Home News Local News Anaya revises wrongful death suit against city, state

Anaya revises wrongful death suit against city, state

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The widow of a local businessman has added a wrongful death claim and named five former and current state and city employees as defendants in a lawsuit alleging that the city of Roswell, the New Mexico Environment Department and some of their staff had a responsibility to inform the couple about environmental contaminants at the building where they worked for about 10 years.

Lynda Anaya claims that the pollutants caused the severe health problems that eventually led to the death of Raymond Anaya in November 2017 at age 73. Anaya had been a Golden Gloves boxer and was known in the area as a successful businessman and active community volunteer. He and Lynda also had five children together.

Lynda Anaya also alleges that the city, state and some of their employees should have closed the commercial building at 508 to 514 W. Second St. and stopped the operations of a dry cleaning business at the location. State and federal authorities have identified dry cleaners as the primary source of the potentially hazardous chemicals, including tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE).

Anaya and her lawyer, William “Liam” Griffin of Ruidoso, filed the amended complaint Feb. 3 with the Chaves County division of the New Mexico 5th Judicial District Court. Judge Thomas Lilley is assigned to the case.

“I don’t think they should be allowed to hide behind sovereign immunity when they knew about what was going on,” Anaya said. “They can’t give you a legitimate reason as to why we weren’t told, why the building wasn’t closed, why the city didn’t close the building and the New Mexico Environment Department should have told all the occupants of the hazards, but nobody did anything. They told the landlords, but they didn’t tell us.”

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Anaya also filed a separate wrongful death lawsuit on June 9, 2020, against Taylor Investments Inc., the owner of the West Second Street commercial building. That lawsuit also names several individuals as defendants because they are said to be representatives of Taylor Investments. They are John and Betty King, Kathryn and Mark Marley, and Karolyn King Gillespie. The defendants have denied the allegations in their responses to the suit, which is before Judge Jared Kallunki of the 5th Judicial District Court.

Anaya’s original complaints against the city and state were dismissed. Lilley noted that his decisions are based not on a consideration of claims or facts, but on legal grounds. In his Jan. 4 ruling regarding the city’s motion to dismiss, Lilley stated that Anaya had not specified an action that would have come under one of the exceptions to the sovereign or qualified immunity granted governmental entities and their employees under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.

In his Feb. 25 ruling in favor of the state’s motion, he said the Tort Claims Act has a statute of limitations that required Anaya to file the lawsuit no later than August 2019, two years after her complaint indicates that she was aware of both the presence of pollutants at the office site and her husband’s severe health problems, which began as early as 2008. She filed the original petition in November 2019.

Anaya’s amended complaint names Aaron Holloman, former city attorney; city building inspectors William Butts and William Bartlett; Sandra Ely, NMED Environmental Protection Division director; and Ryan Flynn, former NMED Cabinet secretary, as defendants.

The amended complaint states that several laws and ordinances required the governmental bodies and their employees to act. Among the ones cited is a provision of the city of Roswell ordinance that states that employees are “authorized to require or cause the repair, closing, demolition or removal of a dwelling unfit for human habitation.”

The complaint also refers to a state law directing the head of the New Mexico Environment Department, once aware of hazardous materials thought to represent a public health risk, to “require notice of such endangerment to be promptly posted at the site where the waste is located.”

The city of Roswell and its named defendants filed a new motion to dismiss on Feb. 26. That motion cites both the two-year statute of limitations under the Tort Claims Act and takes the position that the authority to act is not the same thing as a duty to act. It also notes that the commercial building was privately owned, so it does not fall under the “public building” exception to the Tort Claims Act.

The state has been given until March 11 to file an answer to the amended complaint.

The former Anaya office at 508 W. Second St. and the commercial building where it was located is only part of the large Lea and West Second Street Superfund Site that runs along West Second and East Second Street and near Virginia and Alameda avenues.

The site involves several groundwater plumes covering more than 1,000 acres. Soil and air contamination also has been detected. The site has been on the national priority list for cleanup since April 2016, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.