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James v. Woods

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 9, 2018

MARK C. JAMES, Plaintiff - Appellant
SAM WOODS; STEPHANIE WELBORN, Defendants - Appellees

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before JOLLY, JONES, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.


         This appeal-interwoven with a custody dispute-arrives in our court following a father's report of sexual misconduct inflicted on his child by the child's stepfather. Upon investigation by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, the stepfather was arrested and charged with aggravated incest. A state-court jury ultimately acquitted him at trial, and he later filed these malicious-prosecution and intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claims under Louisiana law against the child's father and his then-girlfriend. The district court granted summary judgment for the father and girlfriend. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


         The parties dispute many of the facts in this emotionally charged matter. We recount only the facts relevant to our analysis, viewing all genuinely disputed facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.

         Sam Woods and Tracy James ("Tracy") divorced in 2005. The custody agreement provided that their children, JW and AGW, live with Tracy in Mississippi. Tracy and Mark James ("James") began dating in 2006, and around the spring of 2007, Woods learned that Tracy and James planned to move the children to Louisiana. Woods filed a petition to modify the custody agreement. In November 2007, the Chancery Court denied Woods's request for the children to live with him in Mississippi but granted a modification of visitation rights. Throughout this custody dispute, Woods was dating Stephanie Welborn, to whom he is now married.[1] James believes that the events that followed the Chancery Court ruling were a ruse by Woods and Welborn to punish James and get custody of JW and AGW.

         Sometime in 2008, eight-year-old AGW told Welborn that James touched her genitalia, which Welborn relayed to Woods shortly thereafter.[2] Woods and Welborn contacted the Mississippi Department of Human Services. There is also evidence indicating that they reported the allegations to the appropriate agency in Louisiana. On August 7, 2008, AGW, Woods, and Welborn visited with a licensed therapist, Shan'Terrica Barnes[3], and at this session, AGW told Barnes a story similar to what she told Welborn. AGW ended up going to approximately sixteen sessions with Barnes. Some of the sessions included Woods, Welborn, and Tracy; but a majority of the sessions were conducted with AGW alone.

         On October 14, 2008, Woods and Welborn told St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office ("STPSO") Detective Julie Downie about AGW's allegations, and Downie interviewed Welborn and AGW that same day. AGW told Downie that James had "touched her privates." On October 16, 2008, AGW underwent a forensic interview with JoBeth Rickels of the Children's Advocacy Center and told Rickels that James touched "her private." On November 7, 2008, STPSO Detective Rochelle Hartmann spoke with Barnes about her conversations with AGW.[4] Hartmann also had follow-up conversations with Welborn, but Hartmann's attempts to interview James were unsuccessful.

         On November 10, 2008, Hartmann prepared an affidavit for an arrest warrant, stating that James committed aggravated incest. She based this conclusion on the following: (1) Woods's and Welborn's "walk-in complaint" to Downie; (2) AGW's statements to Downie regarding the alleged abuse; (3) the forensic interview Rickels conducted with AGW, and (4) the allegations AGW disclosed to Barnes. A magistrate judge issued a warrant for James's arrest that same day. James was subsequently charged with aggravated incest. A jury found him not guilty.

         After his acquittal, James filed this suit, based on diversity jurisdiction, against Woods and Welborn ("the defendants") in Louisiana federal court. He alleges claims of malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and alienation of affection under Louisiana law. After dismissing the alienation-of-affection claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the malicious-prosecution and intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claims. The district court held that James's claims failed on the merits in addition to holding that the defendants had statutory immunity under Louisiana Children's Code Article 611. The district court denied James's Rule 59(e) motion to reconsider. James now appeals the dismissal of his malicious-prosecution and intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claims.[5]


         This court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo. Reed v. Neopost USA, Inc., 701 F.3d 434, 438 (5th Cir. 2012). "The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of identifying the portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact," and "[t]he nonmovant must then point to or produce specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue of material fact." E.E.O.C. v. Chevron Phillips Chem. Co., LP, 570 F.3d 606, 615 (5th Cir. 2009). We "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and avoid credibility determinations and weighing of the evidence." Sandstad v. CB Richard Ellis, Inc., 309 F.3d 893, 896 (5th Cir. 2002). We may affirm summary judgment "on any ground raised below and supported by the record." Administaff Companies, Inc. v. New York Joint Bd., Shirt & Leisurewear Div., 337 F.3d 454, 456 (5th Cir. 2003).

         Because our jurisdiction over this matter is based on diversity, we apply the substantive law of Louisiana. Erie R.R. Co. ...

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