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Tenorio v. San Miguel County Detention Center

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 27, 2018



          Laura Fashing United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff Estrella Tenorio's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment against Defendants Sandoval, Romero, and Borrego for Violations of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Rights and for Torts under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (Doc. 217). Also before the Court is 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”) Motion for Summary Judgment on Qualified Immunity and Other Grounds (Doc. 231). Both motions are opposed. See Docs. 236, 249. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES plaintiff's motion, and GRANTS the County Defendants' motion.

         I. Statement of Facts [1]

         Health Care Partners Foundation (“HCP”) had a contract with San Miguel County to provide medical services to inmates and detainees at SMCDC. Ms. Tenorio applied to work at SMCDC as a medical officer in 2013, at the end of her first year of nursing school. She picked up the application at SMCDC and ultimately was hired. She submitted her application to an employee of HCP, but she interviewed with Warden Snedeker, in his office, while an HCP employee was present. Warden Snedeker sent Ms. Tenorio's application to the human resources supervisor for the San Miguel County Human Resources Division, stating that Ms. Tenorio was the prospective individual to be hired through HCP for the position at SMCDC.

         When she was hired, the CEO of HCP told Ms. Tenorio there would be traveling opportunities. The plan was to fully train Ms. Tenorio at SMCDC, then transfer her to other facilities as needed. Ms. Tenorio signed an independent medical contract agreement with HCP, but in 2015, the Department of Labor informed HCP that it should have treated Ms. Tenorio as a W-2 employee rather than a 1099 independent contractor. Ms. Tenorio became aware that HCP was a contractor for San Miguel County once she started working for HCP. Ms. Tenorio worked for HCP on an “as needed basis.”

         Ms. Tenorio's on-site, day-to-day supervisor at SMCDC was employed by HCP and was an HCP supervisor. Ms. Tenorio received her daily assigned tasks from an HCP employee. Ms. Tenorio submitted all her payroll time sheets to HCP, not to SMCDC or the County. She did not receive any benefits from either HCP or the County. HCP provided Ms. Tenorio all her medical training except for a CPR First Aid training, which was provided by an SMCDC employee. SMCDC also provided security training to Ms. Tenorio.

         Ms. Tenorio was working at SMCDC the night of May 12, 2013. Defendants Elfigo Sandoval, Joey Romero, and Matthew Borrego (referred to collectively as the “Detention Officer Defendants”) were employed as SMCDC correctional officers and also were on duty that night. Each of the Detention Officer Defendants was carrying handcuffs. Officer Sandoval also was carrying pepper spray with him, which he had used earlier that evening on an inmate in Ms. Tenorio's presence. Aside from the Detention Officer Defendants, there were only two other detention officers on the premises of SMCDC that night.

         At about 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., Ms. Tenorio entered the master control room. The master control room is about 12 feet by 12 feet, and individuals entering the room must go through multiple sets of doors, all of which are controlled by a detention officer in the master control room. The lights in the master control room typically are off, and it is hard to see into the room. The lights were off on May 12, 2013, when Ms. Tenorio entered the room. However, the doors to the room were open.

         Officer Romero was in the control room when Ms. Tenorio entered. He and Ms. Tenorio started talking, and eventually the conversation turned to the question of whether Officer Romero could “cuff” Ms. Tenorio. According to Officer Romero, Ms. Tenorio asked him to try to cuff her several times, and he refused. But she kept egging him on, and eventually he tried to cuff her. At first they struggled, and he was unsuccessful, but eventually he was able to cuff her to a chair. While she was cuffed to the chair, she went out of the master control room, into the hallway, rolling the chair with her. At some point, she also was cuffed to a toilet located in the master control room. According to Officer Romero, Ms. Tenorio was laughing during the entire encounter. Officers Sandoval and Borrego, who entered the control room later, similarly testified that Ms. Tenorio was taunting the officers, telling them that they were not strong enough to cuff her, and that when they eventually tried to cuff her, it was “horseplay.” All three Detention Officer Defendants testified that Ms. Tenorio was laughing during all or most of the encounter, as well as after the encounter.

         Ms. Tenorio recounted the events very differently. She testified that Officer Romero pulled out his cuffs and started cuffing her for no apparent reason. She denied laughing or challenging him to cuff her. She testified that she told him to stop it, and Officer “Borrego tried to jump in and help him.” Doc. 236-1 at 5. A little later Officer Sandoval also came in, and he also handcuffed her. Id. at 7-8. Ms. Tenorio could not remember whether she laughed or smiled during the interaction, but she admitted that she did not cry. She could not remember whether any of the officers were laughing or smiling.

