Winter v. N.M. Dep't of Workforce Sols.

Decision Date12 September 2022
Docket NumberCiv. 21-475 JFR/SCY
PartiesDANNI LYNN WINTER, SUSAN BRAWNER, TYBER WARD, SATIOUS MARTINEZ, and ANTHONY BARELA, Plaintiffs, v. NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SOLUTIONS, and RICKY SERNA, in his official capacity as Acting Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Mexico

DANNI LYNN WINTER, SUSAN BRAWNER, TYBER WARD, SATIOUS MARTINEZ, and ANTHONY BARELA, Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SOLUTIONS, and RICKY SERNA, in his official capacity as Acting Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Defendants.

Civ. No. 21-475 JFR/SCY

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 12, 2022


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

JOHN F. ROBBENHAAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE, PRESIDING BY CONSENT

THIS MATTER is before the Court on three dispositive motions: Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 47), which relates to Count One of Plaintiffs' Complaint (“Motion to Dismiss Count One”), Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48), which relates to Counts Two and Three of Plaintiffs' Complaint (“Motion on Counts Two and Three”), and Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 52) (“Plaintiffs' Motion”). Plaintiffs responded in opposition to Defendants' Motions, and Defendants declined to reply. Docs. 49, 50, 51, 56.[2] Defendants did not respond to Plaintiffs' Motion. Doc. 54. Thus, each of these motions is ripe for decision. See D.N.M.LR-Civ. 7.1(b), 7.4(e).

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The Court, having reviewed the pleadings and applicable law, and being otherwise sufficiently advised, finds that the Motion to Dismiss Count One is not-well taken, and is therefore DENIED. The Court further finds that the Motion on Counts Two and Three is not well-taken insofar as Defendants attack the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, and it is thus DENIED in that respect. However, the Court finds Defendants' arguments for summary judgment on those claims are well-taken. Therefore, the Motion on Counts Two and Three is GRANTED in that respect, and the Court enters summary judgment for Defendants as to those Counts. Finally, the Court's entry of summary judgment for Defendants on Counts Two and Three obviates the need to consider Plaintiffs' Motion as to those Counts. With respect to Count One, the Court, sua sponte, finds that Plaintiffs have clearly failed to plead a claim with factual allegations upon which they can ultimately prevail, and that permitting leave to amend their Complaint would prove futile. Count One is therefore DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Danni Lynn Winter, Susan Brawner, Tyber Ward,[3] Satious Martinez, and Anthony Barela, filed suit against Defendants, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and its Acting Cabinet Secretary, Ricky Serna, alleging that they have been denied access to federal disaster benefits under The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, 15 U.S.C. § 9001 et seq. Doc. 1 at 1-4. Passed by Congress as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES act took effect on March 27, 2020.[4] Therein, Congress appropriated relief money “for making payments to States, Tribal governments, and units of

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local government.” 42 U.S.C. § 801(a)(1); see also Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Rsrv., 141 S.Ct. 2434, 2453 (2021) (Gorsuch, J., dissenting) (observing that the CARES Act “directed trillions of dollars to various recipients across the Nation to help them address the COVID-19 pandemic”).

New Mexico received funding from the CARES Act for eligible disbursements.[5] The CARES Act provided for a benefit known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”). 15 U.S.C. § 9021. PUA benefits were available to “‘covered individual[s]'” who were defined as “individual[s] who [are] not eligible for regular compensation or extended benefits under State or Federal law . . . including . . . individual[s] who ha[ve] exhausted all rights to regular unemployment or extended benefits under State or Federal law.” 15 U.S.C. § 9021(a)(3)(A)(i). As relevant here, a “‘covered individual'” also

(ii) provides self-certification that the individual-
(I) is otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of applicable State law, except the individual is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because-
(aa) the individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis
(bb) a member of the individual's household has been diagnosed with COVID-19
(cc) the individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual's household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
(dd) a child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work;
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(ee) the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
(ff) the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
(gg) the individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
(hh) the individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
(ii) the individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19;
(jj) the individual's place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
(kk) the individual meets any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section.

§ 9021(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(aa)-(kk). Defendants administered PUA benefits in New Mexico.[6]

Each Plaintiff unsuccessfully applied for Unemployment Insurance (“UI”) benefits through the State of New Mexico. Docs. 1 at 9-14; 48 at 4-6; 53-1 at 1-4, 7-16. Each Plaintiff also unsuccessfully sought PUA benefits through Defendants.[7] Docs. 1 at 8-14; 53-1 at 8, 11, 13, 16. The instant lawsuit commenced on May 21, 2021. Doc. 1. Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss Count One and Motion on Counts Two and Three on May 4, 2022. Docs. 47, 48. Plaintiffs Motion was filed on May 20, 2022. Doc. 52.

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Because Article III of the United States Constitution imposes a “threshold requirement” that litigants “who seek to invoke the power of the federal courts must allege an actual case or controversy,” O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 493 (1974), the Court first addresses the Motion to Dismiss Count One and the Motion on Counts Two and Three, as they bear on the Court's exercise of jurisdiction over this case. Concluding that the Court has jurisdiction, it proceeds to address the parties' competing requests for summary judgment in the order they were filed.

ANALYSIS

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A. Legal Standard

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) provides the defense of “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” An attack on the Court's “subject matter jurisdiction can be either facial or factual.” Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002-1003 (10th Cir. 1995). When a complaint's sufficiency is questioned, the attack is facial, and the Court is to “accept the allegations in the complaint as true.” Id. at 1002. An attack is factual if it looks past the complaint's allegations and strikes at the facts upon which the Court's subject matter jurisdiction hinges. Id. at 1003. In the latter situation, the Court “may not presume the truthfulness of the complaint's factual allegations,” and may consider extrinsic documents, such as affidavits, to decide factual disputes over subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) without converting the pleading to a motion for summary judgment. Id.

If, however, “the jurisdictional question is intertwined with the merits of the case,” it is compulsory that the Court “convert a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss into a Rule 12(b)(6) motion” or a motion for summary judgment. Id. “The jurisdictional question is intertwined with the merits of the case if subject matter jurisdiction is dependent on the same statute which

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provides the substantive claim in the case.” Id. “[T]he focus of this inquiry is not merely whether the merits and the jurisdictional issue arise under the same statute. Rather, the underlying issue is whether resolution of the jurisdictional question requires resolution of an aspect of the substantive claim.” Pringle v. United States, 208 F.3d 1220, 1223 (10th Cir. 2000).

B. The Court Has Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Defendants' attacks on the Court's subject matter jurisdiction are factual, and therefore the Court is not constrained to the allegations within the four corners of Plaintiff's Complaint, and considers extrinsic information. See Holt, 46 F.3d at 1002-1003. The basis of all three Counts of Plaintiff's Complaint is that they were denied access to apply for PUA benefits. Doc. 1 at 4. In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that “Count One of . . . Plaintiffs' Complaint became moot on March 24, 2022,” because on that date, Defendants “provided Plaintiffs with access to apply for PUA benefits under the CARES Act.” Doc. 47 at 3, 6. Thus, according to Defendants, because the controversy that forms the basis of Count One has ceased to exist, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Doc. 47 at 3. Plaintiffs respond that Defendants' assertion is inaccurate. Doc. 49 at 2-3. As support, Plaintiffs provide affidavits that affirmatively state that Defendants either provided no access to apply for PUA benefits at all or provided access that does not allow for a PUA benefits application that encapsulates the entire time period for which some Plaintiffs allege they were entitled to benefits. Doc. 49 at 2-3, 8, 1012.

Defendants take the same position in...

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