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Allen v. Rucker

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

April 3, 2018



          Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge.

         This case presents a human tragedy. Plaintiff Jessica Allen lost her child and her liberty when she was wrongfully imprisoned in connection with her infant daughter's death. Allen spent more than three years behind bars before Kentucky courts overturned her convictions of criminal abuse in the first degree and complicity to first-degree manslaughter.

         Allen believes that Defendant Virgil Rucker, a state police officer, was at least partially responsible for her misfortune. She claims Rucker fabricated evidence, falsified testimony, conducted a shoddy investigation, and pushed for her prosecution. So she has filed this malicious prosecution lawsuit seeking monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.

         But to bring her lawsuit, Allen must show that Rucker acted without probable cause. And when a grand jury issues an indictment, that indictment presumptively establishes probable cause. In some situations, a plaintiff can rebut the presumption, but in the absence of specific factual allegations against Rucker, Allen has failed to do so. Thus, this Court must dismiss her Complaint, and for the reasons stated herein Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [DE 6] is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS

         Jessica Allen (“Allen”) gave birth to her daughter, Kaylee Buchanan, in April 2008. [DE 1, p. 3, ¶15]. Three months later, Kaylee was dead. [Id. at p. 6, ¶30]. This case involves Allen's criminal prosecution after Kaylee's death and whether state police officer Virgil Rucker (“Rucker”) violated Allen's Fourth Amendment rights in the process. The facts in this case come from Allen's Complaint, which the Court assumes to be true for the purposes of the present motion.

         Allen and her boyfriend, Terry Buchanan (“Buchanan”), moved in together in April 2007. [DE 1, p. 3, ¶14]. Months later, the couple learned Allen was pregnant, and she gave birth in April 2008. [Id. at ¶15]. Allen returned to work three months after Kaylee's birth, and Kaylee stayed with a babysitter from about 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day. [Id. at ¶16]. The babysitter- identified in the complaint only as “Mrs. Meade”-described Kaylee as “normal and healthy” and never noticed any strange marks or bruising on Kaylee. [Id. at p. 4, ¶17].

         Shortly after Allen returned to work, she and Buchanan took Kaylee, and Allen's other son, Braden, to a campsite for the day. [Id. at ¶18]. Allen's mother and other family members joined the trip, during which the family fished and enjoyed the outdoors. [Id.]. The family spent hours together before departing at about 2 or 3 p.m. [Id.] Kaylee “seemed happy and normal” during the trip. [Id.].

         Upon returning home, Allen fed Kaylee a bottle and laid her in a bassinette before cooking dinner. [Id. at ¶20]. At some point, Kaylee begin to stir and Allen asked Buchanan to watch Kaylee while she showered and spent time in a tanning bed. [Id. at ¶21]. After showering, but before entering the tanning bed, Allen heard Kaylee giggle from the other room. [Id.]. She then entered the tanning bed. [Id.].

         While tanning, Allen heard Buchanan tell Braden to go to bed and she observed a shadow pass by the tanning room. [Id. at p. 5, ¶22]. She assumed Buchanan was putting Braden to bed. [Id.]. She then heard what she described as “not a normal cry” from Kaylee, but Allen stayed in the tanning bed and did not check on Kaylee. [Id. at ¶23]. Kaylee eventually stopped crying. [Id.].

         As Allen finished tanning, Buchanan ran into the tanning room and lifted the tanning bed lid; he was holding a limp and unresponsive Kaylee in his harms. [Id. at ¶24]. Allen attempted rescue breaths, chest compressions, and the Heimlich Maneuver. [Id. at ¶25]. A volunteer firefighter then arrived and began rescue breaths. [Id. at ¶26]. Kaylee had a slight pulse when she arrived at the Fleming County Emergency Room. [Id. at ¶27]. The doctor noticed irregular symptoms, and a CT scan showed swelling and blood around Kaylee's brain. [Id. at pp. 5-6, ¶28]. Kaylee was pronounced brain dead on July 23, 2008; an autopsy showed she died of blunt force injury to the head. [Id. at ¶30]. Kaylee also had a muscle injury on her right leg, which a doctor said would have occurred eight to ten days prior to her x-rays in the emergency room. [Id. at ¶¶30-32].

         A Fleming County Grand Jury indicted Allen, and she was tried and convicted of criminal abuse in the first degree for the leg injury and complicity to first-degree manslaughter for failing to prevent Buchanan from inflicting the fatal injury to Kaylee's head. [Id. at ¶33]. Several years of appeals followed. And eventually, the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed both of Allen's convictions. [Id. at p.7, ¶37]. The appeals court reasoned there was “no evidence” of the requisite mens rea on the complicity charge. [Id. at ¶38]. The court also reversed the criminal abuse charge. [Id. at p. 8, ¶40]. The Fleming Circuit Court dismissed the charges against Allen on September 27, 2016. [Id. at ¶42].

         Allen then filed this lawsuit seeking damages against Rucker. She claims Rucker “had no more information than that which was presented at trial when he made, influence, and participated in the decision to prosecute Ms. Allen.” [Id. at ¶41]. Allen alleges Rucker investigated witnesses in a manner which was intimating, threatened witnesses and coerced them to give false testimony, omitted material exculpatory facts from his investigation and report, presented false or misleading information in the application and affidavit submitted to obtain a search warrant, and presented false and misleading evidence to prosecutors and the grand jury. [Id. at ¶ 8-9, ¶¶43, 47-48]. This, Allen argues, amounts to a malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. [Id. at ¶49]. She sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.

         Rucker has filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). [DE 6]. Allen responded [DE 10] and Rucker ...

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