Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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Twenty-seven New Mexico county clerks sought an emergency writ to compel Respondent, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, to mail absentee ballots directly to all registered voters in lieu of conducting in-person voting in the June 2020 primary election. They requested this extraordinary relief because the primary election was scheduled amidst a global pandemic and national and statewide public health emergency: COVID-19, a novel, potentially fatal, viral disease that was spreading unchecked throughout the population. Petitioners alleged that in-person voting could not be conducted safely under those circumstances, and they urged the New Mexico Supreme Court to hold that the requested relief was necessary to protect the health of election workers, voters, and the general public. Respondent stipulated to the petition. The Supreme Court concluded the Election Code did not permit the Secretary of State to mail absentee ballots directly to voters without a prior request from the voter. However, the Election Code permitted the Secretary to mail absentee ballot applications to voters to encourage and facilitate absentee voting. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, under the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the "clear and present risk to public health presented by mass gatherings and the executive orders mandating that all branches of government take all lawful steps to mitigate that risk," the Secretary of State had a duty to exercise her power to the fullest extent of the law to promote the safety of election workers and voters while conducting the June 2020 primary election. Therefore, the Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus ordering the Secretary of State to mail absentee ballot applications to eligible voters to encourage absentee voting and minimize the health risk to the public. This remedy "promotes the public health goals mandated by the Governor while not infringing on the Legislature’s plenary power to establish election procedures." The Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning. View "New Mexico ex rel. Riddle v. Toulouse Oliver" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court’s review centered on the executive branch’s authority to impose business restrictions during a pandemic. Specifically, the Court was asked to address: (1) whether Petitioners were authorized to restrict or close businesses when necessary for the protection of public health; and (2) whether the renewed temporary closure of indoor dining at restaurants and breweries, mandated by a July 13, 2020, emergency public health order (July Order), was arbitrary and capricious. With respect to the first question the Supreme Court held, consistent with its opinion in Grisham v. Reeb, 2020-NMSC-___, (S-1-SC-38336, Nov. 5, 2020), that Petitioners were so authorized. With respect to the second question, the Court held that the July Order’s temporary closure of indoor dining was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Lujan Grisham v. Romero" on Justia Law

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The Harding County, New Mexico Board of County Commissioners, the Mosquero Municipal Schools Board of Education, and the Roy Municipal Schools Board of Education (collectively, Petitioners) petitioned for a writ of mandamus to compel the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and the department’s Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke (collectively, the Department) to establish values for two high-voltage transmission lines in Harding County and report those values to the Harding County Assessor (Assessor) so that property taxes could be assessed on the lines. A district court issued the writ, and a dispute arose over whether the Department complied as ordered. Petitioners moved for an order to show cause, and requested fees associated with petitioning for the writ. After full briefing and a hearing, the district court held the Department in contempt for failing to comply with the district court’s order and awarded Petitioners their costs and fees related to the order to show cause. The Department appealed and sought review of the Peremptory Writ, the contempt holding, and the award of costs and fees. The Court of Appeals declined to review the merits of the Peremptory Writ, concluding that the Department failed to timely appeal that final order. However, the Court of Appeals reviewed the “issues relating to the Contempt Order and the Order for Fees and Costs” and affirmed the district court. The Department petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for certiorari review pursuant to Rule 12-502 NMRA. The Court granted certiorari, and finding no reversible error, affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Harding Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. N.M. Tax'n & Revenue Dep't" on Justia Law

