Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court

by
While the parties in this case litigated contempt proceedings over the course of seven years, the children at the center of the case aged out of the system and became peripheral to a nearly $4,000,000 judgment in favor of Respondents Janet and James Mercer-Smith, who pleased no contest to allegations of abuse against their two minor daughters Julia and Rachel. This case began in 2001 as an abuse and neglect proceeding and turned into a dispute over whether Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) had violated the district court's decision and Julia and Rachel could not be placed with former employees of a group home where they had been residing. After protracted litigation, the district court held CYFD in contempt for violating its placement decision and, almost four years later, imposed the sanction for the violation, ordering CYFD to pay the Mercer-Smiths more than $1,600,000 in compensatory damages and more than $2,000,000 in attorney fees and costs. The award was based on the district court’s determination that the violation of the placement decision resulted in the loss of the Mercer-Smiths' chance of reconciliation with Julia and Rachel. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that the purpose for which the district court exercised its contempt power was not remedial in nature and therefore could not be upheld as a valid exercise of civil contempt power. Accordingly, the Court reversed the contempt order and vacated the award in its entirety. View "New Mexico ex rel. CYFD v. Mercer-Smith" on Justia Law

by
In Moses v. Skanders (Moses II), the New Mexico Supreme Court considered whether using public funds to lend textbooks to private school students violated Article XII, Section 3. In Moses II, the Court held the plain meaning and history of Article XII, Section 3 forbade such lending. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently vacated the New Mexico Court's judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S.Ct. 2012 (2017). On remand, the New Mexico Court concluded its previous interpretation of Article XII, Section 3 raised concerns under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. To avoid constitutional concerns, the Court held that the textbook loan program, did not result in use of public funds in support of private schools as prohibited by Article XII, Section 3. The Court also held the textbook loan program was consistent with Article IV, Section 31 of the New Mexico Constitution, which addressed appropriations for educational purposes, and Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution. View "Moses v. Ruszkowski" on Justia Law

by
Casey Baker (Worker) appealed a Workers’ Compensation Administration decision denying his request that Endeavor Services, Inc. and Great West Casualty Company (Employer) pay 100% of Worker’s attorney fees pursuant to the fee-shifting provision set forth in NMSA 1978, Section 52-1-54(F)(4) (2003, amended 2013). At issue was whether Worker made an offer of judgment that was sufficient to trigger the fee-shifting provision. The New Mexico Supreme Court found Worker’s offer of judgment put Employer on notice that Worker was proposing an unambiguous partial settlement and that Worker intended to invoke the fee-shifting statute. Therefore, Worker made a valid offer under Section 52-1-54(F) (2003) and the workers’ compensation judge erred as a matter of law by declining to apply the mandatory fee-shifting provision. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Baker v. Endeavor Servs." on Justia Law

by
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (the Department) appealed a Court of Appeals decision to reverse the district court’s termination of Father’s parental rights with regard to Child. Mother and Father reported that Father had been standing and rocking Child when he accidentally dropped her on the carpet. Child was in critical condition, having sustained multiple fractures, including twenty-three rib fractures and four skull fractures in various stages of healing, facial bruising, liver lacerations, brain bleeding, and a possible detached retina. Doctors determined that the “volume, distribution, and severity of [Child’s] injuries [were] not consistent with a short fall in the home” and instead evidenced multiple incidents of blunt force trauma to Child’s head and body. Child was severely physically and mentally impaired as a result of the injuries. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to assist Father in remedying the conditions and causes of neglect and abuse that rendered Father unable to properly care for Child. The New Mexico Supreme Court granted certiorari to review whether the district court’s determination that the Department made reasonable efforts to assist Father was supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals opinion and affirmed the district court order terminating Father’s parental rights. View "New Mexico ex rel. CYFD v. Keon H." on Justia Law

by
In September 2013, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (Commission) adopted the Copper Mine Rule, 20.6.7 NMAC (Copper Rule). Petitioners argued the Copper Rule violates the Water Quality Act (WQA) because it was premised on an impermissible construction of the statutory phrase “place of withdrawal of water for present or reasonably foreseeable future use.” Petitioners asserted that, as a consequence of this impermissible construction of the statutory phrase, the Copper Rule permitted rather than prevented groundwater contamination at open pit copper mining facilities. The New Mexico Supreme Court rejected these arguments, concluding that the Copper Rule was premised on a permissible construction of the statutory phrase, and affirmed the Commission’s decision to adopt the Copper Rule. View "Gila Res. Info. Project v. N.M. Water Quality Control Comm'n" on Justia Law

