Sinfuego v. Curry Cnty. Bd. of Cnty. Commissioners, No. CR 15-0563 JB\GJF

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
Writing for the CourtJames O. Browning, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Citation360 F.Supp.3d 1177
Parties Amanda SINFUEGO, Plaintiff, v. CURRY COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, a Political Sub-Division Existing Under the Laws of the State of New Mexico; Lance Pyle, in His Official Capacity as County Manager and Individually; Tori Sandoval, in Her Official Capacity as Curry County Curry Detention Administrator and in Her Individual Capacity, Defendants.
Decision Date27 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. CR 15-0563 JB\GJF

360 F.Supp.3d 1177

Amanda SINFUEGO, Plaintiff,
v.
CURRY COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, a Political Sub-Division Existing Under the Laws of the State of New Mexico; Lance Pyle, in His Official Capacity as County Manager and Individually; Tori Sandoval, in Her Official Capacity as Curry County Curry Detention Administrator and in Her Individual Capacity, Defendants.

No. CR 15-0563 JB\GJF

United States District Court, D. New Mexico.

Filed December 27, 2018


360 F.Supp.3d 1187

Eric D. Dixon, Attorney & Counselor at Law, P.A., Portales, New Mexico, Attorney for the Plaintiff.

Quentin Smith, Eleanor C. Werenko, Sheehan & Sheehan, P.A., Albuquerque, New Mexico --and-- Bryan D. Evans, Barbara Evans, Carla A. Neusch Williams, Atwood, Malone, Turner & Sabin, P.A., Roswell, New Mexico, Attorneys for the Defendants Curry County Board of Commissioners, Lance Pyle, and Tori Sandoval.

Dennis K. Wallin, Brandon Huss, Wallin, Huss & Associates, LLC, Moriarty, New Mexico, Attorneys for the Defendant Lance Pyle.

P. Scott Eaton, James P. Barrett, Eaton Law Office, P.C., Albuquerque, New Mexico, Attorneys for the Defendant Tori Sandoval.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

James O. Browning, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Curry County's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed June 12, 2018 (Doc. 121)("Motion"). The Court held a

360 F.Supp.3d 1188

hearing on September 25, 2018. The primary issues are: (i) whether Board of County Commissioners of Curry County, New Mexico ("Curry County") violated Plaintiff Amanda Sinfuego's First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America rights to freedom of speech, to petition for redress of grievances, and to freedom of association when Sinfuego's employment with Curry County Detention Center ("Curry Detention") was terminated after she petitioned Defendant Lance Pyle, the Curry County Detention Manager, about workplace conditions; met with Pyle about collective bargaining and workplace concerns; texted Curry County Detention Officers ("Curry Officers") notifying them that Pyle wanted to speak with them individually to prevent collective bargaining; signed the Petition from the Curry Officers to Administrator Tori Sandoval at 1, filed June 27, 2018 (Doc. 125-10)("Petition from Curry Officers to Sandoval"), and reported sexual harassment; (ii) whether Curry County took adverse employment actions against Sinfuego when it terminated her employment, removed her from the Special Operations Response Team ("S.O.R.T."), gave her night shifts and shifts in the women's annex, and interfered with her ability to choose her shifts; (iii) whether the Court should find Curry County liable for violating Sinfuego's First Amendment rights when Curry County had no custom dictating retaliation against union activities; (iv) whether Curry County violated the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 10-16C-3(A) ("NMWPA"), when it terminated Sinfuego after she complained about Pyle attempting to meet individually with Curry Officers seeking to create a union. Regarding Sinfuego's First Amendment claims, the Court concludes that: (i) Sinfuego's activities related to safety at Curry Detention touch matters of public concern, but Sinfuego's actions and statements related to pay, unionizing, shift bids, and sexual harassment do not involve public concerns; (ii) a jury could find that Curry County engaged in adverse employment actions when it terminated Sinfuego and removed her from S.O.R.T. but not that Curry County took adverse employment actions when it interfered with Sinfuego's ability to choose her shift, and assigned her to the night shift and women's annex; (iii) Sinfuego has not demonstrated a genuine question of fact whether Sinfuego's activities motivated Curry County's actions; and (iv) Sinfuego has not established a genuine question of fact whether Curry County terminated Sinfuego's employment, because she engaged in inappropriate sexual conversations and drawings during work hours in violation of the Curry County sexual harassment policy. Sinfuego has also not established a genuine factual question whether Curry County had a practice of retaliating against individuals engaged in union activities. Having resolved all of Sinfuego's federal claims, the Court will dismiss the state law claims without prejudice.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Court draws the factual background from the parties' undisputed material facts in the Memorandum Brief in Support of Defendant Curry County's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed June 12, 2018 (Doc. 122)("Memo."); in the Plaintiff Amanda Sinfuego's Response to "Defendant Curry County's Motion for Summary Judgment" and "Memorandum Brief in Support of Defendant Curry County's Motion for Summary Judgment" [Doc. 121-122], filed June 27, 2018 (Doc. 125)("Response"); and in the Reply Brief in Support of Defendant Curry County's Motion for Summary Judgment at 2, filed July 13, 2018 (Doc. 127)("Reply"). Curry Detention hired Sinfuego on August 16, 2010. See Memo. ¶ 1, at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Deposition of Amanda Sinfuego at 29:8-30:4 (taken April 20, 2018), filed June 12,

