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Ruff v. Board of Regents of University of New Mexico

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 30, 2017

RYAN RUFF, CRUSOE GONGBAY, and SAQWAN EDWARDS, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Title IX Claim. [Doc. 20] The Court, having considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and otherwise being fully advised in the premises, hereby GRANTS the Motion and further grants Plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         Because this is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court sets forth the plausible factual allegations in Plaintiffs' First Amended Verified Complaint for Civil Rights Violations and State Tort Claims [Doc. 11] (hereafter, Complaint), accepts them as true, and grants all reasonable inferences the plausible factual allegations allow. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         During the relevant period, Plaintiff Ryan Ruff was a student at Central New Mexico Community College. [Doc. 11, ¶ 121] Plaintiffs Crusoe Gongbay and SaQwan Edwards were students at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and were on UNM's football team. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 127');">27');">27');">27, 133, 670] All three Plaintiffs are African American men. [Doc. 11, ¶ 452] In April, 2014, Courtney Spencer, a white female student at UNM, accused all three Plaintiffs of sexually assaulting her. [Doc. 11, ¶ 19] Plaintiffs, however, allege that Spencer engaged in consensual sexual activity with all three of them and that there were witnesses and video evidence which showed that the sexual acts were consensual. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 363, 369, 37');">379, 380, 383, 386] Plaintiffs now sue the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico, the Chief of Police of the UNM Police Department (UNMPD), and eight named UNMPD officers in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiffs generally allege that Defendants violated their constitutional rights, violated federal statutes, and committed various torts in conducting a deficient investigation and in pursuing criminal charges against them. [Doc. 11, ¶ 28] Plaintiffs bring eighteen causes of action, but this Memorandum Opinion and Order only addresses Count XVIII, Plaintiffs cause of action arising Title IX (20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)).

         As pleaded by Plaintiffs, at some point in the late hours of April 12, 2014 or the early hours of April 13, 2014, Spencer reported to a resident advisor that she was “kidnapped and gang-raped by (3) three black men[] in the back seat of a small dark colored passenger vehicle.” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 109-111] The resident advisor contacted UNM authorities, and the UNM Police Department (UNMPD) began to investigate the alleged crime. [Doc. 11, ¶ 111] Shortly thereafter, Spencer met with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and she gave a detailed statement to UNMPD officers. [Doc. 11, ¶ 113]

         Plaintiffs allege that various statements by the Plaintiff were incorrect and inconsistent with other evidence available to UNMPD. Plaintiffs allege that evidence available to Defendants, but not collected, demonstrated that Spencer attended a gathering of 10 people (none of which were the Plaintiffs in this case) in a dorm room sometime after 9:00 p.m. on April 12, 2014. [Doc. 11, ¶ 343-44] At that gathering, several witnesses observed Spencer “engaging in stripping activities, partially unclothed lap dances, [] kissing of various party attendees[, ]” and “groping the genitalia” of one of the attendees “during one of her provocative and lascivious ‘lap dances.'” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 345, 347, 348, 349] “One of the attendees even videotaped” Spencer groping an attendee during a lap dance. [Doc. 11, ¶ 348] This gathering disbanded by 11:30 p.m., and Spencer left with two of the male attendees of the gathering to attend an “off campus house party.” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 352, 353, 355, 356] On the way, Spencer offered to provide fellatio to one of the males, and did so briefly once the male parked his vehicle outside the house party. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 357, 358] Thereafter, that male left the vehicle and Spencer the other male occupant “engaged in additional voluntary sexual acts, first engaging in [fellatio], which gravitated to unprotected sexual intercourse, in the back seat.” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 359, 360] Thereafter, Spencer and the male exited the vehicle, and then, outside the vehicle, “[a]ccording to numerous fact witness accounts, in the early morning hours of approximately 12:30 a.m. on April 13, 2014, Courtney Spencer for the first time[] encountered Plaintiffs Ruff, Gongbay, and Edwards, who were accompanied by [a] fact witness.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 363]

