Anderson v. State, S-1-SC-38570

Case DateAugust 25, 2022
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico


STATE OF NEW MEXICO; MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM, Governor, State of New Mexico; ALISHA TAFOYA LUCERO, Secretary, New Mexico Corrections Department; and MELANIE MARTINEZ, Director, New Mexico Probation and Parole, Defendants-Appellees.

No. S-1-SC-38570

Supreme Court of New Mexico

August 25, 2022


Law Office of Ryan J. Villa Ryan J. Villa Albuquerque, NM Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP John P. Mandler Minneapolis, MN Christopher J. Casolaro Denver, CO for Appellants


Holly Agajanian, Chief General Counsel Maria S. Dudley, Associate General Counsel Kyle P. Duffy, Associate General Counsel Santa Fe, NM for Appellee Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Neil R. Bell, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas M. Sydow, Civil Appellate Chief Santa Fe, NM for Appellees State of New Mexico; Alisha Tafoya Lucero, Secretary, New Mexico Corrections Department; Melanie Martinez, Director, New Mexico Probation and Parole




{¶1} Eight named inmates (Named Plaintiffs) and two nonprofit organizations (the ten Plaintiffs, collectively) filed an amended complaint in district court seeking a mixture of a classwide writ of habeas corpus and classwide injunctive and declaratory relief. Plaintiffs allege that the State's management of COVID-19 in New Mexico prisons violates inmates' rights under the New Mexico Constitution. The district court dismissed the amended complaint, concluding that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the Named Plaintiffs failed to exhaust the internal grievance procedures of the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) before seeking relief, as required by NMSA 1978, Section 33-2-11(B) (1990). Agreeing with the result, but not all of its reasoning, we affirm the district court.

{¶2} We hold that Section 33-2-11(B) imposes an exhaustion requirement for statutorily created rights such as declaratory relief, see Am. Fed'n of State, Cnty. & Mun. Emps. v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bernalillo Cnty. (AFSCME), 2016-NMSC-017, ¶¶ 13-14, 373 P.3d 989, but that it is Rule 5-802(C) NMRA which imposes an independent duty to first exhaust the administrative remedies of the NMCD before petitioning for writs of habeas corpus. We also hold that although habeas corpus actions are not governed by our Rules of Civil Procedure,


see Allen v. LeMaster, 2012-NMSC-001, ¶¶ 15-17, 267 P.3d 806, procedures analogous to civil procedure Rule 1-023 NMRA are proper for classwide habeas relief. And to satisfy the habeas corpus exhaustion requirement under Rule 5-802(C) for an entire plaintiff class, one or more named class members must exhaust administrative remedies for each claim. Because no Named Plaintiff exhausted or sought to exhaust NMCD's internal grievance procedures, we affirm.


{¶3} Plaintiffs filed a complaint and an amended complaint in district court claiming that the State of New Mexico, the Governor of the State of New Mexico, the Secretary of NMCD, and the Director of New Mexico Probation and Parole Division of NMCD (collectively, Defendants) in their handling of COVID-19 in New Mexico prisons violated inmates' rights to substantive and procedural due process, freedom of speech, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment under the New Mexico Constitution. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants allowed COVID-19 to run "rampant in New Mexico's prisons" by refusing to enforce their own mandates for social distancing, mask-wearing, heightened hygiene practices, and safe quarantine and treatment.

{¶4} As a result, Plaintiffs sought a classwide writ of habeas corpus and classwide relief under Rule 1-023(B)(2) consisting of the release of "all current and future


persons held in any New Mexico prison facility during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic" as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. Currently, the NMCD home page reports about 6,000 inmates in New Mexico prisons.[1] The injunctive relief requested was for adequate testing of COVID-19, requiring prison staff to wear face coverings, providing inmates with face coverings and access to sanitation services, enforcement of social distancing within the prison, staggering of meal and recreation time, designating a room for evaluation of individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, and placing individuals with COVID-19 under medical isolation.

