United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Fashing, United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on defendants San Miguel County
Detention Center (“SMCDC”), Board of
Commissioners of San Miguel County, SMCDC Warden Patrick
Snedeker, and SMCDC Correctional Officer Antonio
Padilla's (collectively “County Defendants”)
Renewed Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Spoliation Claim
(Doc. 173). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the
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, Doc. 128, which the Court assumes
are true for the purposes of this motion. 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.
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
SMCDC Correctional Officers Matthew Borrego and Joey 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,
SMCDC Correctional Officer Elfigo Sandoval and another
officer entered the master control room, and Officer Sandoval
joined in the attempt to handcuff Ms. Tenorio. 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.
Ms. Tenorio's Spoliation Claim and the County
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
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 County
Defendants argue that Ms. Tenorio's claim is barred by
the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Doc. 173. Specifically,
they argue that the state has not waived immunity for the
tort of spoliation under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act
(NMTCA). Id. at 4. Ms. Tenorio argues that although
there is no specific waiver of immunity under the NMTCA for
the tort of spoliation of evidence, there is a waiver of
immunity for the “deprivation of any rights, privileges
or immunities secured by the constitution and laws of the
United States or New Mexico when caused by law enforcement
officers while acting within the scope of their
duties.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 41-4-12; Doc. 176 at 9.
She further argues that because the spoliation of evidence in
this case deprived Ms. Tenorio of her constitutional right to
access the courts, the County Defendants are not immune from
liability. See Doc. 176 at 6-10. Because Ms.
Tenorio's constitutional claim and her spoliation claim
are distinct causes of action, and because the state has not
specifically waived immunity on the spoliation claim, the
Court will grant the County Defendants' motion to dismiss
the spoliation claim.
Mexico, the tort of spoliation of evidence is defined as
“the intentional destruction, mutilation, or
significant alteration of potential evidence for the purpose
of defeating another person's recovery in a civil
action.” Coleman v. Eddy Potash, Inc.,
1995-NMSC-063, ¶ 13, 120 N.M. 645, 905 P.2d 185,
overruled on other grounds, Delgado v. Phelps
Dodge Chino, Inc., 2001-NMSC-034, 131 N.M. 272,
34 P.2d 1148. To state a claim for spoliation, a plaintiff
(1) the existence of a potential lawsuit; (2) the
defendant's knowledge of the potential lawsuit; (3) the
destruction, mutilation, or significant alteration of
potential evidence; (4) intent on [the] part of the defendant
to disrupt or defeat the lawsuit; (5) a causal relationship
between the ...