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Motes v. Curry County Adult Detention Center

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

November 28, 2018

AMANDA MOTES, Worker-Appellee,
v.
CURRY COUNTY ADULT DETENTION CENTER and NMCIA, Employer/Insurer-Appellants.

          APPEAL FROM THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION ADMINISTRATION Terry S. Kramer, Workers' Compensation Judge

          Sanders, Bruin, Coll & Worley, P.A. Beth L. Hightower Clayton S. Hightower Roswell, NM for Appellee

          Hatcher Law Group, P.A. Scott P. Hatcher Mark A. Cox Santa Fe, NM for Appellants

          OPINION

          JENWIFERL. ATTREP, JUDGE

         {¶1} Curry County Adult Detention Center (Employer or the detention center) and New Mexico County Insurance Authority (Insurer) appeal a Workers' Compensation Judge's (the WCJ) order awarding compensation to Worker Amanda Motes for injuries she sustained while engaged in horseplay on Employer's premises. Employer and Insurer contend Worker is not entitled to compensation because, given the nature of the horseplay, she cannot establish her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment as required for compensability by NMS A 1978, Section 52-1-28(A)(1) (1987) of the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), NMSA 1978, §§ 52-1-1 to -70 (1929, as amended through 2017). We hold that substantial evidence supports the WCJ's findings and the WCJ did not err in concluding Worker's injuries are compensable under the Act. We affirm the compensation order.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Worker had been working at the detention center as a booking specialist for approximately five weeks when she sustained the injuries at issue in this appeal. As a booking specialist, Worker was responsible for the "overall operation" of the booking room and file room at the detention center. Her duties generally involved classifying and booking new inmates, receiving and recording incoming paperwork, medication, and visitors, and performing related filing obligations, along withl various other unspecified responsibilities. In her first week on the job, she worked the day shift and trained with direct supervisors in the booking department. After that initial training period, Worker made the switch to the night shift.

         {¶3} None of her direct supervisors in the booking department and no senior officials in her direct chain of command worked nights. Instead, typically the most senior employees on duty at night were sergeants who worked in the detention chain of command, as opposed to the booking chain of command, and oversaw the operations of more junior detention officers at the detention center. These sergeants also served as "supervisory employee [s]" for the facility more generally and served as the first point of contact for more junior employees from all departments, including the booking department, when questions or concerns arose. The sergeants worked from different duty stations interspersed among the departments; the specific station assignment varied night to night.

         {¶4} Sergeant Jayson Cloud worked as a supervisory sergeant on the night shift along with other sergeants, and he worked the night Worker sustained her injuries. Cloud had worked at the detention center for approximately three years at the time of Worker's injuries. He had accrued a short history of discipline in his time there- he had been counseled twice for use of obscene or abusive language toward inmates and staff, suspended for conduct unbecoming a county employee, counseled for overriding facility doors while inmates were present, and reprimanded for failing to report for shifts.

         {¶5} The detention center's workload at night ebbed and flowed, and the sergeants and employees in booking and in detention often had downtime. Curry County (the County) had promulgated and distributed a safety manual to all county employees, including those employed at the detention center. The manual prohibited horseplay by employees and advised that horseplay "may subject" employees to disciplinary action at the discretion of department heads. Worker and Cloud both signed forms acknowledging they had read and understood the manual's terms. County Manager Lance Pyle, who gave deposition testimony for the WCJ's consideration, could not recall whether Worker or Cloud had been given any specific safety training above and beyond the instructions provided in the County's safety manual, and he could not produce any documentation recording their attendance at any safety training sessions the County did provide from time to time.

         {¶6} Worker and Cloud had established a history of interacting in an apparently lighthearted way when downtime arose at the detention center. Worker testified that Cloud had "made it his life goal to terrorize [her] at any given moment." She added that they had on previous occasions attempted to mark each other with markers and spray each other with bug spray and that Cloud "would do stuff like that all the time." Cloud confirmed they had in the past attempted to mark each other with markers, describing the frequency as "from time to time."

         {¶7} Worker observed that theirs was not unique behavior at the detention center, recalling, "I [knew] a lot of people there that [did] engage in horseplay, they [did] have that sort of camaraderie between each other ... A lot of the officers [did], the booking officers, and the actual guards themselves." Other sergeants, she added, engaged in similar ways during downtime and, she reported, "it was one of those things where it had become a custom ... I didn't think anything of it... because it was something that I saw often." Worker also testified, in response to a question about whether she had raised the subject of horseplay with her direct supervisors, that she had let a supervisor know Cloud often "irritated" her. The supervisor, however, brushed her off, observing that "that was how [Cloud] was." By contrast, Pyle testified that he was unaware the detention center had this culture of activity during periods of downtime at all, and he emphasized that if the culture existed, "it should have been reported" so that the County could take "immediate action." But neither Pyle nor Cloud could recall any reports or complaints to supervisors regarding the activity, and Pyle reiterated that if reports had in fact been made, the County would have investigated and taken action as appropriate.

         {¶8} On the night she sustained her injuries, Worker recalled that work was slow and she was sitting, waiting in the booking area. A few hours after her shift began, she and Cloud engaged and attempted to mark each other with markers, as they had in the past. Cloud withdrew, stepped into a nearby bathroom, and returned with a can of bug spray. He feigned spraying Worker with the bug spray, and then retreated out of the booking area. Worker gave chase, running, but she tripped on a short staircase exiting the booking area. Her fall resulted in a broken right ankle and fibula. The entire interaction from the initial engagement to the fall, Worker testified, occurred in a span of a few minutes or less, as one continuous exchange. Worker and Cloud both testified this was the first time their downtime interaction had involved running.

         {¶9} Worker eventually sought and received medical attention for her injuries and reported the accident to Employer. After some consultation with Cloud, Worker gave a fabricated account of the events giving rise to the injuries in her initial report, fearing she might lose her job and receive no compensation for the injury were the actual story to come out. Cloud signed off on the report. The County made its standard investigation of the report and reviewed surveillance video at the detention center from the night Worker sustained her injuries. After observing the incident on video as it actually transpired, the County realized Worker had falsified the initial report.

         {¶10} This was not the first time surveillance video had revealed Worker committing an infraction at the detention center, as she had previously been seen on video using her phone in an area where phone use was prohibited and was counseled for that | infraction. Although Worker testified that the surveillance cameras were monitored around the clock from a station near the booking area, the record does not reveal when or under what conditions any surveillance might have been reported up a chain of command. Based on her prior discipline, Cloud's disciplinary history, the ...


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