S.M. v. Bloomfield School District et al
ORDER by Magistrate Judge Steven C. Yarbrough denying 15 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (cm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
Civ. No. 16-00823 SCY/WPL
BLOOMFIELD SCHOOL DIST.,
BENJAMIN GRIFFITH, CHAD BURKHOLDER,
CODY DIEHL, JOE RASOR,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Chad Burkholder, Cody Diehl, and Joe Rasor (hereinafter “Defendants”)1 seek dismissal
of the claims against them for the reasons set forth in Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure
to State a Claim on the Basis of Qualified Immunity. ECF No. 15. Specifically, they argue that
they are entitled to qualified immunity in regard to two of Plaintiff’s claims against them.
Having reviewed the parties’ briefing, the relevant law, and being otherwise fully advised, the
Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion for the reasons set forth below.
Because the parties are familiar with the facts and history of this case, the following will
only recount the facts pertinent to the instant motion. Plaintiff’s lawsuit arises out of allegations
that Defendant Benjamin Griffith, her former teacher at Bloomfield High School, groped her.
ECF No. 8 at 19-22. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Griffith repeatedly placed his
hand down Plaintiff’s shirt, attempted to look at her bra, and fondled her breasts. ECF No. 8 at
19-22. In addition to suing Defendant Bloomfield High School, Plaintiff sued Defendant Griffith
The Court will refer to the remaining defendants as Defendant Griffith and Defendant Bloomfield High
in his individual capacity, and sued the remaining Defendants in their official capacities as
administrative personnel in the Bloomfield school system. Defendants Cody Diehl and Chad
Burkholder served as principals at Bloomfield High School and Defendant Joe Rasor served as
superintendent. ECF No. 8 at 1.
Broadly stated, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were on notice that Defendant Griffith
was a foreseeable danger to female students based on alleged previous incidents of misconduct
involving Defendant Griffith. ECF No. 8 at 13. Plaintiff’s specific allegations are as follows.
Before Defendant Griffith was employed at Bloomfield High School, he assaulted, both
physically and sexually, two other female students. ECF No. 8 at 6-12. Defendants failed to
adequately conduct a background check which, if done properly, would purportedly have
uncovered these incidents. While Defendant Griffith was employed at Bloomfield High School,
he physically assaulted two female students prior to assaulting Plaintiff. ECF No. 8 at 13-14. On
one occasion, Defendant Griffith grabbed a female student by the collar, pushed her back, and
told her that he was “not afraid to slap [her].” ECF No. 8 at 13. On another occasion, Defendant
Griffith pressed his hands down firmly on a female student’s shoulders in order to force her to
stop talking in class. ECF No. 8 at 14. Defendant Diehl wrote Defendant Griffith up for the first
incident and placed him on paid administrative leave. ECF No. 8 at 12-13. Following the
second incident, Defendant Diehl issued Defendant Griffith another written reprimand and again
placed him on administrative leave. ECF No. 8 at 14. Further, following the second incident,
Defendant Diehl recommended to Defendant Rasor that Defendant Griffith’s contract with the
school not be renewed. ECF No. 8 at 15. Defendant Rasor, however, rejected Defendant Diehl’s
recommendation and retained Defendant Griffith months before Defendant Griffith’s assault of
Plaintiff. ECF No. 8 at 15.
Based on these allegations, Plaintiff filed seven claims, three of which are against these
Defendants and two of which are relevant to the instant Motion. First, in Count IV, Plaintiff
claims that Defendants violated her due process right to bodily integrity under the Fourteenth
Amendment by failing “to adequately train, delineate proper procedure in response to repeated
allegations of inappropriate teacher conduct, and/or ensure that teachers who have been the
subject of multiple complaints at multiple schools are not permitted to continue to teach. . ..”
