On July 14, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Matthew L. Garcia to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. Mr. Garcia serves as Chief of Staff in the Office of New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Prior to joining state government, Garcia was a partner at his own law firm, representing individuals and classes of individuals in civil rights, employment law, personal injury, and antitrust cases. Garcia’s extensive plaintiff-side litigation career and more recent government work demonstrate his commitment to serving the public interest.
Matthew Garcia was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1974. He graduated with B.A. magna cum laude from the University of New Mexico in 1999. From 1999-2000, Mr. Garcia conducted research as a Fulbright Fellow at the Helsinki School of Economics in Finland. He then earned his Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 2003. In 2005, he earned his J.D. from the University of New Mexico’s School of Law.
Mr. Garcia has spent most of his professional career as a litigator. He began his career as an associate attorney at Freedman, Boyd, Daniels, Hollander, Goldberg & Ives in Albuquerque, where he worked primarily on large multistate antitrust actions. In 2008, Mr. Garcia opened his own litigation firm where, for the next decade, he would represent New Mexicans on claims for civil rights violations, tort maters, unlawful discrimination, and wage theft. Mr. Garcia was the lead attorney on nearly all of his cases, handling depositions, oral argument, evidentiary hearings, mediations, and trials.
In 2019, Mr. Garcia left the private sector to become General Counsel for Governor Michele Lujan Grisham, advising the Governor and office staff on issues ranging from state constitutional questions to statutory interpretation. He also successfully defended all challenges to the Governor’s public health orders issued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2021, Mr. Garcia has served as the Governor’s Chief of Staff, where he oversees a variety of executive functions including supervising the Governor’s legal team.
The following cases are illustrative of Mr. Garcia’s career as a plaintiff’s attorney and a public servant at both the state and federal level:
As General Counsel for the Governor, Mr. Garcia represented State officials in Grisham v. Romero, an action filed by a group of local restaurants seeking to invalidate a temporary ban on in-person dining that had been implemented during a surge of Covid-19 infections in the state. The restaurants filed the matter in a local district court, and the judge temporarily blocked the ban. The Governor’s office asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to allow the ban to remain in effect while the case was ongoing, which the court granted. The New Mexico Supreme Court found that the New Mexico Department of Public Health was authorized to restrict or close businesses when necessary for the protection of public health and that the Department had properly come to the decision to mandate temporary closures of indoor dining at restaurants. Mr. Garcia was co-author of the briefs in the case and presented at oral argument.
In Gonzalez v. Joey, Mr. Garcia successfully represented a New Mexican inmate in federal district court who claimed that he had been precluded from exercising his religious freedoms in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The inmate, who was of Mexican descent and did not belong to a recognized Native American tribe, was denied access to Native American religious programming while incarcerated. The District Court for New Mexico held that the New Mexico Corrections Department did not consider the plaintiff’s sincerely held religious beliefs when evaluating the request for religious programming and improperly only considered the plaintiff’s ethnic identity. Mr. Garcia was lead counsel in a number of pre-trial matters and in the subsequent bench trial.
Mr. Garcia has also represented clients in age discrimination lawsuits. In Ruby v. Sandia Corporation, Mr. Garcia represented a physicist who brought claims of age discrimination and related state law torts against his employer in federal district court. The issue in the case was whether the age discrimination claims were preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law that protects employees’ retirement assets. Mr. Garcia argued that ERISA did not apply because the New Mexico Human Rights Act created an independent legal duty of employers to not discriminate against employees because of their age. The matter was settled after the judge held that the plaintiff’s core discrimination claims were viable. Mr. Garcia was lead counsel on all briefs, discovery matters, and depositions and argued the preemption motions in federal court.
In Nelson v. City of Las Vegas, Mr. Garcia represented a police officer who, along with other members of the Las Vegas Police Department, were systematically underpaid for overtime work and training activities. Specifically, these officers were not fully paid for graveyard shifts or for administrative tasks, such as filling out incident reports. The case was settled, and all affected police officers were compensated for their unpaid work. Mr. Garcia was involved in the significant motions practice including a successful motion to remand after the defendant attempted to remove the case to federal court.
In another employment law case Flores v. Herrera, Mr. Garcia represented Flores, an employee of the Secretary of State who brought claims of wrongful termination and violations of the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act against his employer. The district court dismissed Flores’ claims, holding that state law did not permit him to sue a public official who no longer held office. Flores appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred in its reading of the applicable statutory provisions and that the opinion was inconsistent with the New Mexico Rules of Civil Procedure addressing lawsuits against public employees in their official capacity. The New Mexico Supreme Court determined that although a plaintiff could not bring claims against public employees in their individual capacities, Flores’ claims could continue against the defendant state employee in her official capacity. The Flores’ claims were eventually settled. Mr. Garcia was lead counsel in the case and was responsible for all briefing and oral argument.
Tort and Personal Injury
In Gutierrez v. Corizon Health, Inc, Mr. Garcia represented a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer while incarcerated. Although her medical provider was aware of her life-threatening condition, they failed to properly care for her and, as a result, she was forced to undergo a mastectomy and faced a diminished life expectancy. Mr. Garcia worked with leading medical experts in the country on correctional medicine to show that the defendants failed to provide his client with adequate medical treatment. After significant discovery in federal court, the parties were able to settle the case. As lead counsel, Mr. Garcia investigated the claims, worked with client, prepared expert disclosures, gathered evidence, and was lead author on all briefing.
Mr. Garcia represented a minor child of a woman who died of a drug overdose while incarcerated at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Center in Tolbert v. Correctional Healthcare Management. In that case, Mr. Garcia argued that the defendant did not take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of his client’s mother, leading to her death. After three years of extensive discovery and expert depositions, the matter was settled. Mr. Garcia was lead counsel in the case and undertook all pretrial discovery and motions.
In Stanforth v. Farmers Insurance Company of Arizona et al, Mr. Garcia represented plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit seeking damages against an insurance company for not complying with New Mexico’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage laws. New Mexico law requires that automobile insurance policies must include uninsured/underinsured coverage in an amount equal to liability limits unless the consumer has expressly rejected that coverage in writing. Mr. Garcia’s clients alleged that the defendants had not complied with the law and that they and their class members were entitled to damages and contract modification. Following the completion of several negotiations, the parties agreed to a class wide resolution of the case. Mr. Garcia was directly involved in all facets of the litigation and co-authored all the briefs.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Mr. Garcia has deep ties to the New Mexico legal community. In 2012, the Chief Justice of New Mexico’s Supreme Court appointed Mr. Garcia to the U.S. District Magistrate Judge Selection Panel, where he assisted in vetting candidates for open federal magistrate positions. He has also served on various New Mexico Supreme Court committees, including the Court’s Rules on Evidence Committee and the Committee on Pre-trial Detention.
Additionally, Mr. Garcia volunteered as a member of the New Mexico Disciplinary Board Hearing Committee where he recommended appropriate disciplinary action against attorneys charged with ethics violations. As a member of the Second District Volunteer Attorney Pool and the District of New Mexico Federal Court Pro Bono Panel, he has represented numerous clients on a pro-bono basis and participates in other organizations assisting the local legal community. Mr. Garcia also co-taught an Evidence and Trial Practice course at the University of New Mexico School of Law during the fall semester in 2013, 2018 and 2019.
Mr. Garcia was named in the Top 25 Lawyers in New Mexico by Super Lawyers Magazine in 2017 and 2018. He also was named one of the Best Lawyers by U.S. News & World Report from 2014-2019 and has received the Martindale Hubbell AV-Preeminent Rating every year since 2014.