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Vanmeter v. Briggs

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 14, 2019

JOY VANMETER, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL BRIGGS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         On October 14, 2016, Ms. Joy VanMeter (Plaintiff) met Mr. Michael Briggs (Defendant) at his home for drinks. Plaintiff contends that Defendant drugged and sexually assaulted her. Defendant denies that he drugged Plaintiff and maintains that the entire interaction was consensual.

         Plaintiff filed reports with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and with the parties' employer, the University of New Mexico (UNM). She later filed a civil lawsuit in state court, which Defendant removed. Defendant has filed an answer and counterclaim, and Plaintiff moves to dismiss his claims for spoliation of evidence and prima facie tort. Having considered the parties' arguments and relevant law, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the spoliation claim and grant the motion to dismiss the prima facie tort claim.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         At the heart of this lawsuit is Plaintiff's allegation that Defendant drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home on October 14, 2016. (See Doc. 1-1 (Compl.) ¶¶ 5, 8, 39-78.) Plaintiff later underwent an examination with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse (see Id. ¶ 110; see also Doc. 3 (Countercl.) ¶ 34), reported the alleged assault to APD (see Compl. ¶ 113; Countercl. ¶ 34), and filed a report with UNM, Defendant's employer (see Countercl. ¶ 34).

         In his Counterclaim, Defendant contends that Plaintiff intentionally deleted “exculpatory” text messages between her and her husband and knowingly withheld their existence from investigators because they would have helped Defendant defend himself from the allegations. (See Id. ¶¶ 35-38.) Defendant asserts that “APD [unsuccessfully] attempted to recover these deleted texts from Ms. VanMeter's phone, ” and her husband also shared the content of some of the messages with the APD investigator. (Id. ¶ 36.)

         Defendant brings counterclaims against Plaintiff for (I) defamation, (II) malicious abuse of process, (III) spoliation of evidence (regarding the deleted text messages), (IV) intentional interference with prospective business relations, (V) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (VI) prima facie tort. (See Id. ¶¶ 40-90.) Plaintiff moves to dismiss the spoliation and prima facie tort claims. (Doc. 19.)

         II. Legal Standard

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the [counterclaim] as true and must construe them in the light most favorable to the [counterclaimant].” In re Gold Res. Corp. Sec. Litig., 776 F.3d 1103, 1108 (10th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, ” the counterclaim does not need to contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Defendant has pled facts sufficient to state a plausible claim to relief for spoliation.

         To state a claim for intentional spoliation, Defendant must plausibly allege:

(1) the existence of a potential lawsuit; (2) the defendant's knowledge of the potential lawsuit; (3) the destruction, mutilation, or significant alteration of potential evidence; (4) intent on part of the defendant to disrupt or defeat the lawsuit; (5) a causal relationship between the act of spoliation and the inability to prove the lawsuit; and (6) damages.

Coleman v. Eddy Potash, Inc., 905 P.2d 185, 189 (N.M. 1995), overruled on other grounds byDelgado v. Phelps Dodge Chino, Inc., 34 P.3d 1148 (N.M. 2001) (citations omitted). Here, Defendant asserts facts to show that Plaintiff filed reports with APD and UNM, and therefore knowingly “created the existence of a potential lawsuit[] and other legal action[, ]” satisfying the first two elements. (Countercl. ¶¶ 60-61.) He alleges that Plaintiff intentionally deleted text messages from her cell phone related to events described in the lawsuit, sent between herself and others (including her husband), thereby destroying potential evidence and satisfying the third element. (See Id. ¶¶ 30-31, 35, 62.) He asserts that Plaintiff deleted the messages “to prevent investigators from becoming ...


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