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Anastacia Morper sought preprimary designation as a candidate for the office of United States Representative from New Mexico’s Third Congressional District at the 2020 Republican Party Pre-Primary Convention. The Secretary of State invalidated forty-four of Morper’s nominating petitions because those petitions omitted the heading “2020 PRIMARY NOMINATING PETITION,” which the Secretary deemed to be critical information required by law. By extension, the Secretary invalidated the signatures on those forty-four nominating petitions. In doing so, the Secretary invalidated over seven hundred signatures, leaving only forty-three signatures on the five nominating petitions the Secretary did not invalidate. The Secretary informed Morper that she had not received the “minimum number of signatures required” to be “qualified as a candidate” for the preprimary convention. Morper appealed the Secretary’s decision to the district court. The district court upheld the Secretary’s decision concluding that “the Secretary of State has the right to reject . . . nominating petitions that were not on the form prescribed by law.” The Supreme Court reversed. "We appreciate that the reviewing official at the Secretary’s office may have been required to give the nominating petitions that Morper filed more than a cursory glance to ascertain that the petitions were in the form that Section 1-8-30(C) prescribes, contained the information that Section 1-1-26(A) requires, and were identical to the Secretary’s Form except for the omitted heading. However, this additional attention does not justify the Secretary’s argument that allowing her to invalidate any form that omitted the heading that she approved—regardless of whether the remainder of the form is identical to the Secretary’s Form—protects the integrity and fairness of the elective franchise." View "Morper v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Andrew Jones appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), dismissing Jones’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) enforcement action. Jones argued the district court misconstrued Section 14-2-1(A)(4) and incorrectly allowed DPS to withhold requested public records solely because the records related to an ongoing criminal investigation. Jones further argued the Court of Appeals was incorrect to hold that he acquiesced to the district court’s interpretation of Section 14-2-1(A)(4), was incorrect to hold that his lawsuit was moot, and wrongly dismissed his appeal. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded Jones was correct. The Court of Appeals was reversed, and the district court's grant of summary judgment to DPS was too, concluding that the district court’s interpretation of Section 14-2-1(A)(4) was overbroad and contrary to the plain language of the statute. "That misinterpretation also led the district court to incorrectly deny summary judgment to Jones at an earlier point in the case. Accordingly, we reverse that judgment as well." View "Jones v. N.M. Dep't of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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GandyDancer, LLC, and Rock House CGM, LLC, were business competitors, and both provided railway construction and repair services to BNSF Railway Company. BNSF awarded contracts to Rock House to provide goods and services in New Mexico. GandyDancer filed a complaint with the New Mexico Construction Industries Division (CID) in 2015 that alleged Rock House violated the Construction Industries Licensing Act (CILA), by performing unlicensed construction work in New Mexico. GandyDancer thereafter filed a complaint in district court against Rock House, alleging theories of competitive injury, and including a claim that Rock House engaged in unfair methods of competition to obtain contracts with BNSF contrary to the UPA. GandyDancer alleged Rock House’s acts amounted to an “unfair or deceptive trade practice” under Section 57-12-2(D) of the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act (UPA). The district court certified for interlocutory review whether the UPA supported supports a cause of action for competitive injury. The Court of Appeals accepted interlocutory review and held that a business may sue for competitive injury based on a plain reading of the UPA. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed, because the Legislature excluded competitive injury from the causes of action permitted under that statute. Furthermore, the Court observed that Gandydancer relied upon dicta in Page & Wirtz Construction Co. v. Soloman, 794 P.2d 349. Therefore, the Court formally disavowed reliance on Page & Wirtz or prior New Mexico case law that conflicted with its opinion here. View "GandyDancer, LLC v. Rock House CGM, LLC" on Justia Law

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Following the death of Patricia Lewis (Worker), her widower Michael Lewis (Petitioner) was awarded death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) based the award on the finding that Worker, while employed with Albuquerque Public Schools (Employer), contracted allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) which proximately resulted in Worker’s death. Employer appealed the award to the Court of Appeals. Pertinent here, the appellate court concluded: (1) the WCJ correctly rejected Employer’s argument that Petitioner’s claim for death benefits was time-barred; and (2) he WCJ erred in excluding from evidence certain medical testimony and records which Employer contended related to Worker’s cause of death. The Court of Appeals therefore remanded the case for retrial on whether Worker’s ABPA “‘proximately result[ed]’” in her death. On the first issue, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that Petitioner’s claim for death benefits was not time-barred, and affirmed. On the second issue concerning the WCJ’s exclusion of medical testimony and evidence on Worker’s cause of death, the Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of Section 52-1-51(C), but agreed based on the Supreme Court's own interpretation of Section 52-1-51(C) that the case had to be remanded for further proceedings. In all other respects, the opinion of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. View "Lewis v. Albuquerque Public Schools" on Justia Law

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New Energy Economy (NEE) appealed a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission or PRC) order approving Public Service Company of New Mexico’s (PNM) renewable energy procurement plan (Plan) for the year 2018. In its application, PNM sought to demonstrate its compliance with Renewable Energy Act requirements and obtain the Commission’s approval of renewable energy procurements, among other items. NEE challenged the Commission’s approval of PNM’s 2018 Plan by arguing that PNM’s proposed procurement of solar energy generating facilities relied on an unfair request for proposal (RFP) process. NEE contended PNM designed its RFP to limit the universe of potential bidders and select its predetermined, preferred type of renewable energy bid. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded NEE did not meet its burden of proving that the Commission’s approval of the solar energy procurement was unreasonable or unlawful because evidence in the record supported the Commission’s determination that the challenged provisions of the RFP were reasonable under the facts and circumstances of this case. The Court, therefore, affirmed the Commission's final order approving PNM's 2018 Plan. View "N.M. Indus. Energy Comm'n v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the final order of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission) granting part, but not all, of the increase in retail electric rates sought by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). The Commission’s final order was appealed by PNM and cross-appealed by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA), New Energy Economy (NEE), and the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers (NMIEC). On appeal, PNM, NEE, ABCWUA, and NMIEC all raised numerous issues with the Commission’s final order. In this opinion the New Mexico Supreme Court addressed challenges made to the Commission’s decisions regarding Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the installation of balanced draft technology at San Juan Generating Station, the new coal supply agreement at Four Corners Power Plant, the inclusion of Rate 11B in rate banding, PNM’s prepaid pension asset, and the adoption of Method A. The Supreme Court rejected each of the arguments on appeal except one: the Court concluded that, by denying PNM any future recovery for its nuclear decommissioning costs related to the Palo Verde capacity at issue in this case, the Commission denied PNM due process of law. Therefore, the Court declared all other aspects of the Commission’s final order to be lawful and reasonable, yet annulled and vacated the final order in its entirety pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 62-11-5 (1982). The matter was remanded to the Commission for further proceedings as required and the entry of an order consistent with the Court’s opinion. View "Public Serv. Co. of N.M. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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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