{¶5} Despite their claims being directly related to their conditions of confinement and treatment by NMCD, Named Plaintiffs did not avail themselves of NMCD's internal grievance procedures. Under NMCD policy, emergency grievances "shall be forwarded without substantive review immediately to the Warden," "shall receive an expedited response at every level . . . [and] in no event will the time for response exceed three (3) working days from the time the grievance is received by the Grievance officer," and "may be immediately appealed to the State wide Grievance/Disciplinary Appeals Manager if the emergency grievance after investigation and Warden's review cannot resolve the issues presented at their


facility level." See New Mexico Corrections Department, Inmate Grievances (June 14, 2018).[2]

{¶6} In the district court, Plaintiffs acknowledged that none of the Named Plaintiffs filed emergency grievances but argued that some class members-meaning any current New Mexico inmate-did file grievances and received no determination from NMCD. Plaintiffs also argued that the Named Plaintiffs did not avail themselves of NMCD's grievance procedures because "NMCD cannot grant release, the relief requested, on its own," thus making a futility argument. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the Named Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies under Section 33-2-11(B).

{¶7} Section 33-2-11(B) provides:

No court of this state shall acquire subject-matter jurisdiction over any complaint, petition, grievance or civil action filed by any inmate of the corrections department with regard to any cause of action pursuant to state law that is substantially related to the inmate's incarceration by the corrections department until the inmate exhausts the corrections department's internal grievance procedure.

{¶8} The district court issued an order dismissing the amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The district court ruled that accepting the allegations in the amended complaint as true, there was no allegation that the Named Plaintiffs exhausted or tried to exhaust the NMCD's internal grievance procedures. The district court concluded that because all of Plaintiffs' claims are "directly related to [Named Plaintiffs'] confinement and treatment by NMCD," they are subject to Section 33-2-11(B). The district court also ruled that a futility exception to exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply because "[t]he clear legislative command of Section 33-2-11(B) requires exhaustion as a precondition to subject matter jurisdiction." And even if a futility exception does apply, the district court determined that "[e]xhaustion would not be futile in this case because the NMCD has the authority to address the conditions in New Mexico's correctional facilities, a remedy that would address the majority of the allegations" made by the Named Plaintiffs. As to the nonprofit organizations, the district court held that to allow them to pursue a claim as plaintiffs when the Named Plaintiffs representing the purported class have not exhausted their administrative remedies would "frustrate the legislative purpose of Section 33-2-11(B) and would lead to an absurd result." The district court dismissed the amended complaint, and Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals.


{¶9} "Because the core relief sought in the [amended] complaint requires the issuance of the writ of habeas corpus and [because] all of the relief sought is inextricably connected to that request," the Court of Appeals certified all questions on appeal to this Court. See Rule 5-802(N)(2) (directing that the New Mexico Supreme Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over denials of habeas corpus petitions). We accepted certification.


{¶10} Plaintiffs make three arguments on appeal. First, the district court erred in concluding that the exhaustion requirement under Section 33-2-11(B) is jurisdictional because it implies an unconstitutional limitation by the Legislature on district courts' habeas corpus jurisdiction and on the writ of habeas corpus itself. Second, in holding that no futility exception applies, the district court erred because a material factual dispute exists as to whether exhaustion is futile. Finally, the district court erred in dismissing the nonprofit organizations on the basis that the grievance process applies only to inmates. We first consider the arguments related to exhaustion and futility and then turn to the argument concerning the nonprofit organizations.


A. Standard of Review

{¶11} All issues in Plaintiffs' arguments⸻the proper interpretation of Section 33-2-11(B), the district court's granting of a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, and the nonprofit organizations' standing to bring a claim⸻raise questions of law which we review de novo. See U.S. Xpress, Inc. v. N.M. Tax'n & Revenue Dep't, 2006-NMSC-017, ¶ 6, 139 N.M. 589, 136 P.3d 999 ("The meaning of language used in a statute is a question of law that we review de novo." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); see also Gallegos v. Pueblo of Tesuque, 2002-NMSC-012, ¶ 6, 132 N.M. 207, 46 P.3d...

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