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In a recent ruling by the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, the court denied a tire maker’s summary judgment motion.  The tire maker had challenged via its summary judgment motion the ability of the plaintiff to collect damages for lost earnings or lost earning capacities.  The tire maker’s position was based on the fact that the decedent, who was killed in a car accident, was apparently an undocumented immigrant.

The defendant tire maker’s position in support of summary judgment was that the plaintiff should not be allowed to recover damages for the decedent’s future lost earning capacity because it would be illegal for him to work in the United States under federal law.  In support of its position, the defendant directed the court’s attention to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), which is the federal statutory scheme prohibiting the employment in the United States of undocumented foreign workers.  The federal court adjudicating the dispute understood the defendant to be making the policy argument that the federal court should not reward conduct that is unlawful under federal law.

The court disagreed with the defendant’s approach to the issue.  The court explained that it saw no reason for applying federal policy that was of questionable relevance in the lawsuit over clear New Mexico policy favoring compensation of injured people.  Further, the court was of the view that the New Mexico Supreme Court would hold that federal policy would not require a court to deny compensatory damages for lost earnings under New Mexico tort law.

Sometimes plaintiffs in New Mexico civil cases win their cases after proceeding to trial.  A recent ruling shows that a win can also be had by default when the defendant is non-responsive to service of process.

The plaintiffs in the case were migrant workers, who filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.  Service of process was attempted on the defendant on behalf of the plaintiffs, but it was unsuccessful.  The plaintiffs successfully moved the court thereafter to allow for alternative service of process.  The summons was returned executed and the complaint was left with the defendant’s father at a residence owned by the defendant.

According to the court’s ruling, the defendant against whom default judgment was sought did not file an answer to the complaint by the due date, appear before the court or file any pleadings with the court.  A recovery could not be had from a co-defendant, who the court explained had received a discharge in a bankruptcy case, making it essential for the plaintiffs to recover from the defaulting defendant if the law allowed for a default judgment.

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