All federal claims against the village of Ruidoso brought by fired Fire Chief Tom Gavin were dismissed on May 15 by the U.S. District Court in New Mexico, which granted a summary judgment in favor of the village, but the suit will be pursued in state District Court, the Ruidoso News reported.
“We just sent a letter to the trial judge to put the case back on the court docket,” Gavin’s attorney J. Robert Beauvais told the News.
Gavin, who served as fire chief in Ruidoso from February 2009 to January 2011, had filed suit claiming the village violated his constitutional rights by terminating his employment without due process, according to a village news release.
He also contended that his firing was in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights, the News said.
Beauvais told the News that he wasn’t surprised at the federal court ruling and that his client’s intention from the outset was to file his suit in state court.
4/2/11 — Fired Ruidoso Fire Chief Is Suing the Village: His lawsuit claims he was retaliated against.
The former fire chief of Ruidoso has filed a lawsuit against the village claiming he was fired in January in retaliation for raising concerns about fire code violations, in one case involving a municipal remodeling project.
Former Chief Tom Gavin, hired in February 2008, was fired Jan. 4 by Ruidoso Village Manager Debi Lee. In a letter setting out 86 findings supporting her termination of Gavin’s employment, Lee cited the former chief’s “inability to lead your firemen, your autocratic leadership style, unprofessional and erratic behavior.”
But in the lawsuit filed this week in state District Court, Gavin said he has not been provided documents that support the village manager’s position. The lawsuit alleges the village violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act by failing to provide requested documents Gavin needs for a post-termination hearing.
Gavin’s lawsuit, filed by Ruidoso attorney J. Robert Beauvais, also alleges the village violated the former chief’s free speech rights and violated the state whistle-blower act by firing Gavin after he raised alarms about fire code violations.
Lee could not be reached for comment Friday, and the village attorney, Daniel Bryant, did not return a call for comment.
The lawsuit says in one situation, Gavin cited a central Ruidoso restaurant for 15 fire code violations after a July 23 inspection and ordered the restaurant to correct the problems within 30 days.
After the restaurant owner and the property owner complained about the inspection, and while Gavin was out of town on vacation, “Lee countermanded the remediation notice” and directed the assistant fire chief to reinspect the property, the lawsuit says. The second inspection found the same fire code violations, but the assistant fire chief gave the restaurant one year, rather than 30 days, to correct the problems.
According to the lawsuit, Gavin urged Lee to reinstate the 30-day deadline due to the seriousness of the violations, and the “real threat to human life and property” in the building, where a fire occurred two years earlier.
When his request was not granted, Gavin contacted the state fire marshal.
In another case that caused friction, Gavin claims village officials did not submit plans for the remodeling of the Ruidoso Convention Center for his review prior to the start of work. The lawsuit says Gavin noticed “serious fire code violations” in August at the Convention Center, including the fact the ceiling had been lowered so much that it interfered with the operation of the emergency sprinkler system. After Gavin contacted the state fire marshal, the village was required to fix the problems.