United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BRACK SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Jason Wood worked as an officer in the K-9 unit of the
Farmington Police Department (FPD) until he resigned from his
position in early 2018. On May 29, 2018, Plaintiff filed this
lawsuit against FPD, the City of Farmington (the City), and
several officers in his supervisory chain of command.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants subjected him to unfounded
discipline and took other adverse employment actions that
caused him to resign from his position. Plaintiff raises
various federal and state law claims for damages based on
November 21, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss
Plaintiff's federal substantive due process claims on
qualified immunity grounds and the majority of
Plaintiff's state law claims for failure to state a
claim. (Doc. 31.) Defendants also separately moved for
summary judgment on Plaintiff's federal procedural due
process and conspiracy claims as well as Plaintiff's
state law claim for breach of an implied contract. (Doc. 32.)
considered the motions, the briefing, and the relevant law,
the Court concludes that Defendants are entitled to summary
judgment on Plaintiff's federal procedural due process
(Count I) and conspiracy claims (Count II). With regard to
Plaintiff's two substantive due process claims, Plaintiff
has stipulated to the dismissal of Count III, and the Court
finds that Count IV is subject to dismissal for failure to
state a claim. Because there are no remaining federal claims
in this matter, the Court declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the remainder of Plaintiff's complaint.
In sum, the Court GRANTS IN PART
Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 31) and motion for
summary judgment (Doc. 32). Counts I though IV of
Plaintiff's complaint are hereby dismissed with prejudice
and Counts V through IX are dismissed without prejudice.
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
seek summary judgment on three of Plaintiff's claims: (1)
procedural due process violation under 42 U.S.C § 1983
(Count I); (2) conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count
II); and (3) breach of an implied contract of employment
under New Mexico law (Count V). (Doc. 32.)
turning to the facts concerning Plaintiff's employment
with FPD, the Court sets forth the relevant provisions of the
City's personnel rules and FPD's disciplinary
procedures that the parties raised in their briefing.
FPD's Disciplinary Procedures Policy and the City's
maintains a policy governing disciplinary procedures, Policy
No. 126-01, that provides “guidelines for supervisors
in carrying out disciplinary action” and
“prescribes progressive discipline with a recurring
employee problem.” (Doc. 37-2 at 1.) Pursuant to Policy
No. 126-01, “the supervisor initiating [any
disciplinary] action will make recommendations as to the
appropriate discipline to be taken.” (Id. at
2.) “Those recommendations are reviewed through the
chain of command for suggestions or comments, with the [FPD]
Chief of Police having final authority.” (Id.)
Policy No. 126-01 specifies that FPD's procedures and
criteria for discipline, as well as those for grievances or
appeals of disciplinary action, are governed by the
City's Personnel Rules. (Id. at 1-2.)
21-7-1 of the City's Personnel Rules provides that
employees “may be disciplined for cause.” (Doc.
37-4 at 1.) “Cause for disciplinary action includes
acts involving unsatisfactory work performance by an employee
or employee conduct on or off the job which would create the
appearance of impropriety . . . .” (Id.) The
City's Personnel Rules provide a non-exhaustive list of
reasons for which an employee may be disciplined.
(Id. at 1-2.)
on the type and egregiousness of the conduct necessitating
disciplinary action, the City's Personnel Rules authorize
department heads or supervisors to take four actions:
reprimand, suspension, demotion, and/or dismissal.
(Id. §§ 21-7-3-21-7-7.) Specifically, FPD
may issue a verbal or written reprimand to an employee for
cause. (Id. § 21-7-4.) FPD may suspend a
regular non-probationary employee for cause without pay for a
period of up to three working days.(Id. §
21-7-5(a).) Any employee who chooses to appeal a suspension
of less than three days “to the city manager must do so
within two working days of the notice of suspension.”
(Id.) Next, FPD may also “request that an
employee be demoted for cause to a lower
classification.” (Id. § 21-7-6.) An
employee is entitled to a pre-demotion meeting, but may waive
that right in writing. (Id.) Lastly, FPD may
“recommend that an employee be dismissed for
cause.” (Id. § 21-7-7(a).) An employee is
entitled to a pre-termination meeting with the department
head and a representative of the personnel division, but may
waive that right in writing. (Id.) FPD shall submit
findings and recommended action to the city manager, who
shall review the findings and may then either dismiss the
employee or take other appropriate action. (Id.
employee may appeal a suspension, a demotion, or a dismissal.
(Id. §§ 21-7-9-21-7-10.) As for written
reprimands, an employee may file a grievance. (Id.
§ 21-10-4.) The Personnel Rules provide specific
procedures for grievances and appeals, which the Court will
address as necessary in its analysis. (Id.
§§ 21-7-10-21-7-11, 21-10-5.)
hired Plaintiff as a police officer on March 20, 2012. (Doc.
