United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment against Defendant Benjamin Griffith.
Doc. 21. In the Motion, Plaintiff contends that summary
judgment should be entered against Defendant Griffith on
Plaintiff's first and second causes of action arising
under the Fourteenth Amendment. Doc. 20. Having
reviewed the briefing and considered the relevant law, the
Court will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion.
facts leading to up to the alleged encounter between
Defendant Griffith and Plaintiff are largely undisputed. At
the time of the incident, Defendant Griffith was a teacher at
Bloomfield High School. Plaintiff's First Amended
Complaint, Doc. 8 at ¶ 4; Defendant
Griffith's Answer, Doc. 17 at ¶ 4. Plaintiff
was a student at Bloomfield High School and was working on a
computer in Defendant Griffith's classroom. Doc. 8 at
¶¶ 1, 164; Doc. 17 at ¶¶ 1, 164. At some
point during class, Plaintiff connected a cell phone to the
computer and began listening to music. Doc. 8 at ¶ 166;
Doc. 37 at 3. The cell phone displayed an image of a woman
which Defendant Griffith observed. Doc. 8 at ¶ 166; Doc.
37 at 3-4. Defendant Griffith approached Plaintiff and
questioned her regarding the image. Doc. 8 at ¶ 166,
Doc. 37 at 3-4. Plaintiff alleges that the image contained a
picture of a woman in her bra and panties. Doc. 8 at ¶
166. She alleges that when Defendant Griffith observed the
image he accused her of looking at “girl porn.”
Doc. 8 at ¶ 167. It is undisputed that Defendant
Griffith then removed one of Plaintiff's earbuds, placed
it in his ear, and began to dance. Doc. 8 at ¶ 170; Doc.
37 at 4. The parties dispute the manner, however, in which
Defendant Griffith returned the ear bud once he was done
listening to the music. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
Griffith purposefully dropped the earbud down her shirt. Doc.
21 at 5. Defendant Griffith contends that he did not
intentionally drop the earbud down Plaintiff's shirt but
admits that is where it landed. Doc. 37 at 4. After returning
the earbud, Defendant Griffith insisted on looking at
Plaintiff's phone. Doc. 21 at 5; Doc. 37 at 4.
parties largely dispute what occurred next. Plaintiff alleges
that she repeatedly refused to give Defendant Griffith her
phone. Doc. 21 at 5. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
Griffith then reached for the phone, latched his finger onto
Plaintiff's shirt, and pulled her shirt down while
brushing his hand across her breasts. Doc. 21 at 5. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant Griffith then momentarily left but
returned and pinched her below her ribs on her left side.
Doc. 21 at 5. Plaintiff alleges that she pulled away from
Defendant Griffith which caused him to aggressively touch her
body and breasts with his hands. Doc. 21 at 5. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant continued to touch her despite her
objections while asking if she was ticklish. Doc. 21 at 5.
Plaintiff further alleges that at some point Defendant
Griffith placed the corner of a manila envelope down the
front of Plaintiff's shirt and began questioning her
regarding the color and design of her bra. Doc. 21 at 5.
Plaintiff alleges that she repeatedly objected to showing
Defendant Griffith her bra. Doc. 21 at 5-6. In response,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Griffith removed
Plaintiff's hands from her keyboard and typed the word
“asshole” on the screen. Doc. 21 at 6. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant Griffith then began grabbing at
Plaintiff's body again and threatened to pinch her
breasts. Doc. 21 at 6. Plaintiff alleges that as she tried to
leave the classroom, Defendant Griffith approached her with
her back to a wall and asked why she was leaving. Doc. 21 at
Griffith, on the other hand, disputes that he intentionally
grabbed Plaintiff's breast when he reached for her phone.
Doc. 37 at 5. Defendant Griffith contends that he instead
“inadvertently brushed one of
[Plaintiff's] breasts with the back of his hand.”