360 F.Supp.3d 1189

2018 (Doc. 122-1)("Sinfuego Depo. Doc. 122-1") ).1 2 On October 15, 2012, Gerry Billy, the Curry Detention Administrator in 2012, appointed Sinfuego as the Interim Executive Secretary, an administration and management position -- not a Curry Officer position. See Memo. ¶ 2, at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Sinfuego Depo. Doc. 122-1 at 72:5-73:6; id. at 75:3-15); Response ¶ 1, at 1 (admitting this fact).

On November 16, 2012, Curry Officers sent the Memorandum to County Administration (dated Nov. 16, 2012), filed June 12, 2018 (Doc. 122-2); the Memorandum to County Administration is a petition, which Sinfuego did not sign, because she held the Interim Executive Secretary position. See Memo. ¶ 3, at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Sinfuego Depo. Doc. 122-1 at 97:19-25; id. at 103:14-104:22; Memorandum to County Administration at 1-2); Response ¶ 1, at 1 (admitting this fact). The Memorandum to County Administration was sent "[o]n behalf of all detention officers, who currently work in the Curry County Adult Detention Center of Clovis New Mexico." Memo. ¶ 3, at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Memorandum to County Administration at 1).3 In the Memorandum to County Administration, the Curry Officers ask for a pay raise, complain about work conditions, and discuss unionizing. See Memo. ¶ 4, at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Memorandum to County Administration at 1).4 The Curry Officers, for instance, state: "We the workers are organizing to negotiate terms of working conditions vacation and pay," Memo. ¶ 4, at 2 (asserting this fact)(quoting Memorandum to County Administration at 1);5 and they also state: "We have looked into contacting and forming a union which can delegate on our behalf if necessary," Memo. ¶ 4, at 2 (asserting this fact)(quoting Memorandum to County Administration at 1).6 Regarding the work environment, the Curry Officers complain:

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"Every day we step into an environment of danger where in the past three months four Officers have been assaulted," Response ¶ 2(i), at 1 (asserting this fact)(quoting Memorandum to County Administration at 1); Reply at 2 (admitting this fact); and the Curry Officers further state: "Poor leadership is reflected by the county manager and Commissioners who only seem to collect their 100,000 plus wages," Response ¶ 2(ii), at 1 (asserting this fact)(quoting Memorandum to County Administration at 1); Reply at 2 (admitting this fact). Finally, the Curry Officers threaten: "We will be contacting the newspapers and making our plea public and only do that so our plight will not be ignored." Response ¶ 2(iii), at 1 (asserting this fact)(quoting Memorandum to County Administration at 1); Reply at 2 (admitting this fact).

