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Brown v. Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 27, 2017

PERCY BROWN, Plaintiff,



         Percy Brown was incarcerated for more than seven years as he faced a series of charges ranging from witness intimidation to murder, all of which were eventually dismissed. Brown maintains that the charges and any evidence supporting them were manufactured by a group of police officers who resented him for his failure to cooperate in another case. He asserts various claims against the officers and their employers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Kentucky law. (Docket No. 1) The defendants-Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government and several Louisville Metro Police Department officers (the “Metro defendants”), as well as the University of Louisville and University Police Officer Jeffrey G. Jewell (the “University defendants”)- have moved to dismiss Brown's complaint for failure to state a claim. (D.N. 13; D.N. 33) For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motions to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are set out in the complaint and taken as true for purposes of the present motions. See Keys v. Humana, Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).

         Jennifer French was shot to death in Louisville, Kentucky, at approximately 2:20 a.m. on September 16, 2004. (D.N. 1, PageID # 4) Early in the investigation of her murder, the “Defendant Officers”-Louisville Metro Police Department Detectives Michael Smithers, Kristen Downs, Roy Stalvey, Brian Kuriger, [1] Officer Weathers, Keith Roberts, Gary Alcorn, and David Sanford; LMPD Lieutenants Todd Kessinger and Barry Wilkerson; and University of Louisville Police Officer Jeffrey G. Jewell-learned through interviews with two witnesses that Loveil “Dada” Burks and Cecil Gaines were responsible for the killing. (Id., PageID # 3-6) However, Gaines and Burks were not interviewed “until months later, ” and neither was ever charged with French's murder. (Id., PageID # 6) The Defendant Officers ceased their investigation after Gaines and Burks were identified, and they “eventually classified the French murder as a cold case.” (Id.)

         The Defendant Officers “suspected Mr. Brown of being involved in a check forgery scheme but could never prove it.” (Id. ¶ 28) On December 3, 2004, while questioning Montoya Tyson about a forged check she had attempted to cash, Defendants Smithers and Alcorn learned that Tyson knew Brown.[2] (Id. ¶ 29) During another interrogation a few days later, Smithers and Jewell “provided Tyson with facts relating to the French homicide and urged her to falsely implicate Mr. Brown” by stating that she had “heard from Shaquita Guthrie that Mr. Brown killed French.” (Id. ¶ 30) Tyson had not previously suggested to the officers that she knew anything about the French murder. (Id., PageID # 7 ¶ 30) A receipt reproduced in the complaint shows that Brown was gambling at a casino in another state when French was killed. (Id. ¶ 32)

         Later in December 2004, Brown was taken into custody by Milwaukee police in connection with a check-forgery scheme. (Id., PageID # 8 ¶ 34) Defendants Smithers and Sanford, accompanied by two other detectives, traveled to Milwaukee to interrogate him.[3] (Id.) When Brown refused to admit to the check-forgery scheme and asked to consult a lawyer, Smithers “became enraged” and threatened to “hang the French murder on” him. (Id. ¶ 36)

         Defendant Downs, who was assigned to investigate French's murder, “refused to investigate anyone other than” Brown. (Id., PageID # 9 ¶ 40) She spoke to Burks only once and never interviewed Gaines. Nor did she interview Henry Humphries, one of the two witnesses who had identified Burks. (Id.) Instead, Downs “teamed up with the other Defendant Officers to leverage witnesses into falsely implicating Mr. Brown of murder and other violent offenses.”[4](Id. ¶ 41) In the course of the alleged conspiracy, “[t]he Defendant Officers . . . manufactur[ed] witnesses and fabricat[ed] evidence in an effort to keep Mr. Brown incarcerated.” (Id. ¶ 42) Specifically, the officers approached several female suspects in the check-forgery investigation and offered to dismiss their pending charges in exchange for false accusations of sexual assault against Brown. (Id. ¶ 43) One suspect, Andrea Foster, was “threaten[ed]” by Downs and Smithers for “nearly an hour into falsely implicating Mr. Brown” although she repeatedly denied that Brown had ever sexually assaulted her. (Id., PageID # 10 ¶ 44)

