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Casaus v. Board of County Commissioners of County of Sandoval

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 3, 2017

JESSE CASAUS, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF SANDOVAL and the SANDOVAL COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, DOUGLAS C. WOOD, in his official capacity as SANDOVAL COUNTY SHERIFF, DOUGLAS C. WOOD and KARL WIESE, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Count III (Breach of Contract) of Plaintiff's Complaint filed by Defendant Board of Commissioners of the County of Sandoval (“Board”) and Defendant Sandoval County Sheriff's Office's (“Sheriff's Office”). Doc. 21. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed. R. Civ. P 73(b), the parties have consented to me serving as the presiding judge and entering final judgment. Docs. 6, 7, 8. Having considered the parties' arguments and all relevant authority, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Jesse Casaus served as a Sandoval County deputy sheriff. See Doc. 1-1 (Compl.), Exh. A. Following his termination in 2015, Plaintiff brought this suit on February 10, 2017, asserting six claims, including Employment Discrimination - National Origin, Employment Discrimination by Retaliation, Breach of Employment Contract, Retaliatory Discharge (New Mexico Peace Officer's Employer - Employee Relations Act), Retaliatory Discharge (First Amendment Rights of Speech and Association), and Malicious Abuse of Process. Doc. 1-1, Exh. A. Defendants Board and Sheriff's Office now move for partial summary judgment on Count Three of the Complaint maintaining that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing his breach of contract claim to court. Doc. 21 at 2.

         II. Legal Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “When applying this standard, [the Court] examine[s] the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.” Applied Genetics Int'l, Inc. v. First Affiliated Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir. 1990).

         In this district, “[a]ll material facts set forth in the Memorandum will be deemed undisputed unless specifically controverted.” D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b). Here, Plaintiff's Response does not dispute the material facts laid out in Defendants' Motion (Doc. 24 at 3), and Defendants' Reply does not dispute the supplemental material facts laid out in Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 25). Accordingly, the only question to be resolved is whether Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         III. Factual Background

         In July 2015, the work vehicle driven by Plaintiff was damaged, but the parties disagree on how the damage occurred. See Doc. 21-1, Exh. A. A series of events then took place, ultimately leading to Plaintiff's termination by Defendant Sheriff's Office. On February 2, 2016, the Sheriff's Office issued a Notice of Contemplated Action of termination to Plaintiff that detailed its investigation into the damage to the car. Doc. 21-1, Exh. A. Plaintiff asked for, and received, a hearing on February 24, 2016, to respond to the investigation. See Doc. 21-2, Exh. B; Doc. 21-3, Exh. C.

         Thereafter, on February 26, 2016, the Sheriff's Office issued a Notice of Final Action terminating Plaintiff (Doc. 21-3, Exh. C) and an Amended Notice of Final Action on March 9, 2016 (Doc. 21-4, Exh. D). Both the Notice and Amended Notice advised Plaintiff of his right to appeal and contained an attachment of the grievance procedure from the Sandoval County Personnel Rules and Regulations (“Handbook”). Doc. 21-3, Exh. C; Doc. 21-4, Exh. D.

         On March 7, 2016, Plaintiff requested a hearing pursuant to the grievance procedure of the Handbook (Doc. 21-5, Exh. E), and the parties selected a hearing officer (see Doc. 21-6, Exh. F). Plaintiff submitted a pre-hearing statement on April 13, 2016. Doc. 24, Exh. I. In his statement of contested facts and issues, Plaintiff disputed the factual allegations in the Notice and Amended Notice of Final Action, and he argued that his termination was not supported by just cause. He further contended that “[t]he agency failed to comply with all applicable rules, regulations and policies and procedures necessary to implement this disciplinary action, ” that the discipline was retaliatory, and that he should be reinstated. Doc. 24, Exh. I at 10. Sandoval County submitted its pre-hearing statement, listing as its sole statement of issue, “Did the County have just cause to terminate [Plaintiff]'s employment?” Doc. 24, Exh. J at 14. The Hearing Officer entered a Pre-Hearing Order, determining that the issues to be heard were as follows:

A. Was Sandoval County's termination of Mr. Casaus in compliance with the procedures and requirements established by the Personnel Ordinance?
B. Was Sandoval County's termination of Mr. Casaus in compliance with the procedures and requirements established by Sandoval County Sheriff's Department Standard Operating Policies and Procedure Manuel [sic]?
C. Did Sandoval County afford Mr. Casaus substantive and procedural due process right in the course of the termination ...

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