         Spencer “intercepted” the four men, who were walking to Plaintiff Ruff's vehicle, engaged in conversation and “lewd and suggestive behavior towards the Plaintiffs[, ] including specific sexually charged comments directed at the Plaintiffs” and suggested that she wanted to go with them to Plaintiff Gongbay's residence because “she was ‘bored.'” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 366, 367] During this interaction, she also purportedly “groped the genitalia of Plaintiff Gongbay.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 369] Plaintiffs allege that “proper investigation[] would have revealed that at approximately 12:45 to 1:15 a.m. on the morning of April 13, 2014, Courtney Spencer voluntarily entered the front passenger side of Plaintiff Ruff's BMW, voluntarily sitting on the lap of Plaintiff Edwards in the front passenger seat.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 37');">371] “While in the front seat of Plaintiff Ruff's BMW, Ms. Spencer disrobed to her underwear and gave Plaintiff Edwards a provocative and sexually charged ‘lap dance[, ]'” “‘twerking' on Plaintiff Edwards, taking off her clothes and groping the Plaintiffs.” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 37');">373, 37');">374] One of the Plaintiffs recorded “Spencer's lewd and lascivious behavior [including the lap dance] on a cellular telephone in a [S]napchat video, showing the Plaintiffs and Ms. Spencer laughing and singing to the song ‘Slutty-boy Gangbang, ' a popular rap song by a Maryland hip-hop artist.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 37');">375] “After arriving at Plaintiff Gongbay's apartment, Ms. Spencer continued her provocative behavior by removing the remainder of her clothing, voluntarily engaging in erotic dancing, grinding on the Plaintiffs and offering sexual acts to Plaintiff Edwards.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 37');">378] “Plaintiff Edwards accepted Ms. Spencer's offer and the two engaged in voluntary consensual sex within the Gongbay residence.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 37');">379] “Albeit distasteful, one of the Plaintiffs recorded Ms. Spencer's sexual act in the Gongbay apartment in a [S]napchat video, including but not limited to her voluntarily engaging in oral and vaginal sex with Plaintiff Edwards.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 380]

This [Snapchat] video documented that Ms. Spencer was the aggressor during the sexual interlude with Plaintiff Edwards, showing Ms. Spencer on top of Plaintiff Edwards while [per]forming fellatio as Plaintiff Edwards smiled to the camera. Further, while in the missionary position, Ms. Spencer was recorded pulling Plaintiff Edwards onto her on several occasions.

         [Doc. 11, ¶ 381]

         Thereafter, at some time before 3:00 a.m. on April 13, 2014, Plaintiff Ruff offered to take Spencer back to her dorm, and she agreed. [Doc. 11, ¶ 384] “Ms. Spencer complained to Plaintiff Ruff that . . . ‘she had not been sexually satisfied' that evening and asked Plaintiff Ruff to pull the car over in a [parking] lot at her dormitory. Plaintiff acquiesced and the two engaged in sexual intercourse in Plaintiff Ruff's car.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 385] “During their sexual interlude, Plaintiff Ruff's vehicle was parked at the Casa Del Rio Dorms in full view of numerous video cameras on that campus. While parked, Ms. Spencer proceeded to take Plaintiff Ruff's pants off and performed oral sex on him, which was followed by voluntary consensual sexual intercourse.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 386] Thereafter, Spencer began searching around in Plaintiff Ruff's vehicle for her cell phone and purse. Plaintiffs allege Spencer forgot the items at the dorm room of the initial social gathering. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 389, 395] In searching the vehicle, she grabbed Plaintiff Ruff's “legally registered handgun, ” thus potentially leaving her fingerprints on the gun. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 391, 392] Spencer left the vehicle, and that time was “noticeably upset at Plaintiff Ruff, since she could not locate her purse or phone and complained that the items were still in” his vehicle. [Doc. 11, ¶ 395]