by
New Energy Economy, Inc. (NEE) appealed a final order issued by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC). NEE contended the PRC violated New Mexico law by approving a contested stipulation granting the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) certificates of public convenience and necessity (CCNs) to acquire new generation resources and by filing a notice proposing to dismiss the protests to PNM’s 2014 integrated resource plan (IRP). The New Mexico Supreme Court determined NEE’s arguments were predicated on a mistaken understanding of the law, and NEE asked the Court to accept factual assertions that were rejected in earlier proceedings. The Court affirmed the PRC’s final order. View "New Energy Econ. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

by
Early in the proceedings in New Mexico ex rel. King v. Valley Meat Co., LLC, No. D-101- 3 CV-2013-3197 (Valley Meat case), A. Blair Dunn, counsel for Valley Meat Co., e-mailed an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request to First Judicial District Court Executive Officer Stephen Pacheco for production of, among other things, communications and records relating to the Valley Meat case, including “all communications between . . . Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff . . . and Court Clerk’s staff” and “[a]ny communications received by Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff, Judge Raymond Ortiz and his staff, and any member of the Court Clerk’s staff to/from any outside person or organization.” In this superintending control proceeding, the New Mexico Supreme Court clarified the constitutional and statutory procedures for IPRA enforcement actions to compel production of court records, and held that IPRA actions directed at a district court’s records had to be filed against the lawfully designated IPRA custodian and must be filed in the judicial district that maintains the records. Furthermore, the Court held that the contents of an officeholder’s personal election campaign, social media website, and the internal decision-making communications that are at the core of the constitutional duties of the judicial branch, such as preliminary drafts of judicial decisions, are not public records that are subject to mandatory disclosure and inspection under IPRA. View "Pacheco v. Hudson" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the New Mexico Public Education Department could take into consideration federal impact aid payments a school district receives, or is anticipated to receive, in the Department’s allocation of state equalization guarantee (SEG) distribution payments to the district during the fiscal year. The Court determined the Department could not reduce SEG distribution payments to a district based on anticipated impact aid payments or payments actually received until the State has received certification from the Secretary of the United States Department of Education (DOE Secretary) or the State has obtained permission from the DOE Secretary to consider impact aid prior to certification. Once the State has received its certification from the DOE Secretary, the certification shall apply retroactively to any impact aid payments received by the district during the entire fiscal year. View "N.M. Pub. Educ. Dep't v. Zuni Pub. Sch. Dist. #89" on Justia Law

by
The New Mexico Supreme Court consolidated two separate appeals of a final order of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) that granted a taxicab certificate to Q Cab, LLC for new taxicab service in Albuquerque. Two preexisting taxicab companies, Albuquerque Cab Company (Albuquerque Cab) and Yellow-Checker Cab Company (Yellow Cab) wanted the New Mexico Supreme Court to interpret the Motor Carrier Act, NMSA 1978, section 65-2A-1 to -41 (2003, as amended through 2017), because the Act had been recently amended, creating separate designations for “municipal” and “general” taxicab services, and added a definition of fitness which a candidate taxicab company must show, and the PRC must find, before an applicant may operate. The two preexisting companies sought a declaration with respect to their ability to protest new taxicab applications. The PRC determined Q Cab was fit to operate. The Supreme Court, after review, determined Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab were not statutorily protected from competing applicants; Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab both failed to demonstrate their respective businesses would be impaired; and that the PRC’s determination that Q Cab was fit to operated was supported by substantial evidence and was within the agency’s discretion. The Supreme Court affirmed the PRC’s final order. View "Albuquerque Cab Company, Inc. v. New Mexico Public Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner League of Women Voters of New Mexico sought a writ of mandamus directing Respondent Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission, to effectuate the compilation of three constitutional amendments to the so-called “unamendable section” of the New Mexico Constitution. Article VII, Sections 1 and 3 of the New Mexico Constitution set forth the elective franchise; the two provisions work in tandem to establish and guarantee the right to vote. Section 1, among other things, identifies who is qualified to vote; and Section 3 protects the right from being “restricted, abridged or impaired on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish 9 languages . . . .” To protect the elective franchise even further, the framers declared in two separate constitutional provisions that Article VII, Sections 1 and 3 “shall never be 12 amended except upon a vote of the people of this state in an election at which at least three-fourths of the electors voting in the whole state . . . shall vote for such amendment.” The proposed amendments to Article VII, Section 1 were submitted to the electorate in 2008, 2010, and 2014, and each received more than a majority, but less than a three-fourths super-majority, of the vote. The Compilation Commission did not compile the amendments into the Constitution. Petitioner asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to clarify that under a separate constitutional provision, the 2008, 2010, and 2014 amendments required the approval of only a simple majority of the voters. Respondent took no position on the merits of the question presented, but asked that the Court deny the petition on the grounds that Respondent was not a proper party. After full briefing by the parties and by numerous amici curiae and after hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued a writ of mandamus as requested by Petitioner. View "New Mexico ex rel. League of Women Voters v. Advisory Comm. to the N.M. Compilation Comm'n" on Justia Law