United States District Court, D. New Mexico
BELEN CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT, CITY OF BELEN, and ESTATE OF MICHAEL ESQUIBEL, in his personal capacity acting under color of law, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTINA ARMIJO Chief United States District Judge
THIS MATTER is before the Court on City
of Belen's Amended Motion for Summary Judgment as to
Counts III, IV, V, and VII on Qualified Immunity and Other
Grounds, filed September 22, 2016. [Doc. 87] The Court
has considered the parties' submissions, the relevant
law, and the record and is otherwise fully advised. The
Motion shall be denied in part, and granted in part.
lawsuit arises out of allegations that Michael Esquibel (now
deceased), an officer of the Belen Police Department who
worked as a school resource officer (SRO), sexually abused
M.S., a minor student who attended Belen Middle School and
Belen High School. [Doc. 14 ¶¶ 23-34] Having
provided an overview of the undisputed material facts in its
Memorandum Opinion and Order pertaining to
Defendant City of Belen's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment That the Torts Alleged by Plaintiff Do Not
Fall within the Scope of Officer Esquibel's
Duties (Doc. 83), the Court provides additional facts
only to the extent that that they are required to provide
context for its analysis of the present Motion.
for Summary Judgment
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows summary
judgment when the evidence submitted by the parties
establishes that no genuine issue of material fact exists and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the
record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant meets
this burden, the nonmovant is required to put in the record
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250
(1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is “genuine”
when the evidence before the Court is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmovant as to
that issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248-52 (1986). A fact is “material” if under
the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition
of the claim. Id. at 248.
not the Court's role to weigh the evidence, assess the
credibility of witnesses, or make factual findings in ruling
on a motion for summary judgment. Daniels v. United
Parcel Serv., Inc., 701 F.3d 620, 627 (10th Cir. 2012).
Rather, the Court assumes the admissible evidence of the
nonmovant to be true, resolves all doubts against the movant,
construes all admissible evidence in the light most favorable
to the nonmovant, and draws all reasonable inferences in
favor of the nonmovant. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S.
541, 551-52 (1999).
City's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts III and
Count III, Plaintiff claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section
1983, that Esquibel violated her Fourteenth Amendment
substantive due process rights by perpetrating sexual abuse
against her from the time that she was a middle school
student through her senior year in high school. [Doc. 14
¶¶ 92-98] In Count IV, Plaintiff claims, pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, that Esquibel's conduct
constituted a violation of her Fourteenth Amendment right to
equal protection. [Doc. 14 ¶¶ 99-105] As grounds
for seeking summary judgment as to Counts III and IV, the
City contends that Officer Esquibel is entitled to qualified
immunity. [Doc. 7 p. 6');">87 p. 6]
defense of qualified immunity protects government officials
from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct
does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” A.M. v. Holmes, 830 F.3d 1123, 1134
(10th Cir. 2016). The City does not challenge the notion that
Esquibel's sexual abuse of M.S. (the occurrence of which
it does not concede, but it assumes for the sake of
argument), constituted a violation of clearly established
constitutional rights. Nor, in light of precedent, could the
City reasonably support such a challenge. See,
e.g. Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police
Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 769 (10th Cir. 2013)
(recognizing that a woman's “right to bodily
integrity, which is a substantive due process” right,
was violated when she was sexually assaulted by a police
officer); Abeyta ex rel. Martinez v. Chama Valley Indep.
Sch. Dist. No. 19, 77 F.3d 1253, 1255 (10th Cir. 1996)
(“Sexual assault or molestation by a school teacher
violates a student's substantive due process rights);
Maldonado v. Josey, 975 F.2d 727, 730-31 (10th Cir.
1992) (“In the . . . sexual abuse context a state
actor directly inflicts the harm on the student and thereby
implicates the Due Process Clause which . . . imposes
limitations on state conduct.”); see also Doe v.
Taylor Indep. Sch. Dist., 15 F.3d 443, 451-52 (5th Cir.
1994) (“It is incontrovertible that bodily integrity is
necessarily violated when a state actor sexually abuses a
schoolchild and that such misconduct deprives the child of
rights vouchsafed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”).
Instead, the City focuses on the issue whether Esquibel was a
“state actor” or acting “under color of
law” such that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims are
viable. [Doc. 87 p. 8-15]
U.S.C. Section 1983 provides a civil action for the
deprivation of rights. In relevant part, it provides that
[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or
causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . to the deprivation
of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured
in an action at law[.]
42 U.S.C. § 1983. “The purpose of [Section] 1983
is to deter state actors from using the badge of their
authority to deprive individuals of their federally
guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such
deterrence fails.” Jojola v. Chavez, 55 F.3d
488, 492 (10th Cir. 1995) (alterations & citation
omitted). “Therefore, the only proper defendants in a
Section 1983 claim are those who represent the state in some
capacity, whether they act in accordance with their authority
or misuse it.” Id. (alterations omitted).
traditional definition of acting under color of state law
requires that the defendant in a § 1983 action have
exercised power possessed by virtue of state law and made
possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the
authority of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 49 (1988). “It is firmly established that a
defendant in a [Section] 1983 suit acts under color of state
law when he abuses the position given to him by the
State.” Id. at 49-50. Thus, usually, “a
public employee acts under color of state law while acting in
his official capacity or while exercising his
responsibilities pursuant to state law.” Id.
“state employment is generally sufficient to render the
defendant a state actor[, ] . . . . an otherwise private tort
is not committed under color of law simply because the
tortfeasor is an employee of the state.”
Jojola, 55 F.3d at 493. This proposition reflects
the fact that, “in most cases” an individual
employed by the state who violates another individual's
federal rights does “so by virtue of the authority
vested in [him] under state law” “regardless of
whether the employee hews to the line of [his] authority or
oversteps it.” Id. (alterations omitted). But
in some circumstances, “a tort by a state employee
simply may not have been committed on account of the
authority vested in the employee by the state.”