ECF No. 8 at 28. Plaintiff alleges that these failures constitute a pattern and practice and were the
“moving force” in the violation of Plaintiff’s right to be secure in her bodily integrity. ECF No. 8
at 28. Second, Plaintiff claims in Count V of her complaint that these patterns and practices
permitted Defendant Griffith access to female students, thereby permitting Defendant Griffith the
opportunity to assault Plaintiff in violation her right to equal protection under the law. ECF No. 8
In their Motion, Defendants argue that the two claims outlined above—Plaintiff’s fourth
and fifth claims—must be dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity. ECF No. 15 at 1.
Defendants first contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff fails to
assert a deprivation of her constitutional rights. ECF No. 15 at 5. Defendants next argue that
Plaintiff’s allegations regarding incidents that occurred before Defendant Griffith was employed
at Bloomfield High School cannot support a factual basis for claims against Defendants. ECF
No. 15 at 8. Neither argument justifies the dismissal Defendants seek.
Because Defendants are sued only in their official capacities, they are not entitled to
The problem with Defendants’ first contention is that they are only being sued in their
official capacity. “[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a
suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Thus, “[qualified
immunity] is only available to those defendants sued in their personal capacities.” Walker v.
Board of Trustees, Regional Transp. Dist., 76 F.Supp.2d 1105, 1109 (D. Colo. 1999); see also
Moore v. City of Wynnewood, 57 F.3d 924, 929 n.4 (10th Cir. 1995) (stating that the defense of
qualified immunity only applied to the defendant in his personal, but not official, capacity).
Indeed, the main cases Defendants rely on involve lawsuits filed against individuals in their
individual capacities. Gates v. Unified School Dist. No. 449 of Leavenworth Cty, Kan., 996 F.2d
1035, 1042 (10th Cir. 1995) (“As to Simmons . . . [a] claim seeking personal liability in a civil
rights suit must be predicated on the defendant actor’s personal involvement . . ..”); Jojola v.
Chavez, 55 F.3d 488, 490 (10th Cir. 1995) (“the plaintiff’s appeal, challenging only the district
court’s order dismissing the individual capacity suits against defendants . . ..”). Plaintiff
explicitly sets out both in the case caption and her allegations that she is suing these Defendants
in their official capacities only. See ECF No. 8 at 1; 3-4, ¶¶ 6-8; 27-30, ¶¶ 242, 243, 244, 251,
252, 253. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified
Defendants’ second argument, that incidents occurring elsewhere cannot support
Plaintiff’s claims, fails
Defendants present a one paragraph argument that incidents preceding Defendant
Griffith’s employment with Bloomfield School District do not provide a basis for a claim against
the individual school defendants. Even assuming that is true, it begs the question of whether
these allegations, in combination with the other allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint, provide a
sufficient basis for a claim against them. For instance, Defendants make no reference to
Plaintiff’s allegations that two separate physical assaults occurred at Bloomfield High School.
Thus, it is not clear to the Court whether Defendants in this paragraph are seeking relief under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or seeking seek to strike allegations from the Complaint
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). To the extent Defendants seek dismissal under
Rule 12(b)(6), the Court presumes Defendants continue to assert qualified immunity as the basis
for their relief. After all, they caption their motion “Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified
Immunity.” As explained above, this argument fails because qualified immunity is not available
to them in their official capacities. To the extent Defendants in this paragraph seek to strike
allegations from the Complaint, the Court finds that these allegations are not “redundant,
immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous” such that Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f) would necessitate
granting a motion to strike.
Further, the Court notes that the lawsuit against Defendants in their official capacities is
really just a lawsuit against Defendant Bloomfield School District. Kentucky v. Graham, 473
U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (“[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated
as a suit against the entity.”). The entity, Defendant Bloomfield School District, has been not
joined in Defendants’ motion. Thus, even if Defendants’ argument were not based on qualified
immunity, the Court would decline to consider it without the joinder of Defendant Bloomfield
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss on the
Basis of Qualified Immunity. ECF No. 15.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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