39-B.) The events at issue in this lawsuit occurred in 2017
and early 2018. In 2017, Plaintiff was the Canine Coordinator
of FPD's K-9 unit. (See Doc. 39-C.) According to
FPD Policy No. 241-06, the Canine Coordinator is “an
Officer in charge of the canine unit as designated” and
“can authorize, deny, or restrict the involvement of
police canine teams” in field operations. (Doc. 37-6 at
November 7, 2017, FPD disciplined Plaintiff as a result of an
Internal Affairs (IA) investigation that found Plaintiff had
engaged in “unbecoming conduct.” (Doc. 39-C at
1.) The November 2017 Notice of Corrective/Disciplinary
Action summarized the incident for which Plaintiff was
disciplined as follows:
At the completion of a vehicle pursuit, Officer Wood was
heard voicing inappropriate and demeaning comments directed
at the department related to a command decision to terminate
further efforts to subdue a wanted suspect. The comments were
captured on his body-worn camera system. The comments were
made in the presence of a fellow officer as well as members
of other agencies involved in the incident.
(Id.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff was
removed as the Canine Coordinator of the K-9 unit.
(Id.) He was also issued a one-day suspension
without pay, which was deferred for a period of six months.
(Id.) Plaintiff was required to participate in the
City's Employee Assistance Program (EAP). (Id.)
If Plaintiff participated in the EAP and there were no other
disciplinary issues for six months, the notice indicated that
the one-day suspension would be reduced to a letter of
reprimand. (Id.) As a result of being removed as the
Canine Coordinator, Plaintiff lost $1.60 per hour from his
regular pay. (Doc. 37-1 ¶ 3.)
November 2017 notice included a section containing
Plaintiff's comments regarding the discipline imposed and
the incident. (Doc. 39-C at 2.) Plaintiff stated: “I am
happy to still be in the unit as far as a strictly K9 handler
capacity. . . . We as a unit have taken this opportunity to
turn this into a positive and I am proud of the fellow
handlers. I apologize for my words during the critical
incident and will continue to work hard.”
two months later, on January 31, 2018, FPD disciplined
Plaintiff for “unsatisfactory performance”
following a second Internal Affairs (IA) investigation. (Doc.
39-D at 1.) The January 2018 Notice of
Corrective/Disciplinary Action indicated that the discipline
was being imposed due to Plaintiff's actions during a
November 29, 2017 incident in which he responded to the
Rimrock Inn to help another officer requesting back-up while
arresting a resistant male subject. (Id.) During the
incident, Plaintiff deployed his police service dog.
(Id.) The January 2018 notice stated that:
Ofc. J. Wood's decision to remove his canine from his
unit put him at a disadvantage by tying up one of his hands
and limiting all other options at his disposal. He also made
the decision to un-holster his service hand gun. Ofc. J.
Wood's hands were both occupied when trying to give
commands and deal with an uncooperative subject. The
assisting officer is calm and trying to de-escalate the
incident while Ofc. J. Wood is heard yelling in the
background. Ofc. J. Wood arrived on scene and took control
without knowing all of the events that unfolded prior to his
arrival. Ofc. J. Wood would have been of more assistance if
he had left his [police service dog (PSD)] in the patrol unit
and went hands-on with the subject. Additionally, Ofc. J.
Wood's commands to the subject to “get down”
and then to the officer to “let him up, ” . . .
were confusing. Following the incident, Ofc. J. Wood failed
to document pertinent information in his report detailing the
actions of the subject in an attempt to justify his use of a
canine to apprehend a suspect.
(Id. at 1-2.) The January 2018 notice also included
a section containing Plaintiff's comments regarding the
discipline imposed. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff stated:
“Thank you for my time on this dept as a K9 handler. It
was my greatest achievement. Thank you for the thoughts of
taking care of PSD Cas after his retirement. Thank you for
not finding Babodi in violation.” (Id.)
disputes the events that transpired during the second IA
investigation. Citing to portions of his verified complaint,
Plaintiff states that after the incident at the Rimrock Inn,
Defendant Lt. Matt Veith called Plaintiff and notified him
that he was being removed from his duties because of
“red flags” concerning job performance. (Doc. 1
(Compl.) ¶ 42.) Plaintiff questioned Lt. Veith regarding
these red flags, but Lt. Veith gave no response and
subsequently initiated the second IA investigation.
(Id. ¶¶ 43-44.)
Corban Davis was also involved in the November 2017 incident.
(Id. ¶ 45.) According to Plaintiff, Davis
failed to appropriately document the incident, but was given
additional time to produce the missing documentation.
(Id.) FPD did not discipline Davis for his failure
to appropriately document the incident. (Id.)
Plaintiff further asserts that Davis prepped other officers
on what to say to investigators during the IA investigation
and specifically, to cast blame on Plaintiff for the November
2017 incident. (Id. ¶ 46.) In so doing,
Plaintiff asserts that Davis violated FPD ...