Doc. 37 at 5 (emphasis added). Defendant Griffith likewise
generally denies Plaintiff's remaining allegations of
additional contact. Furthermore, Defendant Griffith disputes
that his guilty plea was “for having touched
Plaintiff's breasts for his own sexual
gratification” and that the plea automatically serves
as an admission of the “myriad of [Plaintiff's]
‘undisputed' facts concerning the alleged
incident.” Doc 37 at 7. In sum, while Defendant
Griffith largely disputes Plaintiff's version of events,
Defendant Griffith concedes that he reached for
Plaintiff's phone but missed and in so doing
inadvertently touched Plaintiff's breast. Doc. 37 at 5.
to the encounter, Defendant Griffith was arrested and
ultimately pled guilty to criminal sexual contact of a minor
pursuant to NMSA 1978, § 30-9-13(D)(2), which covers
situations in which a school employee molests a student.
Defendant Griffith was sentenced to eighteen months
imprisonment and is required to register as a sex offender.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), this Court must
“grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of
“show[ing] that there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case.” Bacchus
Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891
(10th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once the movant meets this burden,
Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to designate
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324;
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256
issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence
on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve
the issue either way. An issue of fact is
‘material' if under the substantive law it is
essential to the proper disposition of the claim.”
Thom v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851
(10th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). “A party
asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must
support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of
materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(1)(A). All material facts set forth in the motion and
response which are not specifically controverted are deemed
undisputed. D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b).
reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court should
keep in mind three principles. First, the court's role is
not to weigh the evidence, but to whether a genuine issue
exists as to material facts requiring a trial. See
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. Second, the court must
resolve all reasonable inferences and doubts in favor of the
non-moving party, and construe all evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. See Hunt v.
Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 550-55 (1999). Third, the court
cannot decide any issues of credibility. See Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. “[T]o survive the . . .
motion, [the nonmovant] need only present evidence from which
a jury might return a verdict in his favor.”
Id. at 257.
noted above, the parties largely dispute the material facts
underlying the encounter between Defendant Griffith and
Plaintiff. Generally, where there are disputed issues of
material fact, the Court must deny summary judgment.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Plaintiff contends, however, that, due to
his guilty plea, Defendant Griffith should be either
judicially estopped or collaterally estopped from disputing
the underlying facts of the encounter. Accordingly, before
reaching the merits of Plaintiff's Motion, the Court will
determine whether Defendant Griffith should be estopped from
denying Plaintiff's allegations. The Court concludes that
judicial estoppel does apply to preclude Defendant from
asserting that his touching of Plaintiff's breast was
unintentional. Because the doctrine of collateral estoppel,
if it applied, would not have any greater preclusive effect,
the Court need not address the issue of collateral estoppel.
Having determined that judicial estoppel applies, the Court
next concludes that Defendant Griffith's intentional
touching of Plaintiff's breast for his sexual
gratification requires the entry of summary judgment in
connection with Plaintiff's Due Process and Equal
estoppel “is a broad, discretionary remedy which courts
may invoke to protect the integrity of the judicial
process.” Spurlock v. Townes, Civ. No.
09-00786, Doc. 76 at 8 (D.N.M. May 26, 2010). While this
doctrine is “probably not reducible to any general
formulation, ” the gist of judicial estoppel holds that
“where a party assumes a certain position in a legal
proceeding, and succeeds in maintaining that position, he may
not thereafter, simply because his interests have changed,
assume a contrary position, especially if it be to the
prejudice of the party who has acquiesced in the position
formerly taken by him.” Johnson v. Lindon City
Corp., 405 F.3d 1065, 1069 (10th Cir. 2005) (citing
Davis v. Wakelee, 156 U.S. 680, 689 (1895)). Courts
routinely analyze several factors in determining when
judicial estoppel applies. “First, a party's later
position must be clearly inconsistent with its earlier
position.” Johnson, 405 F.3d at 1069 (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). “Second, whether
the party has succeeded in persuading a court to accept that
party's earlier position, so that judicial acceptance of
an inconsistent position in a later proceeding would create
the perception that either the ...