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Torres-Rivera v. Garcia-Padilla

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 6, 2015

HONORABLE BASILIO TORRES-RIVERA, President of the Puerto Rico Industrial Commission, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
ALEJANDRO GARCÍA-PADILLA, individually and as Governor of Puerto Rico; GRACE SYLVETTE LOZADA-CRESPO, individually and as Designated President of the Puerto Rico Industrial Commission, Defendants, Appellants

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge.

Margarita L. Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor General, Puerto Rico Department of Justice, with whom Susana I. Peñagarícano-Brown, Assistant Solicitor General, Puerto Rico Department of Justice, was on brief, 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.

The government of Puerto Rico changed hands as a result of the November 2012 General Elections, and quickly passed laws to " reorganize" different agencies. Many of the officials displaced as a result brought suit, claiming political discrimination and due process violations. See Torres-Rivera v. Garcia-Padilla, No. 14-1040, 2014 WL 357172, at *1 n.2 (D.P.R. Jan. 31, 2014) (listing cases).

This is an interlocutory appeal from one of those cases. It concerns the change effected by Law 180-2013, which explicitly made the position of the Chair of the Puerto Rico Industrial Commission (" PRIC" ) freely removable, and Governor Alejandro García-Padilla's subsequent decision to remove the then-Chair, Basilio Torres-Rivera, and to appoint a replacement. Torres-Rivera responded almost immediately by bringing suit against García-Padilla and the new PRIC Chair, Grace Sylvette Lozada-Crespo, alleging violations of his constitutional rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as violations of Puerto Rico constitutional and statutory law. The district court granted a preliminary injunction based on Torres-Rivera's due process claim that, inter alia, vacated the appointment of his replacement, Lozada-Crespo, and reinstated Torres-Rivera.

Federal injunctive relief concerning the selection of high-level political appointments in Commonwealth government is as extraordinary as it is rare. Since the district court issued its preliminary injunction, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico has made clear the importance of these cases to the Commonwealth's own constitutional balance of powers, see Dí az Carrasquillo v. García Padilla, 2014 TSPR 75, 2014 WL 3013335 (P.R. 2014) (certified translation provided by the parties), and the parties agree that the relief available under Commonwealth law is adequate here. Accordingly, we again face the question of whether Torres-Rivera remains entitled to federal injunctive relief for his due process claim given the conceded adequacy of Commonwealth remedies. Cf. Montañez-Allman v. García-Padilla, No. 13-2384, (1st Cir. Apr. 1, 2015) ; Acevedo-Feliciano v. Ruiz-Hernandez, 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 Torres-Rivera's failure to allege that Commonwealth procedure is inadequate, 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.

Page 44

I.

We summarize only the facts necessary to resolve the appeal.

Established in 1935, the PRIC is the Puerto Rico agency charged with reviewing decisions made by the Administrator of the State Insurance Fund on claims for workers' compensation. The governor appoints the Commissioners of the PRIC with the advice and consent of the Senate of Puerto Rico. The governor also appoints the Chair, with the advice and consent of the Senate, who " serve[s] simultaneously as a Commissioner and the Administrative Head of [the] Agency." P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 11, § 8 (2010).

In May 2012, then-Governor Luis Fortuño appointed Torres-Rivera as Commissioner and Chair of the PRIC, and the Puerto Rico Senate confirmed his appointment a month later.[1] At the time of his appointment, the term of office was six years, pursuant to Law 45 of 1935, as amended through Law 141-2009.[2] The parties dispute whether this six-year term attached to a joint ...


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