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Anderson v. Knox County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

October 3, 2018

KNOX COUNTY, JOHN PICKARD, in his individual capacity, DEREK EUBANKS, in his individual capacity, JASON YORK, in his individual capacity, BRIAN JOHNSON, in his individual capacity, MARK MEFFORD, in his individual capacity, JACKIE JOSEPH, in his individual capacity, and TYSON LAWSON, in his individual capacity, Defendants.



         Criminal charges for the murder of Bob Wiggins were instituted against Plaintiff William Anderson on December 3, 2011. (DE 1 at 21 ¶ 134).[1] After spending nearly five years in state custody, on May 25, 2016, Anderson was acquitted. Id. at 2 ¶ 1. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Anderson then filed this suit against Knox County, former Knox County Sherriff John Pickard, and Knox County Sherriff's Department Officer Derek Eubanks (“Knox County Defendants”); and Kentucky State Police Officers Jason York, Brian Johnson, Mark Mefford, Jackie Joseph, and Tyson Lawson (“KSP Defendants”). seeking relief for malicious prosecution, other alleged violations of his constitutional rights, and various state-law torts. (DE 1).

         The matter is currently before the Court on three motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. (DE 25; DE 29; DE 30). The Knox County Defendants and KSP Defendants argue that all of Anderson's claims should be dismissed as untimely and for failing to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (DE 25; DE 30). Defendant Tyler Lawson independently moves for the dismissal of all of Anderson's claims against him as being both untimely and as failing to state a claim on which relief can be granted, because he believes Anderson has failed to sufficiently allege Lawson's involvement. (DE 29). For the reasons that follow, these motions shall be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         “When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court must accept all of the allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff.” Lawrence v. Chancery Ct. of Tn., 188 F.3d 687, 691 (6th Cir. 1999). As such, the following facts have been taken from Anderson's complaint and will be considered as true for purposes of the pending Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss.

         On November 23, 2011, Bob Wiggins was murdered in Bell County, Kentucky. (DE 1 at 4 ¶ 18). Prior to the murder, Kimberly York invited Wiggins to her residence under the pretense of purchasing OxyContin. Id. at ¶ 19-20. Wiggins left York's residence in the company of James Otis Sizemore, who had told Wiggins that someone wanted to purchase pills from Wiggins on top of Red Bird Mountain. Id. at 4-5 ¶¶ 21. Upon reaching the top of the mountain and exiting their car, Sizemore beat Wiggins multiple times, leaving a divot in his skull. Id. at ¶ 22-23. Sizemore then used a knife found in Wiggin's pocket to slash Wiggin's throat and stab him eighteen (18) times. Id. at ¶ 24.

         Sizemore fled the scene in Wiggin's car and ingested some of Wiggin's pills. Id. at ¶ 24- 25. He drove to Jeremy Ferrell's residence, where he showered and changed clothing. Id. at ¶ 26-28. That evening, Sizemore burned Wiggin's car in Barborville, Kentucky. Id. at 6 ¶ 29. Two days later, on November 25, 2011, Sizemore and Jeff Gray went to Lowes Department Store in Corbin, Kentucky, where they purchased a number of items used to bury Wiggin's body. Id. at ¶ 30. They buried Wiggins on top of Red Bird Mountain. Id. at ¶ 31.

         Faye Scott, Wiggin's sister, accompanied by Kimberly York, filed a missing persons report with the Knox County Sherriff's Office on December 1, 2011. Defendant Eubanks helped file the report. Id. at ¶ 32-34. Defendants Eubanks and Pickard began the investigation into Wiggins death by interviewing York, who indicated that Wiggins was last seen leaving her residence with Sizemore on November 23, 2011. York also indicated that Plaintiff Anderson and Dave Fox might have information about the murder. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.

         Eubanks and Pickard interviewed Anderson, who indicated that he had been caring for a handicapped child on the date of Wiggin's murder. Id. at 7 ¶ 38-40. The evening of Wiggin's murder, however, Anderson encountered Sizemore and Jeremy Ferrell at the grocery store, where Sizemore asked Anderson to follow Sizemore back to Ferrell's residence. Id. at 41-43. Mr. Anderson recalled that Sizemore was driving a black Toyota Camry at the time, which is the same make, model, and color of the car that belonged to Wiggins. Id. at 8 ¶ 44, 5 ¶ 26. Sizemore later burned papers found in the car, and gave a black coat and hat from the car to Anderson. Id. at 8 ¶ 45-48. Dave Fox, a local resident, was able to corroborate the information provided by Anderson. Id. at 8-10.