         Plaintiffs allege that it was “apparent that there were numerous inconsistencies in [Spencer's] reported story, which should have been obvious to a well-trained, experienced, proficient and unbiased investigator.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 114] However, Plaintiffs allege that the UNMPD officers working on the case “were either[] untrained; grossly undertrained; and/or failed to follow standard operating procedures (S.O.P's) for the proper investigation of sexual assaults.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 318] Defendants UNMPD officers “were directed [by UNM] to conduct their criminal investigation, intentionally targeting the three African American Plaintiffs alleged to be involved in the crime.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 115] Accordingly, during the week following the alleged assault, “[d]espite having early knowledge of crucial and important details, . . . [including] the location of the alleged crime, details of the facts and the location of important evidence[], Defendants knowingly and intentionally failed to identify important witnesses and/or secure valuable evidence.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 116] Plaintiffs assert that Defendants failed to obtain, preserve, and review surveillance video footage, failed to secure statements, and allowed witnesses to disappear. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 632, 635] Moreover, according to Plaintiffs, Defendants built a criminal case against Plaintiffs, “knowing that [Plaintiffs] were innocent and that probable cause did not support arrest or prosecution.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 118]

         On April 21, 2014, UNMPD filed criminal complaints and obtained arrest warrants for Plaintiffs Ruff and Gongbay. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 121, 123, 127');">27');">27');">27, 128] On April 29, 2014, Plaintiff Edwards was “wrongfully detained and arrested” by UNMPD. [Doc. 11, ¶ 133] All three plaintiffs adamantly denied the charges and proclaimed their innocence. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 126, 132, 137');">37]

         On April 25, 2014, Plaintiff Edwards submitted DNA to UNMPD pursuant to a warrant. [Doc. 11, ¶ 158] There is an audio recording of an exchange between various UNMPD officers after the DNA collection was completed and Edwards left the room. [Doc. 11, ¶ 158] During the exchange, Defendant Guevara, the lead investigator of the case, stated:[1]

But it's all Crusoe. It's all Crusoe, it's none of these other guys, you know. . .” “But, [i]f we can put them all together, especially Crusoe. . . . If Crusoe's got several charges over his head, that guy's going to sing like a bird. They all know him by name.”

         [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 142, 27');">27');">27');">273] In another exchange between the officers, an unidentified officer stated “You guys are just trying to railroad these guys, man. . .” to which another unidentified officer stated “‘Yeah, well, we made him get Paul Kennedy, right?' [Officer SINGING] ‘That's how we do it [‘]round[] here. . .'” [Doc. 11 ¶¶ 202-206] Defendant Guevara also stated that this case was going to be the biggest case he had ever done, his “Everest, ” and that he always wanted a “big fucking case with high big dollar attorney stuff, and let's get in the fucking ring and get it on.” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 231, 255] Plaintiffs allege that these statements show that “Defendant UNMPD Officers knew and/or had reason to believe that at least two of the Plaintiffs[] (Ryan Ruff and SaQwan Edwards) were innocent, but Defendants moved forward pursuing criminal charges” against them anyway. [Doc. 11, ¶ 288] Plaintiffs also allege that these statements demonstrate that Defendants UNMPD Officers acted out of “racial animus.” [Doc. 11, ¶ 158]

         Plaintiffs allege that their counsel provided exculpatory video evidence to the district attorney. [Doc. 11, ¶ 296] However, even after Officer Guevara had the video evidence, he continued to pursue the allegations against Plaintiffs, by interviewing Spencer and suggesting to her that she was mistaken about details in the video, thus attempting to influence her to “alter her previous testimony.” [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 296-310]

         Plaintiffs were charged with kidnapping and criminal sexual penetration, but the charges against them were eventually dismissed by Nolle Prosequi. [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 121, 127');">27');">27');">27, 133, 644] Nonetheless, prior to the conclusion of the criminal investigation, UNM indefinitely suspended Plaintiffs Gongbay and Edwards from playing football [Doc. 11, ¶¶ 667] and indefinitely banned Ruff from its campus. [Doc. 11, ¶ 668] A separate disciplinary proceeding investigation was conducted by UNM's Office of Equal Opportunity contemporaneous to the criminal investigation. [Doc. 11, ¶ 408] Ultimately, that investigation found that there was “no credible or actionable evidence” against Plaintiffs Gongbay and Edwards (the UNM students). [Doc. 11, ¶ 410]

         Plaintiffs allege various motives behind Defendants' continued pursuit of criminal charges against Plaintiffs, even after Defendants knew or should have known of evidence ...


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