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Roybal-Mack v. New Mexico Department of Public Safety

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 27, 2017

ANTONIA ROYBAL-MACK, as Personal Representative of the Wrongful Death Estate of KORI LYNN WOODS, Plaintiff,
NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, OFFICER MARK QUINTANA and OFFICER DIEGO MENDOZA, individually and in their official capacities, and JOHN and JANE DOES #1-10, Defendants.


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint, filed September 6, 2017 (Doc. 27). Having reviewed the parties' briefs and applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken and, therefore, is denied.


         Plaintiff's claims arise from the Defendant Officer's high-speed pursuit of a vehicle operated by Kyle Mawhorter (“Mawhorter”), in which Kori Lynn Woods was a passenger and which resulted in a single-vehicle collision killing Ms. Woods.

         The facts in the Complaint are summed up in the Joint Status Report (Doc. 13). They bear repeating for purposes of context. In November 2016 near Clovis, New Mexico, State Police Officer Quintana initiated a traffic stop for speeding on a vehicle operated by Mawhorter in which Ms. Woods was riding as a passenger. Officer Quintana activated his patrol unit's emergency equipment directing Mawhorter to stop the vehicle on the shoulder of the highway. Mawhorter failed to stop and Officer Quintana pursued Mawhorter (at speeds, according to Defendants, close to 100 m.p.h.) along U.S. 70 traveling northbound. Officer Mendoza of the New Mexico State Police was also patrolling that stretch of the highway and was dispatched to assist Officer Quintana. Both police cruisers were using their overhead emergency lights and sirens, and recorded the chase on their dash-cam videos. Defendants' version of events is that at one point Mawhorter deliberately crossed into the southbound lanes of U.S. 70 and began traveling northbound at speeds of 90-100 mph against oncoming traffic, causing the southbound vehicles to swerve in order to avoid being hit. The officers therefore decided to continue their pursuit of the vehicle for public safety reasons.

         About five minutes into the pursuit, Officer Mendoza attempted a Pursuit Intervention Technique (“PIT”) maneuver on Mawhorter's vehicle. The first PIT maneuver was unsuccessful, but the second one brought Mawhorter's vehicle to a stop. However, after stopping, Mawhorter reversed his car and began traveling northbound on U.S. 70 again. According to Plaintiff's version, Officer Mendoza advised dispatch at this time that there was a female passenger (Ms. Woods) in Mawhorter's vehicle. Officer Quintana attempted a third unsuccessful PIT maneuver when Mawhorter began traveling west on Brady Avenue in Clovis, N.M. The pursuit continued 12 miles on U.S. 70 northbound until Mawhorter lost control of his vehicle crashing into a metal fence at the intersection of W. Brady Ave. and S. Hull St. in Clovis. Mawhorter fled the vehicle on foot but was eventually found in a field and ultimately pled guilty to various felony charges stemming from the accident. Ms. Woods was pronounced dead at the scene.

         On March 31, 2017, Plaintiff as the personal representative of Ms. Woods' estate, filed a five-count complaint in the Second Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County, asserting the following civil rights and state law tort claims:

Count I - Civil rights violations under §1983 (Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments);[1]
Count II - Violations of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, NMSA 1978 §41-4-12 and under the New Mexico Law Enforcement Safe Pursuit Act, NMSA 1978, §29-20-1;
Count III - Negligent hiring, Training, Supervision and Retention;
Count IV - Respondeat Superior; and
Count V - Breach of duty under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act, NMSA 1978, §41-2-1 et seq.

         Defendants removed the case to federal court on May 15, 2017 and filed a motion seeking dismissal of the state claims asserted in Counts II, III, IV and V, contending that Counts II, III, IV and V of the Complaint were redundant and attempted in various ways to state a claim for negligence resulting in the wrongful death of the decedent pursuant to NMSA §41-4-12 of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“Tort Claims Act”).

         The Court granted Defendant's motion, finding that Plaintiffs' claims asserted under §41-4-12 of the Tort Claims Act were premised on negligent conduct, which is insufficient for a waiver of immunity under the Tort Claims Act. With respect to the torts enumerated in §41-4-12, allegations of negligence are appropriate only to the extent that a law enforcement officer's negligence is alleged to have caused a third party (such as Mawhorter in this case) to commit one of the specified intentional torts. Doc. 18 at 6-7. The Court noted that the allegations in the complaint were framed in terms of negligence and did not assert any of those enumerated torts in §41-4-12. Doc. 18 at 6.

         In responding to Defendants' motion to dismiss, Plaintiff had sought the Court's permission to amend the complaint in the event the Court favored Defendants' arguments. However, the Court concluded that such amendment would be futile because even assuming the facts to be true, they did not plausibly lend themselves to acts of assault, battery or false imprisonment by Mawhorter because those torts require intentional acts. Doc. 18 at 7. All of Plaintiff's state law claims were dismissed in the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order. Id. at 16.


         Plaintiff's motion is self-styled as a motion to amend, although Plaintiff also expressly includes a request that the Court modify its previous rulings on her state law claims. Since Plaintiffs' principal objective is to seek a modification of the Court's previous Memorandum Opinion and Order (Doc. 18), and amendment would be futile ...

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