         Eubanks and Pickard next interviewed Sizemore. Id. at 10 ¶ 60. At the time, the officers knew that all of the evidence pointed to Sizemore, but Sizemore claimed he was not involved in the murder. Id. at 10-11 ¶ 60-64. Eubanks and Pickard became frustrated with Sizemore and turned to coaching him on what they wanted him to say. Id. at 11-12 ¶ 65-73. Eubanks and Pickard then coached Sizemore to implicate Anderson as the murderer, with stolen pills as the motive. Id. at ¶ 74-77.

         After obtaining false statements from Sizemore implicating Anderson as the murderer, Pickard reached out to Defendant York and the KSP Defendants to seek their aid in the investigation. In the same conversation, Pickard indicated that Sizemore had revealed the location of Wiggins' body. Id. at 13 ¶ 84-85. On December 2, 1011, Bob Wiggin's body was discovered at the top of Red Bird Mountain-exactly where Sizemore said it would be. Id. at 10 ¶ 60, 14 ¶¶ 87-89.

         Defendants York, Eubanks, and Johnson interviewed Sizemore once again. Id. at 14 ¶ 93. At this interview, York, Eubanks, and Johnson fabricated a fictionalized narrative of Wiggin's murder, which they knew was false, and which was conclusively proved untrue through their subsequent investigation.[2] Nonetheless, the officers convinced Sizemore to go along with the fabrication, naming Anderson as the murderer. Id. at 15 ¶ 94-99.

         On December 3, 2011, little more than one week after Wiggins' murder and one day after the finding of his body, Defendant Mefford signed a criminal complaint against Anderson. On the same day, Anderson was arrested for the murder of Wiggins. Id. at 21 ¶ 134-135. The Knox County and KSP Defendants knew that the statements used to obtain the criminal complaint against Anderson were false and that probable cause did not exist to initiate charges against Anderson. Nonetheless, the defendants continued to conspire together to suppress exculpatory evidence and preserve fabricated evidence, which implicated Anderson in Wiggins' murder and aided in his prosecution through the end of Anderson's trial. Id. at ¶ 136-23 ¶ 147.

         After spending nearly five (5) years in custody on false charges based on fabricated evidence and enduring a capital trial, Anderson was acquitted.[3] Id. at 24 ¶ 156-157.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         To survive a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion, “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); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Wesley v. Campbell, 779 F.3d 421, 427 (6th Cir. 2015); Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, Tenn., 695 F.3d 531, 538 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Although “plaintiffs need not meet a ‘probability requirement' . . . they must show ‘more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'” Wesley, 779 F.3d at 427-28 (quoting Rondigo, LLC v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 680 (6th Cir. 2011)). “In ruling on the issue, a district court must ‘construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.'” Id. at 428 (quoting Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007)). It is the defendant who “has the burden of showing that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief.” Id.

         B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Miller v. Sanilac Cty., 606 F.3d 240, 247 (6th Cir. 2010). “If a plaintiff fails to make a showing on any essential element of a § 1983 claim, it must fail.” Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Because § 1983 “is not itself a source of any substantive rights, but instead provides the means by which rights conferred elsewhere may be enforced, ” the Court's “first task . . . is to identify the specific constitutional or statutory rights allegedly infringed.” Meals v. City of Memphis, 493 F.3d 720, 727-28 (6th Cir. 2007). “That [a plaintiff] asserts claims under various constitutional provisions does not control [the Court's] inquiry.” Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 376 (6th Cir. 2009). “Rather, the critical question is whether the ‘legal norms' underlying those claims implicate clearly established constitutional rights.” Id. (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 528 (1985)).

         Anderson alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments when they conspired together to frame him for the murder of Bob Wiggins. (DE 1). Specifically, Anderson alleges seven different constitutional violations that might be remedied under Section 1983: (1) malicious prosecution, (2) fabrication of evidence, (3) due process violations, (4) supervisor liability, (5) failure to intervene, (6) conspiracy, and (7) a claim under Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). (DE 1 at 25 ¶ 162-35 ¶ 211). All of the defendants' motions to dismiss, (DE 25; DE 29; DE 30), argue that Anderson's claims are time barred and that Anderson has otherwise failed to state a claim.

