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Nicholson v. Delgadillo

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 5, 2014

BRENNAN NICHOLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
RUBEN DELGADILLO, MIKE LARIMER AND DOES 1-X, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Before the Court in the above-entitled matter is Plaintiff Brennan Nicholson's ("Nicholson") Motion for Default Judgment as to Defendant Ruben Delgadillo ("Delgadillo"). (Dkt. 36.) Nicholson brought a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Delgadillo in September, 2012.[1] Delgadillo failed to appear, and an order of default was entered against him on September 27, 2013. (Dkt. 24.) As an order of default has been entered against Delgadillo, liability has been admitted. The only remaining issue is the amount of the damage award. Nicholson filed a memorandum requesting $225, 000 in compensatory damages and $1.25 million in punitive damages on October 30, 2014. (Dkt. 43.) The Court held a hearing on Nicholson's damages request on November 5, 2014. For the reasons set forth below, Nicholson is awarded $225, 000 in compensatory damages and $675, 000 in punitive damages, for total damages of $900, 000.

I. Facts

During the events leading to this suit, Nicholson was a fifteen year old student at Vallivue High School. Nicholson's stepfather was dying of cancer and Nicholson was acting out at school. In April 2008, Nicholson was required to attend an expulsion hearing.

At the time, Delgadillo was a School Resource Officer ("SRO") with the Caldwell Police Department. Due to his role as SRO, Delgadillo was a member of the expulsion board that heard Nicholson's case. After the expulsion hearing, while on school property and while in his Caldwell Police uniform, Delgadillo approached Nicholson and his mother and offered to mentor Nicholson and train him for football. Nicholson's mother trusted Delgadillo because he was a police officer and an SRO assigned to work with children. She ultimately agreed to the mentorship.

Delgadillo began to deliberately befriend and establish an emotional connection with Nicholson in order to lower his inhibitions. On a daily basis, Delgadillo would pick Nicholson up at his home and take him jogging. Delgadillo would also take Nicholson on ride-alongs in Delgadillo's police vehicle. Delgadillo then began having Nicholson spend the night with him at Delgadillo's home. On dozens of occasions over the following months, Delgadillo sexually molested and raped Nicholson. Nicholson felt he had no one to turn to because he feared the Caldwell Police would not protect him. However, in November 2008, Nicholson ultimately went to the Idaho State Police to report the abuse.

On October 25, 2010, after an investigation by the Idaho State Police, Delgadillo pled guilty to felony injury of a child in violation of I.C. § 18-1508, and was sentenced to a total of ten years, with the first three years fixed. On April 6, 2011, Delgadillo was placed on probation for a period of ten years. Delgadillo is now free on probation, while Nicholson has suffered and continues to suffer significant mental and emotional damage as a result of Delgadillo's abuse.

Nicholson seeks compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Nicholson has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD"), anxiety, depression, and reports difficulty focusing, nervousness, feelings of unease, and avoidance of intimate partner relationships as a result of the abuse. He also reports lack of motivation/enthusiasm/drive, not engaging in activities he previously enjoyed, inability to form meaningful personal relationships, impact on ability to continue with education or obtain meaningful work, negative self-image, and general sadness arising from Delgadillo's victimization.

II. Hearing

Nicholson was not present for the November 5, 2014 hearing on default damages. His counsel represented that Nicholson suffers trauma whenever he is forced to remember Delgadillo's abuse, and that Nicholson consequently avoids any situation which may trigger memories of the abuse. Nicholson felt unable to attend the hearing due to fear of such trauma, and has not sought counseling as a result of such fear. Nicholson's counsel noted that prosecution of this case has been difficult due to Nicholson's avoidance issues, but submitted the declaration of Tylene Channer ("Channer"), a licensed clinical social worker, in support of Nicholson's damages request. (Dkt. 39-1.) Channer specializes in interviewing and analyzing victims of childhood sexual abuse, and met with Nicholson on August 29, 2014 to conduct an assessment of the impact of trauma symptoms Nicholson suffers as a result of his victimization by Delgadillo. ( Id .)

In addition to a standard intake assessment, Channer performed several analyses and tests on Nicholson. The DSM-5 Self Rated Level 1 Cross-Cutting Symptom Measure test showed a moderate level of depression, severe level of anxiety, and a severe level of personality functioning.[2] Nicholson's DES-B (Brief Dissociative Experience Scale) score placed him in the severe level of dissociation. In addition, on the WHODAS 2.0 (World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule), Nicholson scored in the severe range of difficulty in establishing relationships with people, including making new friends or having close friends. Nicholson also displayed a mild form of depression on the PROMIS Emotional Distress-Depression-Short Form. Finally, Nicholson scored a moderately severe level of PTSD on the NSESSS (National Stressful Events Survey PTSD Short Scale).

Channer also noted that Nicholson reported the following PTSD symptoms: flashbacks, nightmares about the abuse, loss of interest in activities, hypervigilance, and anger. Nicholson demonstrated continuing anxiety symptoms resulting from the abuse including difficulty focusing, nervousness, feeling of unease, and avoidance of intimate partner relationships. Nicholson also reported depression symptoms resulting from the abuse including lack of motivation/enthusiasm/drive, not engaging in activities he previously enjoyed, inability to perform meaningful personal relationships, impact on ability to continue with education or obtain meaningful work, negative self-image, and general sadness.

III. Analysis

Upon entry of default, the complaint's factual allegations regarding liability are taken as true, but allegations regarding the amount of damages must be proven. See Fed. R. Civ. P 55(b)(2); Geddes v. United Fin. Group, 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir.1977). Where, as here, a plaintiff's damages are either punitive or are not capable of ascertainment from definite figures contained in documentary evidence or detailed in affidavits, they require "proving up" through an evidentiary hearing or some other means. Dolphin v. Ruiz, 2008 WL 4552940, at *3 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (citing Dundee Cement Co. v. Howard Pipe & Concrete Prods ., 722 F.2d 1319, 1323-24 (7th Cir. 1983)). A plaintiff's burden "in proving up' damages is relatively lenient." Elektra Entm't Grp., Inc. v. Bryant, 2004 WL 783123, at *2 (C.D.Cal.2004) (citing Greyhound Exhibitgroup, Inc. v. E.L.U.L. Reality Corp., 973 F.2d 155, 159 (2d Cir.1992)). Injury is admitted upon default, but the plaintiff "still must prove that the compensation sought relates to the damages ...


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