Garcia-Montoya v. State Treasurer's Office

Decision Date18 January 2001
Docket NumberNo. 25,668.,25,668.
Citation2001 NMSC 3,130 NM 25,16 P.3d 1084
PartiesDonna GARCIA-MONTOYA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. State of New Mexico, STATE TREASURER'S OFFICE, Michael Montoya, Robert Andermann, and Joan G. "Jody" Hooper, each in their individual capacities, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

Sommer, Fox, Udall, Othmer, Hardwick & Wise, P.A., Jack N. Hardwick, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant.

Herrera, Long & Pound, P.A., Judith C. Herrera, Mark E. Komer, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellees.

OPINION

SERNA, Chief Justice.

{1} Donna Garcia-Montoya appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant the State Treasurer's Office (STO) on a claim of sex discrimination under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 28-1-1 to 15 (1969, as amended through 2000), and in favor of Defendants State Treasurer Michael Montoya and Deputy State Treasurer Robert Andermann on claims of breach of Garcia-Montoya's constitutional rights, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. This Court has jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to NMSA 1978, § 28-1-13(C) (1987). We affirm in part and remand for reconsideration in part.

I. Facts

{2} Garcia-Montoya was an employee of the STO. During David King's term as State Treasurer, Garcia-Montoya held the position of deputy director of administrative services. For the 1994 Democratic Party primary election, Garcia-Montoya campaigned for King. Defendant Montoya prevailed in both the primary and general elections for the seat of State Treasurer. Once Montoya took office, Garcia Montoya served as director of administrative services.

{3} In an affidavit, Garcia-Montoya described a pattern of politically motivated conduct from Montoya following the general election. Garcia-Montoya stated that Montoya, prior to taking office, asked her to call in sick for the last week of King's term in order to obstruct several last-minute promotions. Garcia-Montoya refused this request. After taking office, Montoya told Garcia-Montoya that he planned to "get his people in," that she had been too close to King, and that if she did not support Montoya she would regret his "wrath." Over the next few months, Garcia-Montoya questioned Montoya and his deputy treasurer, Defendant Andermann, about numerous personnel actions because she believed they violated personnel rules. She indicated to Montoya that she believed his employment decisions were politically motivated.

{4} In September of 1995, Montoya and Andermann transferred Garcia-Montoya from the position of director of administrative services to a newly created position designated as acting director of the local government investment pool. According to Garcia-Montoya, one of her subordinates was assigned to monitor her while she transferred her belongings to a new office and to inspect her belongings before she left her former office. Additionally, a locksmith changed the door locks for her former office while she packed her belongings. Garcia-Montoya claimed in her affidavit that when she confronted Montoya about the basis for the transfer he told her that he did not "trust any of you." Garcia-Montoya understood the remark to mean any King supporters in the office. Garcia-Montoya alleged that she became emotionally distraught as a result of the circumstances surrounding the transfer and that she was unable to return to work. {5} Following her transfer and inability to return to work, Garcia-Montoya filed suit in the district court against her former employer, the STO, as well as against Montoya and Andermann.1 Appealing an order of nondetermination from the Human Rights Division, see NMSA 1978, § 28-1-10(D) (1995), Garcia-Montoya claimed that the STO engaged in unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of the Human Rights Act. See NMSA 1978, § 28-1-7(A) (1995) (providing that it is unlawful discrimination for "an employer, unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification, to refuse to hire, to discharge, to promote or demote or to discriminate in matters of compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment against any person otherwise qualified because of ... sex"). Additionally, Garcia-Montoya alleged that Montoya and Andermann violated her constitutional rights to freedom of political association and free speech contrary to federal law, see 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994), amended by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Supp. IV 1998), and intentionally caused her to suffer extreme emotional distress. Garcia-Montoya also included a claim of defamation against Andermann.

{6} Montoya and Andermann denied Garcia-Montoya's allegations of politically motivated conduct. They filed a motion for summary judgment based on the affirmative defense of qualified immunity in response to Garcia-Montoya's claim under Section 1983 and based on immunity under the Tort Claims Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 41-4-1 to 29 (1976, as amended through 1995, prior to 1996, 1999, & 2000 amendments), with respect to her claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation, see NMSA 1978, § 41-4-4(A) (1989, prior to 1996, 1999, & 2000 amendments). The STO also moved for summary judgment on Garcia-Montoya's claim under the Human Rights Act, contending that she failed to provide any evidence of intentional sex discrimination. The district court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to each of Garcia-Montoya's claims.

II. Standard of Review

{7} "Summary judgment is proper if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Roth v. Thompson, 113 N.M. 331, 334, 825 P.2d 1241, 1244 (1992); accord Rule 1-056(C) NMRA 2000. In order to rule on a motion for summary judgment under Rule 1-056, courts must resolve all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant and must view the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions in a light most favorable to a trial on the merits. See Carrillo v. Rostro, 114 N.M. 607, 615, 845 P.2d 130, 138 (1992). "If there is the slightest doubt as to the existence of material factual issues, summary judgment should be denied." Las Cruces Country Club, Inc. v. City of Las Cruces, 81 N.M. 387, 387, 467 P.2d 403, 403 (1970). "Summary judgment is a drastic remedy to be used with great caution," Pharmaseal Lab., Inc. v. Goffe, 90 N.M. 753, 756, 568 P.2d 589, 592 (1977), and because summary judgment involves a question of law, we review the district court's ruling de novo, Phoenix Indem. Ins. Co. v. Pulis, 2000 NMSC 023, ¶ 6, 129 N.M. 395, 9 P.3d 639.

III. Federal Claims under Section 1983

{8} Section 1983 provides a cause of action for money damages against a state official in his or her individual capacity for the deprivation of federal constitutional or statutory rights. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989) (holding that Section 1983 does not extend to actions against States or state officials in their official capacity); see also Kennedy v. Dexter Consol. Sch., 2000 NMSC 025, ¶ 9, 129 N.M. 436, 10 P.3d 115. Under Section 1983, a state official's individual liability is limited by qualified immunity. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 813-19 & n. 30, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). Qualified immunity "shield[s] [government officials performing discretionary functions] from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Id. at 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727. Qualified immunity is necessary to protect public officers "from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability." Id. at 806, 102 S.Ct. 2727.

{9} The United States Supreme Court has established the proper procedure in assessing a claim of qualified immunity. "A court evaluating a claim of qualified immunity must first determine whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right at all, and if so, proceed to determine whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation." Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999) (quotation marks and quoted authority omitted). Applying this analytical guideline, we separately address Garcia-Montoya's Section 1983 claims, determining first whether there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Montoya and Andermann violated Garcia-Montoya's actual constitutional rights and second whether those rights, if violated, were clearly established at the time. "Deciding the constitutional question before addressing the qualified immunity question ... promotes clarity in the legal standards for official conduct, to the benefit of both the officers and the general public." Id. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that, although there are genuine issues of material fact concerning the violation of Garcia-Montoya's constitutional rights, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

A. Freedom of Political Association

{10} In Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976), the United States Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the practice of political patronage in the context of the First Amendment. A plurality of the Court explained that "political belief and association constitute the core of those activities protected by the First Amendment." Id. at 356, 96 S.Ct. 2673 (plurality opinion). "Patronage, therefore, to the extent it compels or restrains belief and association, is inimical to the process which undergirds our system of government and is at war with the deeper traditions of democracy embodied in the First Amendment." Id. at 357, 96 S.Ct. 2673 (quotation marks and quoted authority omitted).

{11} Despite the interference with the freedom of association, however, the plurality opined that political patronage would be...

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