Judge dismisses Belen's request for an injunction against Los Lunas

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It was city versus village at a district court hearing Tuesday morning.

And in the end, the judge granted the village of Los Lunas' motion to dismiss the city of Belen's request for an injunction against Los Lunas.

In April, Los Lunas councilors approved a resolution supporting a hospital in the village. The resolution presented a side-by-side comparison of the village's project and that of a competing hospital in Belen.

In turn, Belen filed an injunction against the village in an attempt to halt the distribution of the resolution, saying there was "blatantly false and misleading" information in the document about the city's hospital project.

District Court Judge Violet Otero granted the village's motion to dismiss Tuesday, saying the resolution passed by the council did not have the force of law.

Larry Guggino, attorney for Los Lunas, argued there was a difference between a resolution and an ordinance.

While an ordinance has to be adopted through a rigid set of statutory rules, including publications and public hearings, a resolution is simply approved by a governing body.

"The village stated its opinion on the differences between the two (hospital) projects. Which location would be better," Guggino said. "The resolution can't force the county to do anything, can't force Stern Brothers to withdraw funding.

"And the proof is in the pudding. The county has entered into a contract with Belen and will contract with whoever the city chooses. The resolution didn't affect the county in any way. To the extent the city did state a claim, it is moot."

Guggino continued, saying case law is clear on the matter — a resolution doesn't have the weight of law.

"This is political speech. That's all this is," the attorney said. "Two governing bodies disagree on the best place to put a hospital and the best way to spend $20 million."

The $20 million Guggino is referring to is the expected total to be generated by an existing countywide mill levy.

The village's attorney said Belen is asking the councilors to rescind the resolution at issue and not pass any further resolutions on the subject.

"They are asking you to issue a gag order," Guggino told the judge. "We're at odds over what the best place is (for a hospital). That doesn't give the court jurisdiction to hear this."

Guggino also cited a lawsuit between the city of Albuquerque and the village of Los Ranchos over the city's approval of a resolution to build the Montaño Bridge.

"Albuquerque then went out and started doing it, building the bridge through part of Los Ranchos," Guggino said.

In this case, Belen makes claims of things that "may" or "might" happen because of the resolution, he argued.

"People are still going to argue about this. Council members are still going to talk about whether this is a good idea or a bad idea, unless the court is enjoining everybody," he said.

Arguing that the issue goes beyond a "simple difference of opinion," Charles Rennick, an attorney with Robles, Rael and Anaya, the law firm representing Belen, said the court needed to look at what powers municipalities were authorized to exercise, according to the municipal code.

That portion of the code says governing bodies may adopt ordinances or resolutions to provide for the safety, preserve the health, promote prosperity and improving the morals, order comfort and convenience of the municipality and its inhabitants.

Rennick said the village had broad authority to state policy for residents.

"If only an ordinance can state policy, then allowing for resolutions is redundant," Rennick said. "Los Lunas has adopted an official policy. In the resolution, the reasoning was that Los Lunas was more sustainable, better than Belen.

"On every point, Los Lunas was good and Belen was bad. This is not just an opinion; it's a statement of policy."

Rennick argued that Guggino's contention that the resolution's possible effect on the relationship between Belen and the county was moot was incorrect due to a change in circumstances.

"Last Friday, Los Lunas filed a complaint against the county commission and Belen to declare the agreement invalid," he said.

The village's complaint contends the contract between Belen and Valencia County, approved on July 17, is invalid for two central reasons:

• The county cannot give away its authority by contracting with the city and allowing Belen to solicit a health-care provider for the county to contract with.

• Former County Commissioner Donald Holliday was not a resident of his district at the time of the vote.

When she ruled, Otero said what the village council passed was a resolution and had no force of statute.

"It was not voted on by the residents, there was no notice given," she said. "You say this is a policy; the resolution itself says it is a position statement."

The judge said that while there may be a controversy brewing because of the complaint filed by Los Lunas, it had not been filed at the time of Rennick's filing.

"What you were asking for is a gag order," the judge told Belen's attorney. "(You're) saying you can't talk about this anymore, you can't pass any more resolutions."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.