         Warden Snedeker testified that he first became aware of the handcuffing incident about a month later, when Rita Torres, the CEO of HCP, called him and told him that a horseplay incident had occurred. On June 6, 2013, Warden Snedeker directed Major Antonio Padilla to conduct an investigation. Ms. Tenorio testified that she tried to minimize the incident to everyone she spoke to because she did not want anything bad to happen to the Detention Officer Defendants. On June 10, 2013, Major Padilla completed his investigation. As a result of the investigation, Warden Snedeker suspended Officers Romero, Borrego, and Sandoval without pay for five days. These officers were acting contrary to their training when they handcuffed Ms. Tenorio, and the County took the use of handcuffs seriously. Ms. Tenorio was not formally disciplined by either HCP or SMCDC as a result of the incident. She was, however, taken off the SMCDC schedule, and she last worked there on July 8, 2013. She continued to work for HCP until July 26, 2013.

         There is no video surveillance of the master control room itself, but there was video surveillance and recording of the hallway outside the master control room. Both Officer Romero and Ms. Tenorio knew this. Major Padilla testified that he checked the video surveillance system to see if there was a video of the incident, but that it didn't exist. Both he and Warden Snedeker testified that they never saw any video of the incident. On the other hand, Amanda Martinez, [2]the HCP employee who supervised Ms. Tenorio, told Ms. Tenorio that she watched the video with Warden Snedeker and Major Padilla about a month after the incident, in June 2013. Doc. 231-2 at 29-30. According to Ms. Tenorio, Ms. Martinez said that the video showed Ms. Tenorio “eventually roll out into the hall cuffed to a chair.” Id. at 29. Ms. Tenorio herself, however, never saw a video of the incident. Warden Snedeker testified that the preservation capacity of the video camera in May and June 2013 was four to six weeks, and if it had not been taped over until six weeks after the incident, it would have existed when Major Padilla's investigation began. Major Padilla testified that the video camera only retained footage for seven to fourteen days before it was taped over. Ms. Tenorio's counsel sent a letter requesting a copy of the surveillance video in September 25, 2013. On September 30, 2013, Warden Snedeker responded, “There is no surveillance video recording documentation. Facility recording equipment has a storage preservation capacity of one and half months (six (6) weeks).” Doc. 249-19 at 2.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment will be granted “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). A genuine dispute exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on the issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id.

         The movant bears the initial burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). “[T]he movant need not negate the non-movant's claim, but need only point to an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's claim.” Kannady v. City of Kiowa, 590 F.3d 1161, 1169 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Sigmon v. Community Care HMO, Inc., 234 F.3d 1121, 1125 (10th Cir. 2000)). If this burden is met, the non-movant must come forward with specific facts, supported by admissible evidence, which demonstrate the presence of a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The non-moving party cannot rely upon conclusory allegations or contentions of counsel to defeat summary judgment. See Pueblo Neighborhood Health Ctrs., Inc. v. Losavio, 847 F.2d 642, 649 (10th Cir. 1988). Rather, the non-movant has a responsibility to “go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts so as to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [his] case in order to survive summary judgment.” Johnson v. Mullin, 422 F.3d 1184, 1187 (10th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         At the summary judgment stage, the Court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The Court's function “is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There is no issue for trial “unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. Summary judgment may be granted where “the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative.” Id. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

         B. Ms. Tenorio's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against the Detention Officer Defendants

         In her motion, Ms. Tenorio seeks summary judgment in her favor against defendants Sandoval, Romero, and Borrego on her claim in her sixth cause of action that these defendants violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable seizure and the use of excessive force. Doc. 217 at 9-17. Ms. Tenorio argues that the undisputed facts show that Officers Sandoval and Romero seized Ms. Tenorio by handcuffing her without probable cause and with no legal justification, and that Officer Borrego had the opportunity to intervene and prevent the seizure. See Id. She further argues that in handcuffing her, Officers Sandoval and Romero used excessive force, and that again, Officer Borrego had the opportunity to intervene and did not do so. See Id. Ms. Tenorio also seeks summary judgment in her favor on her claims in her third cause of action that the Detention Officer Defendants assaulted, battered, and falsely imprisoned her, in violation of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. See Id. at 17-22.

         In response, the officers argue that Ms. Tenorio is not entitled to summary judgment on any claim because there is a dispute of material fact as to whether Ms. Tenorio invited the Detention Officer Defendants to try to handcuff her and consented to being handcuffed. See Doc. 236 at 20-23. Because I agree that there is sufficient evidence to support the Detention Officers' view that Ms. Tenorio invited them to handcuff her and consented to being handcuffed, material facts are in dispute, and summary judgment is not appropriate.

         The Tenth Circuit has identified three general categories of encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens:

(1) consensual encounters which do not implicate the Fourth Amendment; (2) investigative detentions which are Fourth Amendment seizures of limited scope and duration and must be supported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity; and (3) arrests, the most intrusive of Fourth ...

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