         In exchange for accusing Brown of sodomy and murder, Tyson was sentenced to three years' probation in the check-forgery case. (Id. ¶ 45) When she violated the terms of her probation in December 2008, she was instructed by “the Defendant Officers” that she could avoid arrest for the probation violations only by claiming to have seen Brown murder French. (Id. ¶ 46) Six days later, Brown was arrested for the French murder. (Id. ¶ 47) He was indicted the next day solely on the basis of Tyson's coerced statement. (Id. ¶ 48)

         In the eight years that followed, Brown was also charged with rape, kidnapping, sodomy, assault, wanton endangerment, and witness intimidation-all based solely on false evidence generated by “the Defendant Officers.” (Id., PageID # 11 ¶ 51; see also id., PageID # 12 ¶ 56) These charges were eventually dismissed, with the final dismissal occurring on April 5, 2016. (Id., PageID # 13 ¶ 61) Until that time, “the Defendant Officers actively concealed from Mr. Brown, the prosecutors, and the courts[] the falsity of the evidence they fabricated, the methods by which they fabricated, and the scope of their fabrication.” (Id., PageID # 11 ¶ 53)

         The complaint alleges a pattern of similar misconduct involving LMPD officers and a failure to discipline those officers. (Id., PageID # 13-16) Specifically, Brown points to three cases from the 1990s in which LMPD officers were accused of “wrongly arrest[ing], maliciously prosecut[ing, ] and cover[ing] up or withh[olding] exculpatory and impeachment information from an[] innocent suspect.” (Id., PageID # 15 ¶ 68; see Id. ¶¶ 69-70) According to the complaint, these cases reflect “policies and practices . . . [that] were consciously approved by the municipal defendants' policymakers who were deliberately indifferent to the violations of constitutional rights.” (Id., PageID # 16 ¶ 73)

         Brown asserts claims of malicious prosecution, fabrication of evidence, supervisory liability, failure to intervene, conspiracy to deprive of constitutional rights, and municipal liability, all under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state-law claims of malicious prosecution, negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and respondeat superior. (Id., PageID # 17-25) He seeks to recover damages for the time he spent incarcerated and the resulting pain and suffering. (Id., PageID # 16) Brown concedes to dismissal of his claim of malicious prosecution under Kentucky law, his claim of respondeat superior against the University of Louisville, and “any perceived claims against Defendant Jewell in his official capacity.”[5] (D.N. 34, PageID # 354 n.1) He has likewise abandoned his state-law claims against Metro Government and his negligent-supervision claims against Defendants Kessinger and Wilkerson. (D.N. 38, PageID # 413 n.2) The Court's analysis will be limited accordingly.

         II. ANALYSIS

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Factual allegations are essential; “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” and the Court need not accept such statements as true. Id. A complaint whose “well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct” does not satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8 and will not withstand a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679.

         A. Motions to Dismiss

         At the outset, the Court will narrow the scope of its analysis by identifying those defendants against whom Brown has clearly failed to state a claim: Stalvey, Kuriger, Weathers, Roberts, Alcorn, Sanford, Kessinger, and Wilkerson.

         The complaint does not contain a single substantive allegation against Defendant Stalvey, Kuriger, or Roberts. (See D.N. 1) As to Defendant Alcorn, it asserts only that he questioned Tyson on December 3, 2004, and that “[d]uring that interrogation, the Defendant Officers discovered that Tyson knew Mr. Brown.” (Id., PageID # 6 ΒΆ 29) With regard to Defendant Sanford, the complaint alleges that he accompanied Defendant Smithers to Milwaukee to interrogate Brown and, with Smithers, ...

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