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Montanez-Allman v. Garcia-Padilla

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 1, 2015

AGUSTIN MONTAÑ EZ-ALLMAN, Plaintiff, Appellee, MERCEDES PEGUERO-MORONTA; JEAN PIERRE PEGUERO-MORONTA; AGUSTIN MONTAÑ EZ-PEGUERO; JEAN PIERRE MONTAÑ EZ-PEGUERO; NICOLE MARIE MONTAÑ EZ-PEGUERO, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALEJANDRO GARCÍA-PADILLA; ELIZABETH LÓ PEZ-CABRERA, Defendants, Appellants, MIGUEL A. PEREIRA-CASTILLO; BIENVENIDO RAMOS; CARLOS RIVAS-QUIÑ ONES; MANUEL RIVERA-GARCIA; SENATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO; INGRID VILA-BIAGGI; EDUARDO BHATIA-GAUTIER; JORGE IRIZARRY-VIZCARRONDO; HÉ CTOR LÓ PEZ; ROSSANA LOPEZ-LEÓ N, Defendants

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Juan M. Pérez-Giménez, U.S. District Judge.

Margarita L. Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor General, Puerto Rico Department of Justice, for appellants.

Fredeswin Pérez-Caballero, with whom Pérez-Caballero Law Office was on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Howard and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 43

LYNCH, Chief Judge.

When the government of Puerto Rico changed hands following the November 2012 General Elections, the legislature enacted Law 75-2013 (" Law 75" ) which repealed Reorganization Plan No. 1-2011 (" 2011 Reorganization Plan" ) and in doing so purportedly " abolished" four positions that the 2011 Reorganization Plan had created. At the same time, the legislature also enacted several other laws creating " new" positions with substantially similar duties and removal limitations. When Governor Garcí a-Padilla filled the " new" positions, several of the now-displaced former officials brought suit in federal court. See, e.g., Dí az-Carrasquillo v. Garcí a-Padilla, No. 3:13-cv-01646 (D.P.R. filed Aug. 27, 2013).

This is an interlocutory appeal from one of those suits, that of former Veteran's Ombudsman Agustin Montañez-Allman. Montañez-Allman brought federal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Commonwealth law claims for fault

Page 44

or negligence under Article 1802 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 5141. This interlocutory appeal concerns a preliminary injunction, granted on due process grounds, that, inter alia, reinstated Montañez-Allman and vacated the political appointment of his replacement.

When this rather extraordinary relief issued, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court had not yet issued its opinion in the nearly identical case of Dí az-Carrasquillo v. García-Padilla. That opinion, issued on June 19, 2014, confirmed the availability of relief in Commonwealth court. Dí az-Carrasquillo v. García-Padilla, 2014 TSPR 75, 2014 WL 3013335, at *14-16 (P.R. 2014), petition for cert. filed, 83 U.S.L.W. __ (U.S. Mar. 3, 2015) (No. 14-1062) (certified translation provided by the parties). This, then, raises the question of whether Montañez-Allman remains entitled to federal injunctive relief for his due process claim. Cf. Acevedo-Feliciano v. Ruiz-Herná ndez, 447 F.3d 115, 124 (1st Cir. 2006). In light of the extraordinariness of the relief sought, the immense importance of this case to the Commonwealth's own constitutional balance of powers, and the relief now available under the Puerto Rico Supreme Court's decision in Dí az-Carrasquillo, which both parties agree is adequate, we remand with instructions to vacate the preliminary injunction within thirty days of the date of this opinion, and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

We provide only a limited summary of the facts as necessary to resolve the appeal. A more detailed description may be found in the district court's opinion. See Allman v. Padilla, 979 F.Supp.2d 205, 209-12 (D.P.R. 2013).

In June 2011, then-Governor Luis Fortuño appointed Montañez-Allman to a ten-year term as Acting Veteran's Ombudsman pursuant to the 2011 Reorganization Plan.[1] As relevant here, the 2011 Reorganization Plan established the ten-year fixed term, and placed limitations on the governor's removal power. Those limitations included a requirement of advance notice and the right to a ...


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