, Director, who handled such matters on behalf of the cabinet secretary. [Doc. 23-4 ¶¶ 5-6] The decision granting the appeal was then returned to Mr. Phillips for further handling. [Id.] Mr. Phillips sent a copy of the signed decision to one of the hearing officers at PNM-he did not sent a copy of the decision to Defendant. [Doc. 23-4 ¶ 9]

         Plaintiff never received a copy of the decision granting his appeal. [Doc. 30-1 ¶¶ 10-11] Having not received a decision in his appeal, Plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in December 2013. [Doc. 30-1 ¶¶ 13-15] Amanda Stephenson, an attorney of the Law Office of the Public Defender, was assigned to represent Plaintiff in his habeas matter in May of 2014. [Doc. 30-2 ¶¶ 1-7] In June of 2014, Ms. Stephenson was notified by the Attorney General's office that Plaintiff's disciplinary appeal had been successful. [Doc. 30-2 ¶ 9] Ms. Stephenson notified Plaintiff that his August 2013 appeal had been successful. [Doc. 30-1 ¶ 16]

         Ms. Stephenson also contacted Cathleen Catanach, Chief of the Offender Management Bureau of the NMCD, to advise her that Plaintiff's appeal had been successful, that he had never received a copy of the decision, his good-time credits had not been restored, and he had not been released from solitary confinement-all of which should have followed Plaintiff's successful appeal. [Doc. 23-2 ¶ 6] Ms. Catanach immediately corrected Plaintiff's records by restoring his good-time credits and adding credits for good-time that he could have earned had he not been placed in solitary confinement. [Doc. 23-2 ¶ 10] At around the same time, NMCD began the process required to move Plaintiff from solitary confinement to the general population, and then to release him from custody to serve parole. [Doc. 23-2 ¶ 11] It is alleged that by the time he was released, Plaintiff had been incarcerated for approximately one year longer than warranted. [Doc. 18 ¶ 35]

         Eight other inmates who were found guilty of participating in the group inmate assault along with Plaintiff appealed the decisions and these appeals were presumably reviewed by Defendant in accord with NMCD policy. [Doc. 30 ¶ J; Doc. 39 ¶ J] These other inmates also filed petitions for a writ of habeas corpus concerning the reasons for and conditions of their confinement during the same timeframe. [Id.] Plaintiff's petition for a writ of habeas corpus was joined with the petitions of the eight other inmates. [Doc. 30 ¶ K; Doc. 39 ¶ K] Between July 21, 2014 and August 6, 2014, eight of the petitions were dismissed by stipulation. [Doc. 30 ¶ T; Doc. 39 ¶ T; Doc. 30-4]

         Defendant stated that did not know that Plaintiff had appealed his decision to the cabinet secretary of NMCD, nor did he know that his appeal had been successful until the present lawsuit was filed in November 2015. [Doc. 23-1 ¶ 6] Defendant also stated that until the present lawsuit was filed, he was unaware that Plaintiff had filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. [Doc. 23-1 ¶ 7]

         Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit claiming, in relevant part, that Defendant, in his individual capacity, had violated: Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process; his rights to certain conditions of confinement under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; and his First Amendment right to exercise speech. [Doc. 18 p. 6-10] Defendant seeks summary judgment on those claims pursuant to the doctrine of qualified immunity. [Doc. 23] Plaintiff opposes summary judgment, in relevant part, on the ground that Defendant's Motion is premature “because Plaintiff requires discovery in order to defend against the motion.” [Doc. 30 p. 1]

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff argues that, having received no discovery in this case, he is unable to prepare an adequate response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. 30 p. 6-7] In Plaintiff's own words,

Defendant . . . has attached his own affidavit, and affidavits obtained from employees of the New Mexico Department of Corrections and the New Mexico Attorney General's Office. Plaintiff has had no opportunity to depose any of these persons, or to depose any other persons who could challenge or supplement the information in Defendant's affidavit. Plaintiff, therefore, is unable to admit ...

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