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

Docket NumberCiv. 21-475 JFR/SCY
Decision Date13 January 2023
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


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

January 13, 2023



THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiffs'[2] Amended Motion to Alter Judgment (“Motion”), filed October 27, 2022. Docs. 61, 62. Defendants did not file a responsive pleading, and Plaintiffs notified the Court that their Motion is ripe for decision. Doc. 63. On December 8, 2022, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to provide supplemental briefing limited to discussing (1) which Plaintiffs have received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) benefits from Defendants, and (2) whether a live controversy continues to exist between the parties. Doc. 65. Plaintiffs and Defendants each filed a brief responsive to the Court's inquiries. Docs. 66, 67.


Having considered the pleadings, the applicable law, and being otherwise sufficiently advised,[3]the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion.


The Court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order (“Order”) (Doc. 57) on September 12, 2022, addressing three dispositive motions in this case: Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 47), Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48), and Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 52, 53). The Court's rulings therein disposed of Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety: Count One was dismissed for failure to plead a viable claim, and summary judgment was entered in favor of Defendants on Counts Two and Three. Docs. 57 at 21-22; 58. The Court entered a Final Judgment and Order of Dismissal (“Final Judgment”) accordingly. Doc. 58.

On October 11, 2022, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Alter Judgment. Doc. 59. Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion on October 27, 2022. Doc. 61. The Motion challenges only the Court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Count Two. See generally Doc. 62. Count Two of Plaintiff's Complaint alleged that Defendants “violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by failing to provide them with notice and a hearing prior to denying them benefits to which they have a legitimate claim of entitlement.” Doc. 1 at 16. The benefits to which Plaintiffs claim they are entitled are PUA benefits,[4] provided for under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security


(“CARES”) Act, 15 U.S.C. § 9001 et seq. Doc. 1 at 3-4. In its Order, the Court concluded, in relevant part, that Plaintiffs did not have a property interest in PUA benefits and granted summary judgment on Count Two in favor of Defendants. Doc. 57 at 13-15.


I. Justiciability

The Court begins its analysis with the question of justiciability, given the developments stated in Plaintiff's Motion. Specifically, Plaintiffs represent that “On September 8, 2022, Defendants' counsel communicated to the undersigned via email that Defendants had not only accepted and begun to process Plaintiffs' PUA applications, but had approved two of them.” Doc. 62 at 7. Plaintiffs also attached the email from Defendants' counsel where this information was communicated, which states, in relevant part:

Wanted to let you know we have completed processing PUA benefits for [Plaintiffs] Satious Martinez and Anthony Barela back to March 2020. Since we had already completed the certifications for that period, we did not need any additional informatoin [sic] and the payment will be on their debit cards tomorrow. We are still working on the other two plaintiffs in that case

Doc. 62-1 at 5. These developments prompted the Court to order supplemental briefing. Doc. 65. Given the operative allegation in Plaintiffs' Complaint, i.e., that Defendants denied them access to apply for PUA benefits, Doc. 1 at 7-8, a showing to the contrary may render the case moot and divest the Court of subject-matter jurisdiction. See Arizonans for Off. Eng. v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 67 (1997) (“To qualify as a case fit for federal-court adjudication, an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); see also Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (stating that federal courts “have an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists”).


In their supplemental briefing, Plaintiffs represent that Plaintiff Danni Lynn Winter is still unable to meaningfully utilize Defendants' website to apply for PUA benefits. Doc. 67 at 34. Defendants' brief offers contrary representations. Doc. 66 at 1-4. Given that the controversy between the parties appears unresolved, the Court is satisfied that the matter is justiciable and that it retains subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. See Kansas Jud. Rev. v. Stout, 562 F.3d 1240, 1246 (10th Cir. 2009). The Court turns now to discuss the legal principles governing Fed R. Civ. P. 59(e), the vehicle with which Plaintiffs bring the instant Motion.

