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Griffin v. Cheverus High School of Portland

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

June 20, 2018

JOHN GRIFFIN, individually, and as next friend and parent of PATRICK GRIFFIN, a minor, and DEVDRA GRIFFIN, individually, and as next friend and parent of PATRICK GRIFFIN, a minor, Plaintiffs
v.
CHEVERUS HIGH SCHOOL OF PORTLAND, and SU-ANNE HAMMOND, individually and as next friend and parent of JAKOB HAMMOND, a minor, and ANDREW HAMMOND, individually, and as next friend and parent of JAKOB HAMMOND, a minor, and JOHN/JANE DOES 1-5, Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Lance E. Walker, Justice Maine Superior Court

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment. The Hammond Defendants and Defendant Cheverus High School ("Cheverus") have opposed this motion. The Court has considered Plaintiffs' motion, as well as the oppositions and reply, and for the following reasons, now denies the motion.

         I. Background

         The following facts are not in dispute except where otherwise noted. In May 2016, Plaintiff Patrick Griffin ("Patrick") was enrolled in the 10th grade, and Defendant Jakob Hammond ("Jakob") was enrolled in the 11th grade at Cheverus High School. (Pls.' S.M.F. ¶ 1.) Around 4:00 p.m. on May 18, 2016, Patrick and Jakob were on Cheverus's campus with Meaghan Collins ("Meaghan"), Terryn MacDonald ("Terryn"), and Matthew Thornton ("Matthew") after classes were over. (Id. ¶ 2.) After watching a javelin competition, the five teenagers walked from the athletic field toward the school, at which point Patrick and Jakob became engaged in a physical activity, which Terryn and Meaghan later described as fooling around. (Id. ¶ 6.)[1]

         Defendants adamantly deny Plaintiffs' factual assertions regarding the interaction between Patrick and Jakob, including whether or not Jakob held Patrick in a headlock or chokehold, whether Patrick asked to be released, Patrick's condition immediately after Jakob released him, and how the other teenagers reacted as the incident was occurring. (See Hammond Defs.' Opposing S.M.F. ¶¶ 7-16.) It is generally uncontested that the other teenagers testified that after the interaction, Patrick fell to backwards to the ground, where he began shaking and foaming at the mouth. (See Pls.' Reply S.M.F. ¶¶ 17-18, 20.) Patrick was thereafter transported to Maine Medical Center for treatment, where he remained for four days. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 27.)

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on December 15, 2016. The Complaint includes eight counts against a number of parties. With this motion, Plaintiffs request summary judgment on Count I, a claim against Jakob for negligence.[2]

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, based on the parties' statements of material facts and the cited record, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(c); Dyer v. Dep't of Tramp., 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821. "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact exists when the factfinder must choose between competing versions of the truth." Dyer, 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         When a plaintiff moves for summary judgment, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing each element of its claim without dispute as to any material fact in the record. Cach, LLC v. Kulas, 2011 ME 70, ¶ 8, 21 A.3d 1015. If the plaintiffs motion for summary judgment is properly supported, the burden shifts to the defendant to respond with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial. M.R. Civ. P. 56(e). If an opposing party fails to properly respond, the moving party's factual assertions will not be deemed admitted merely because of the opposing party's failure to respond. Cach, LLC, 2011 ME 70, ¶ 9, 21 A.3d 1015. The moving party must still properly support each factual assertion with citation to the record and therefore still has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. M.R. Civ. P. 56(h)(4); Cach, LLC, 2011 ME 70, ¶ 9, 21 A.3d 1015.

         III. Discussion

         Initially, it seems clear that the dispute surrounding the events leading to Patrick's injuries signifies the existence of genuine issues of material fact, and the Hammond Defendants and Cheverus have argued as much. Plaintiffs' contention, however, is that regardless of precisely what Jakob did to Patrick, whether or not it began as consensual "horse play" and whether or not Jakob's actions were intentional or negligent, it is undisputed that Jakob's actions caused harm to Patrick. (Pls.' Reply to Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 4-6.)

         However, even Plaintiffs' reply to the Hammond Defendants' opposition highlights an important fact question: "Jakob Hammond's denials that he put Patrick in a headlock, choked him into unconsciousness, was the cause of Patrick's fall, or the cause of his accident, are simply not supported by the other three witnesses to this incident." (Id. at 3.) Assuming arguendo that Jakob's account of the details of the incident is wholly inconsistent with the testimony of all three other witnesses (and the Court would posit that this is not the case), Plaintiffs are nonetheless asking this Court to make several credibility determinations and to choose between at least two competing versions of the truth. This is not the province of the Court on summary judgment. See Dyer, 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821. Plaintiffs are also asking the Court to infer negligence from the fact of an injury or accident. As observed by Defendant Cheverus, this is not a permissible inference under Maine law. Duchaine v. Fortin, 159 Me. 313, 318, 192 A.2d 473; Marr v. Hicks, 136 Me. 33, 36, 1 A.2d 271.

         Defendants have noted the existence of a number of other unresolved fact questions. In particular, the Court agrees that an inquiry into facts surrounding a possible finding of comparative negligence will likely be important to the resolution of this case. (Def. Cheverus's Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 3.) The need for such factfinding directly contradicts Plaintiffs' assertion that the only material facts necessary to the determination of the negligence issue presented in Count I are that Jakob and Patrick had a physical interaction, and Patrick thereafter fell and was injured. Unequivocally, the Court finds there are genuine issues of material fact sufficient to warrant the denial of this motion, IV. Conclusion

         For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED. The Clerk is directed to incorporate this ...


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