On December 3, 2012, Sinfuego and Curry Officer Rene Garcia met with Pyle about the Curry Officers' concerns. See Memo. ¶ 5, at 1 (asserting this fact).7 At the meeting, Pyle noted that Sinfuego, as the Interim Executive Secretary, was "considered part of management," and thus Pyle would not treat her as representing the Curry Officers. Memo. ¶ 5, at 3 (asserting this fact)(citing Transcript of Conference with Lance Pyle, Amanda Sinfuego, and Rene Garcia on December 3rd, 2012 at 1:14-25 (taken Dec. 3, 2012), filed June 12, 2018 (Doc. 122-2)("Conf Tr.") ).8 Sinfuego informed Pyle that she would be returning to her position as a Curry Officer. See Response ¶ 3(i), at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Conf. Tr. at 1:20).9 At the meeting, Garcia did most of the talking. See Memo. ¶ 6, at 3 (asserting this fact).10 Garcia, Sinfuego, and Pyle discussed the

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Curry Officers' concerns about safety, including attacks on Curry Officers and the ratio of Curry Officers to inmates. See Response ¶¶ 3(ii)-(iii), at 2 (asserting this fact)(citing Conf. Tr. at 4:17; id. at 5:15-17; id. at 6:15-18; id. at 8:4-12).11 Garcia explained to Pyle that the Curry Officers' "main concern [is] just [their] safety," Reply at 3 (asserting this fact)(quoting Conf. Tr. at 4:17);12 that a couple days earlier there "was one person...

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4 practice notes
  • Lopez v. City of Belen, No. CIV 19-0855 RB/JHR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • June 25, 2020
    ...test to analyze freedom-of-speech retaliation claims. Couch , 587 F.3d at 1235 ; see also Sinfuego v. Curry Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs , 360 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1241 (D.N.M. 2018) (analyzing the plaintiff's claims that defendant violated her rights to freedom of speech, freedom to petition for ......
  • Mantooth v. Bavaria Inn Restaurant, Inc., Civil Action No. 17-cv-1150-WJM-MEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
    • January 28, 2019
    ...betweenc. The remainder of Defendants' Motion is DENIED;3. Plaintiffs' Motion for Relief (ECF No. 127) is GRANTED IN PART to clarify 360 F.Supp.3d 1177the severance of the fee- and cost-splitting clauses as follows:a. Any portion of any Agreement that Plaintiffs Mantooth or Lopez may have w......
  • Am. Fed'n of State v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs for Bernalillo Cnty., CV 19-001 MV/LF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • March 5, 2021
    ...the second step of the Garcetti/Pickering test. Ellins, 710 F.3d at 1058; see also Sinfuego v. Curry Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 360 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1246-47 (D.N.M. 2018) (holding that correctional officer's statements expressing concerns "about conditions, including safety and sanitation i......
  • Envtl. Dimensions, Inc. v. EnergySolutions Gov't Grp., No. 1:16-cv-1056-KWR-JHR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • February 14, 2020
    ...over a year before MTOA2 Task Order 1 was terminated is equally unsupported. See Sinfuego v. Curry County Bd. of County Commissioners, 360 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1225 (D.N.M. 2018) ("When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that n......
4 cases
  • Lopez v. City of Belen, No. CIV 19-0855 RB/JHR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • June 25, 2020
    ...test to analyze freedom-of-speech retaliation claims. Couch , 587 F.3d at 1235 ; see also Sinfuego v. Curry Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs , 360 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1241 (D.N.M. 2018) (analyzing the plaintiff's claims that defendant violated her rights to freedom of speech, freedom to petition for ......
  • Mantooth v. Bavaria Inn Restaurant, Inc., Civil Action No. 17-cv-1150-WJM-MEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
    • January 28, 2019
    ...betweenc. The remainder of Defendants' Motion is DENIED;3. Plaintiffs' Motion for Relief (ECF No. 127) is GRANTED IN PART to clarify 360 F.Supp.3d 1177the severance of the fee- and cost-splitting clauses as follows:a. Any portion of any Agreement that Plaintiffs Mantooth or Lopez may have w......
  • Am. Fed'n of State v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs for Bernalillo Cnty., CV 19-001 MV/LF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • March 5, 2021
    ...the second step of the Garcetti/Pickering test. Ellins, 710 F.3d at 1058; see also Sinfuego v. Curry Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 360 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1246-47 (D.N.M. 2018) (holding that correctional officer's statements expressing concerns "about conditions, including safety and sanitation i......
  • Envtl. Dimensions, Inc. v. EnergySolutions Gov't Grp., No. 1:16-cv-1056-KWR-JHR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • February 14, 2020
    ...over a year before MTOA2 Task Order 1 was terminated is equally unsupported. See Sinfuego v. Curry County Bd. of County Commissioners, 360 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1225 (D.N.M. 2018) ("When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that n......

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