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Clarke v. White

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 22, 2019

KENNETH CLARKE and JOY CLARKE, Plaintiffs,
v.
RAY WHITE, ROBERT ESHOM, JAMES REMPE, STATE OF NEW MEXICO, NEW MEXICO STATE POLICE, a division of the NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARTHA VÁZQUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants Ray White, State of New Mexico and New Mexico State Police's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 59]. The Court, having considered the motion, briefs, and relevant law, and being otherwise fully informed, finds that the motion is well-taken and will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         “The facts supported by evidence, [viewed] in the light most favorable to [Plaintiff]” as the party opposing summary judgment, are as follows. Cavanaugh v. Woods Cross City, 625 F.3d 661, 662 (10th Cir. 2010). Benjamin Smith is the minor child of Jeremy Smith and Joy Clarke, who is currently married to Kenneth Clarke. Jeremy's father, Steven Smith, is an officer with the Farmington branch of the New Mexico State Police Department.

         On July 27, 2011, Officer James Rempe of the Farmington branch of the New Mexico State Police Department received a CYFD referral indicating that Benjamin was potentially exposed to pornographic material by his father Jeremy. Officer Rempe arranged for a safe house interview for Benjamin. Thereafter, on October 29, 2013, Joy and Kenneth reported to Lieutenant Robert L. Eshom of the Farmington branch of the New Mexico State Police Department that Benjamin's father Jeremy was exposing Benjamin to pornographic or inappropriate material. At some point between October 13, 2013 and December 13, 2013, Joy filed a complaint against Lieutenant Eshom and Officer Rempe. Although both Lieutenant Eshom and Officer Rempe are assigned to the Farmington branch of the New Mexico State Police Department where Jeremy's father, Officer Steven Smith, is also assigned, neither of them has any relationship with Officer Smith.

         On December 29, 2013, Joy reported to Officer Dominick Thornock of the Farmington branch of the New Mexico State Police that Benjamin had reported to her that his father Jeremy had touched him inappropriately. Benjamin's case was then reassigned to Agent Ray White of the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau in Albuquerque.

         On January 6, 2014, a safe house interview of Benjamin was conducted, with Agent White and others observing the interview from another room. The interviewer concluded that Benjamin did not disclose any type of abuse, neglect, or illegitimate contact. Agent White agreed with this conclusion.

         After the interview, Agent White informed Joy that they would be taking custody of Benjamin. Agent White also contacted Jeremy and told him to park outside of Childhaven and prepare to take custody of Benjamin pursuant to an interim custody order. Agent White then spoke with Kenneth and advised him of the situation. While Agent White was speaking with Kenneth, Joy stormed out of the building, took Benjamin outside to her truck and locked herself in the front passenger seat. Joy told Agent White that she needed to obtain her son's clothing and personal effects and would make the normal exchange with Jeremy. Joy and Kenneth then drove away with Benjamin in the truck.

         On January 13, 2014, Agent White filed arrest warrant affidavits for Joy and Kenneth. Based on those affidavits, on January 14, 2014, Joy was charged with resisting or obstructing an officer and false reporting, and Kenneth was charged with resisting or obstructing an officer. Joy entered into a plea agreement, which specified that during the next six months she would incur no similar criminal charges and would successfully complete parenting and life skills classes. As a result of Joy's plea agreement, the charges were dropped against Kenneth. Joy successfully completed the requisite classes and the complaint against her was dismissed without prejudice.

         Based on these facts, Joy and Kenneth commenced this action in the First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe, State of New Mexico, against Agent White, Lieutenant Eshom, Officer Rempe, the State of New Mexico, and the New Mexico State Police. Defendants subsequently removed the action to this Court. Plaintiffs' Complaint sets forth three causes of action: a state law claim of negligence of law enforcement officers (Count I); a state law claim of negligent supervision, training, and retention (Count II); and a federal constitutional claim of unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment (Count III). Plaintiffs have dismissed with prejudice their claims against Defendants Eshom and Rempe, and their claims against Defendant White in his individual capacity. The remaining Defendants (Defendant White in his official capacity, the New Mexico State Police, and the State of New Mexico) filed the instant motion for summary judgment in their favor on all of Plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs oppose the motion.

         STANDARD

         The 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 moving party need not “produce evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Rather, “the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing' - that is, point out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id.; see also Sports Unltd., Inc., v. Lankford Enter., Inc., 275 F.3d 996, 999 (10th Cir. 2002) (Although “[t]he burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists is borne by the moving party, ” when “the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden by pointing to a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim”). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. In making this showing, the nonmoving party may not rely on “the mere pleadings themselves.” Id.

         For purposes of Rule 56(a), a dispute is genuine “if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way.” Becker v. Bateman, 709 F.3d 1019, 1022 (10th Cir. 2013). “An issue of fact is material if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Id. (citation omitted). In other words, “[t]he question . . . is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. (citation omitted). On summary judgment, the court ...


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