School district seeks lawsuit's dismissal

Judge considers motion in wrongful termination lawsuit

Steve Garrison
Plaintiff Patrick Cheney, right, sits with his lawyer Chris Hatfield Thursday in Aztec District Court.

AZTEC – A district judge heard arguments Thursday about whether to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the Farmington Municipal School District and its employees by former Piedra Vista High School theater manager Patrick Cheney.

The school district's attorney, Ethan Watson, argued at the hearing that the district, as a government entity, is immune from liability, except under certain circumstances enumerated in the Tort Claims Act.

Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, a plaintiff who files claims of negligence against a government entity is required to show damages resulting from bodily injury, wrongful death or property damage, according to Watson.

Cheney suffered no such damages, Watson said. Therefore, his claims, which included emotional distress, false arrest, malicious prosecution, negligent supervision and wrongful termination, should be dismissed, Watson said.

Cheney's attorney, Christian Hatfield, conceded the negligent supervision and emotional distress claims may need to be dismissed, but argued the district and its employees were not immune from liability related to the other claims.

Ethan Watson, an attorney for the Farmington Muncipal School District, left, and Chris Hatfield, right, an attorney for plaintiff Patrick Cheney,  speak with District Court Judge Bradford Dalley Thursday in Aztec District Court.

Judge Brad Dalley said he would consider the arguments and issue an opinion by the end of the month.

Cheney, 48, claims in the lawsuit filed March 3 that he was fired unjustly from Piedra Vista High School and then arrested after school officials made false accusations of embezzlement against him.

Cheney was charged on June 19, 2014, with felony embezzlement on allegations he stole funds from the Turano-Chrisman Performing Arts Center, but the charges quickly were dismissed after the San Juan County District Attorney's Office determined the case against him likely would not succeed at trial.

Cheney seeks unspecified damages.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.