Nichols v. U.S., 85-2234

Decision Date18 July 1986
Docket NumberNo. 85-2234,85-2234
PartiesRandol NICHOLS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Catherine Gordon of Duhigg, Cronin & Spring, Albuquerque, N.M., for plaintiff-appellant.

William L. Lutz, U.S. Atty., and James D. Tierney, Asst. U.S. Atty., Albuquerque, N.M., and Noah Connell, of counsel, Washington, D.C., for defendant-appellee.

Before McKAY, MOORE, and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.

JOHN P. MOORE, Circuit Judge.

After examining the briefs and the appellate record, this three-judge panel has determined unanimously that oral argument would not be of material assistance in the determination of this appeal. See Fed.R.App.P. 34(a); Tenth Cir.R. 10(e). The cause is thereby submitted without oral argument.

In this action under the Federal Torts Claim Act, the plaintiff appeals the district court's judgment granting the government's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. We reverse and remand because the government failed to establish the material facts were not in dispute.


Randol Nichols was employed as a security guard by Teledyne Economic Development Company (Teledyne), which contracts with the United States Department of Labor to operate the Job Corps Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The record on appeal indicates that on March 15, 1983, Nichols answered a summons to transport a Job Corps enrollee, Gerald Lopez, to the isolation area of the center. While Lopez was being escorted to isolation, he bit Nichols' right middle finger. After several operations, the finger was amputated.

Nichols filed a complaint against the United States pursuant to the Federal Torts Claim Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1346(b). 1 The complaint alleges that Lopez "negligently bit the right middle finger of the Plaintiff ... and otherwise failed to act prudently under the circumstances." The government raised several defenses, including failure to state a claim for relief, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, 2 and the New Mexico Workmen's Compensation Act, N.M.Stat.Ann. Sec. 52-1-9 (1978), provided an exclusive remedy.

The government filed a motion to dismiss on March 21, 1985. In support of its motion, the government submitted a photocopy of the contract between Teledyne and the Department of Labor. On April 2, 1985, Nichols filed an affidavit in response to the government's motion, in which he elaborated on the circumstances of the injury. In his affidavit, Nichols stated:

I handcuffed Gerald Lopez and we were walking up the stairs to ... [isolation].

Mr. Lopez stumbled, and my right hand accidentally came across Mr. Lopez' mouth, and he accidentally bit the middle finger of my right hand.


I believe Mr. Lopez was drunk at the time of this incident and he did not have the capacity to form the intent to purposely injure me.

There was no prior personal animosity between Mr. Lopez and me.

In reply, the government reiterated its arguments that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case and that Nichols had failed to state a claim for relief.

On July 18, 1985, the district court granted the government's motion to dismiss. The court held, as a matter of New Mexico law, Lopez's conduct in "[b]eing in an intoxicated condition and requiring isolation ... cannot be considered in furtherance of the purposes of the Job Corps Act"; therefore, Lopez was not acting within the scope of his employment. Nichols v. United States, 612 F.Supp. 1194, 1195 (D.N.M.1985). In this appeal, Nichols argues that the district court converted the motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) into a motion for summary judgment without the requisite notice to the parties and without adhering to the evidentiary standards and burdens of proof required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.


Where a party has moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and matters outside of the pleadings have been presented to the court for consideration, the court must either exclude the material or treat the motion as one for summary judgment and dispose of it as provided by Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b); Carter v. Stanton, 405 U.S. 669, 92 S.Ct. 1232, 31 L.Ed.2d 569 (1972); State of Ohio v. Peterson, Lowry, Rall, Barber & Ross, 585 F.2d 454 (10th Cir.1978).

In cases where the district court intends to convert the motion, the court "should give the parties notice of the changed status of the motion and thereby provide the parties to the proceeding the opportunity to present to the court all material made pertinent to such motion by Rule 56." Peterson, 585 F.2d at 457. However, failure to give notice is not reversible error if a party does not attempt to exclude the supporting documents, but files its own sworn affidavits in response. See Dayco Corp. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 523 F.2d 389 (6th Cir.1975). Where a party has responded in kind to the movant's attempt to convert the motion, that party cannot later claim unfair surprise. Id.

