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Agape Family Worship Center, Inc v. Donald Richard Gridiron

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 30, 2018





         Defendant Donald Richard Gridiron, Jr. stole substantial sums of money from Plaintiff Agape Family Worship Center. For his crime, Gridiron is now incarcerated and spending the remainder of his sentence in a federal penitentiary in California. Agape initiated this civil action to recover damages resulting from the theft. Before the Court is Agape's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 117.) For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Agape's Motion.[1]


         A. Factual Background

         Agape is a large, non-denominational Christian church located in Rahway, New Jersey. (Pl.'s Separate Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (“Pl.'s SUF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 117-2.) In 1992, Agape hired Gridiron to assist with its accounting needs. (Id. ¶ 5.) In 2007, Agape's Chief Financial Officer left the organization, and by 2008, Gridiron had taken over most of the organization's financial and accounting duties. (Id. ¶ 8.) Gridiron interviewed and hired a bookkeeper for Agape in 2007, and recommended that Agape stop its practice of conducting third-party audits. (Id.)

         In March 2014, after Agape learned that one of its checks was returned for insufficient funds, Gridiron informed Agape's Senior Pastor Lawrence Powell that he had a severe gambling addiction and had stolen a large sum of money from the church. (Id. ¶ 19.) After an investigation, Agape learned that Gridiron had stolen hundreds of checks from 2007 until 2014. (Id. ¶ 20.) Gridiron began taking money from Agape in 2007 by check and wire transfer and continued to do so until early 2014. (Id.) Gridiron was able to cover up his actions by providing Agape's Board with false reports about the organization's finances. (Id.) Agape notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation about Gridiron's theft. (Id.)

         Gridiron was charged with the crimes of wire fraud and false and fraudulent tax returns, in the United States District Court in New Jersey. (Id. ¶ 23.) He pleaded guilty to both counts. (Id. ¶ 24.) The presiding judge sentenced Gridiron to fifty-seven months in prison and ordered him to pay restitution to Agape and two of its insurance companies totaling $4, 815, 963.54. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On July 22, 2015, Agape filed this case against Gridiron and Defendant Western States Golf Association (“WSGA”), seeking to recover the money that Gridiron stole from Agape and allegedly deposited into WSGA's accounts. (ECF No. 1.) In March 2017, Agape and WSGA settled their portion of the case, and on March 22, 2017, the Court dismissed WSGA. (ECF Nos. 102, 107, 108.)

         Agape filed the pending Motion for Summary Judgment on December 19, 2017. (Mot., ECF No. 117.) Gridiron opposes Agape's Motion. (Opp'n, ECF No. 133.)


         A court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). A disputed fact is “material” where the resolution of that fact might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and the dispute is “genuine” where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1968). Conclusory or speculative testimony in affidavits is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment. Thornhill's Publ'g Co. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th Cir. 1979). Moreover, though the Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, there must be more than a mere scintilla of contradictory evidence to survive summary judgment. Addisu v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 198 F.3d 1130, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party cannot simply rest on the pleadings or argue that any disagreement or “metaphysical doubt” about a material issue of fact precludes summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987). Nor will uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002). Thus, the Court will grant summary judgment against a party who fails to demonstrate facts sufficient to establish an element essential to his case when that party will ultimately bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         Pursuant to the Local Rules, parties moving for summary judgment must file a proposed “Statement of Uncontroverted Facts and Conclusions of Law” that should set out the material facts to which the moving party contends there is no genuine dispute. C.D. Cal. L.R. 56-1. Additionally, a party opposing the motion must file a “Statement of Genuine Disputes” setting forth all material facts as to which it contends there exists a genuine dispute. C.D. Cal. 56-2. In determining any motion for summary judgment, “the Court may assume that material facts as claimed and adequately supported by the moving party are admitted to exist without controversy except to the extent that such material ...

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