II. Rule 59(e)

“The purpose of a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend is to correct manifest errors of law or to present newly-discovered evidence. Such a motion is not intended to allow the parties to relitigate previous issues, advance new theories, or rehear the merits of a case.” Brinkman v. State of Kan., Dep't of Corr., 869 F.Supp. 902, 904 (D. Kan. 1994) (alteration, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted); accord Phelps v. Hamilton, 122 F.3d 1309, 1324 (10thCir. 1997). In considering a Rule 59(e) motion, the Court must remain cognizant that, while it has some discretion in making its ruling, there is a strong public interest in protecting the finality of judgments. Nelson v. City of Albuquerque, 921 F.3d 925, 929 (10th Cir. 2019). The basis of Plaintiffs' Motion is that the district court committed legal error in its Order. Doc. 62 at 2. It is through this lens that the Court conducts its analysis. To the extent that Plaintiffs raise new issues in their Motion, they are not considered. See White v. N.H. Dep't of Emp. Sec., 455 U.S. 445, 451 (1982) (“[T]he federal courts generally have invoked Rule 59(e) only to support reconsideration of matters properly encompassed in a decision on the merits.”).


III. The Merits of Plaintiffs' Motion

At the outset, the Court recognizes, as do Plaintiffs, in reference to Defendants' failure to respond to their Motion, that D.N.M.LR-Civ. 7.1(b) states: “The failure of a party to file and serve a response in opposition to a motion within the time prescribed for doing so constitutes consent to grant the motion.” Doc. 63. However, the Court must constrain its use of this rule to those situations where the relief sought is properly granted. Baumeister v. N.M. Comm'n for the Blind Adult Orientation Ctr., 425 F.Supp.2d 1250, 1268-69 (D.N.M. 2006) (“Pursuant to D.N.M.[]LR-Civ. 7.1(b), the [c]ourt treats an issue to which no timely response is made as unopposed and resolves the issue in favor of the moving party, unless it would be incorrect or improper to do so.”).

As mentioned above, in its Order, the Court concluded that Plaintiffs do not have a property interest in PUA benefits. Doc. 57 at 13-15. This is the aspect of the Court's ruling that Plaintiffs primarily challenge in their Motion. Doc. 62 at 2-18. In addition, Plaintiffs point to various other aspects of the Court's Order that they claim are clearly legally erroneous. Id. at 1824. For the reasons that follow, the Court is not persuaded that its conclusion that Plaintiffs do not possess a property interest in CARES Act benefits is legally erroneous. Therefore, as explained below, the Court need not reach Plaintiffs' contentions that do not bear on their position that there is a property interest in CARES Act benefits, because in the absence of a property interest, Defendants could not have violated Plaintiffs' rights to due process.[5] See U.S.


Const. amend. XIV, § 2. However, in the interest of clarity, the Court briefly addresses these arguments.

A. There Is No Property Interest in CARES ACT Benefits

Plaintiffs take issue with the persuasive authority the Court relied upon in reaching its ruling that they have no property interest in CARES Act benefits and provide additional persuasive authority they claim supports their position. Id. at 2-6, 13-14. The Court first examines the persuasive authority on which Plaintiffs rely in their Motion. According to Plaintiffs, Murguía v. Childers, No. 20-CV-5221, 2021 WL 799876 (W.D. Ark. Mar. 2, 2021) stands for the proposition that a property interest exists in PUA benefits. Doc. 62 at 13-14. This is not so. In Murguía, the plaintiff, whose English proficiency was limited, applied for unemployment benefits and was deemed ineligible. 2021 WL 799876, at *2. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant alleging, inter alia, that she was deprived of procedural due process because the defendant did not “provide language access and . . . delay[ed] in making an accurate determination on her application for unemployment benefits.” Id. at *3. As relevant here, the plaintiff alleged that, at the time she first applied for unemployment benefits, she was not told that she may be eligible for PUA benefits. Id. at *2. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Id. at *3. In denying the motion as it pertained to the plaintiff's due process claim, the court based its ruling on the inadequacy of the defendant's briefing, focusing specifically on the...

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