The district court in this case did not exclude the documents and affidavits submitted by both parties but incorporated facts which were not alleged in the pleadings into its order dismissing the case. Therefore, the court converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Although the court did not give notice to the parties of its intent to convert the motion under Rule 12(b), Nichols did not object to the submission of the Department of Labor contract and, in fact, submitted an affidavit in support of his claim. On appeal, Nichols cannot complain of unfair surprise since he responded with "material made pertinent by Rule 56." Peterson, 585 F.2d at 457. Accordingly, we hold that the district court did not err in converting the motion and considering documents outside of the pleadings. 3


Although the district court opinion disposes of the action as a motion to dismiss, we must review the record under summary judgment standards since the order makes reference to documents outside of the pleadings. Owens v. Rush, 654 F.2d 1370, 1377 at n. 9 (10th Cir.1981); Carter, 405 U.S. at 671, 92 S.Ct. at 1234. Therefore, the district court's ruling should be affirmed if it is clear from the record on appeal that there are no genuine issues of fact to be tried and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bee v. Greaves, 744 F.2d 1387 (10th Cir.1984), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 1187, 84 L.Ed.2d 334 (1985). Once the motion has been converted, statements in the pleadings cannot create a factual dispute when the movant has produced affidavits which contain factual allegations contrary to the pleadings and which establish its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Review 71 v. Alloys Unlimited, Inc., 450 F.2d 482 (10th Cir.1971). However, if the movant fails to carry its burden under Rule 56 and its documents do not establish the absence of a genuine issue of fact, summary judgment must be denied, even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented. Luckett v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 618 F.2d 1373 (10th Cir.1980). See also Riggs v. British Commonwealth Corp., 459 F.2d 449 (10th Cir.1972).

Under New Mexico law, the definition of "scope of employment" is variable. 4 Tinely v. Davis, 94 N.M. 296, 609 P.2d 1252 (Ct.App.1980). Whether an employee's conduct is within the course and scope of his employment is a question of fact. Gonzales v. Southwest Security and Protection Agency, Inc., 100 N.M. 54, 665 P.2d 810 (Ct.App.1983). To facilitate this "difficult and hazardous" analysis, Tinley, 94 N.M. 296, 609 P.2d at 1253, the courts have adopted the following test of whether conduct was within the course of employment:

[A]n act is within the "course of employment" if (1) it be something fairly and naturally incident to the business, and if (2) it be done while the servant was engaged upon the master's business and be done, although mistakenly or ill advisedly, with a view to further the master's interest, or from some impulse of emotion which naturally grew out of or was incident to the attempt to perform the master's business, and did not arise wholly from some external, independent, and personal motive on the part of the servant to do the act upon his own account.

Gonzales, 665 P.2d at 811 (quoting Miera v. George, 55 N.M. 535, 237 P.2d 102 (1951) ).

It is not enough for the employer to establish that the employee's conduct was unauthorized. Hansen v. Skate Ranch, Inc., 97 N.M. 486, 641 P.2d 517 (Ct.App.1982). "A servant usually is not employed to be negligent, but this does not mean that a negligent act is outside the scope of his employment." Id., 97 N.M. 486, 641 P.2d at 521 (quoting White Auto Stores v. Reyes, 223 F.2d 298 (10th Cir.1955)). To escape liability an employer must show that when the wrongful act was committed, the employee had "abandoned his employment and was acting for a purpose of his own which was not incident to his employment." Hansen, 97 N.M. 486, 641 P.2d at 521. This factual analysis has also been applied to allegations of intentional torts. McCauley v. Ray, 80 N.M. 171, 453 P.2d 192 (1968) (ranchhand intentionally shot plaintiff).

In cases where summary judgment for the employer has been affirmed, the New Mexico courts have carefully scrutinized the relationship between the employee's job and the act which harmed the plaintiff. For example, in Tinley the court affirmed a summary judgment for the employer only after carefully reviewing evidence of the investigative work the employee was engaged in when he allegedly defamed the plaintiff. The court concluded the employer adequately established that the investigation had officially ended ten days prior to the meeting where the statements were made, and the employee was acting on the advice of his personal attorney. Because the plaintiff failed to rebut the employer's proof that the defamation was not made in the context of the...

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