         a. Count I: Malicious Prosecution

          “The Sixth Circuit ‘recognizes a separate constitutionally cognizable claim of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment,' which ‘encompasses wrongful investigation, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration.'” Sykes v. Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 308 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Barnes v. Wright, 449 F.3d 709, 715-16 (6th Cir. 2006)). “To succeed on a malicious-prosecution claim under § 1983 when the claim is premised on a violation of the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must prove” four elements. Id. “First, the plaintiff must show that a criminal prosecution was initiated against the plaintiff and that the defendant ‘made, influenced, or participated in the decision to prosecute.'” Id. (quoting Fox v. DeSoto, 489 F.3d 277, 237 (6th Cir. 2007)). “Second, because a § 1983 claim is premised on the violation of a constitutional right, the plaintiff must show that there was a lack of probable cause for the criminal prosecution.” Id. (citing Fox, 489 F.3d at 237 and Voyticky v. Villiage of Timberlake, Ohio, 412 F.3d 669, 675 (6th Cir. 2005)). “Third, the plaintiff must show that as a consequence of a legal proceeding, the plaintiff suffered a ‘deprivation of liberty,' as understood in our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, apart from the initial seizure.” Id. at 308-09 (Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 81 (3rd Cir. 2007)). “Fourth, the criminal proceeding must have been resolved in the plaintiff's favor.” Id. at 309 (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484 (1994)). Under the Fourth Amendment analysis, it is not necessary to prove malice or specific intent to violate the plaintiff's constitutional rights. See id.; Duncan v. Newby, 2018 WL 627573, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 29, 2018).

         The general basis for Anderson's malicious prosecution claim is that the defendants, while acting both individually and collectively, influenced and caused the prosecution of Anderson for a crime he did not commit, despite the absence of probable cause, thereby depriving Anderson of his liberty for nearly five years, culminating with his acquittal at trial. (DE 1 at 25 ¶ 162-27 at ¶ 171). Anderson's claim is timely under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and King v. Harewood, 852 F.3d 568, 579 (6th Cir. 2017) (“In short, under heck, a malicious-prosecution claim is not available before the favorable termination of criminal proceedings, nor does the limitations period for such a claim begin until the favorable termination of criminal proceedings.”).

         The Knox County Defendants argue that the existence of a grand jury indictment against Anderson is conclusive proof of probable cause and defeats Anderson's claim of malicious prosecution as a matter of law. (DE 25-1 at 14-15 (citing Kaley v. United States, 571 U.S. 302, 328 (2014)). The KSP Defendants present a similar argument. (DE 30-1 at 4- 7). In their memoranda of law, these defendants reiterate the long-standing tenant that “an indictment fair upon its face, and returned by a properly constituted grand jury . . . conclusively determines the existence of probable cause.” Kaley, 571 U.S. at 308 (citing Gernstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 117 n. 19 (1975)). Such a presentation of this general rule, however, neglects more nuanced Fourth Amendment precedent.

         Manuel v. City of Joliet, Ill., 137 S.Ct. 911 (2017), “considered and rejected the argument that either a judge's finding of probable cause or ‘a grand jury indictment or preliminary examination' forecloses a Fourth Amendment claim arising from unlawful pretrial detention.” King v. Harewood, 852 F.3d 568, 588 (6th Cir. 2017). This is because “[t]he Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials from detaining a person in the absence of probable cause, ” and “[t]hat can happen when the police hold someone without any reason before the formal onset of a criminal proceeding, ” or that “can occur when legal process itself goes wrong-when, for example, a judge's [or grand jury's] probable-cause determination is predicated solely on a police officer's false statements.” Manuel, 137 S.Ct. at 919. It is for this reason that the Sixth Circuit recently held that when (1) a law enforcement officer in the course of a prosecution knowingly or recklessly makes false statements or “falsifies or fabricates” evidence; (2) the false statements and evidence, in addition to any omissions made, are material to the ultimate prosecution of the plaintiff; and (3) the false statements, evidence, and omissions do not consist solely of grand-jury testimony, “the presumption that the grand-jury indictment is evidence of probable cause is rebuttable and not conclusive.” King, 852 F.3d at 588.

         Thus, while “[a]s a general rule, the finding of an indictment, fair upon its face, by a properly constituted grand jury, conclusively determines the existence of probable cause, ” it is now held that “an exception applies where the indictment was obtained wrongfully by defendant police officers who knowingly presented false testimony to the grand jury.” Robertson v. Lucas, 753 F.3d 606, 616 (6th Cir. 2014). Indeed, “even if independent evidence establishes probable cause against a suspect, it would still be unlawful for law-enforcement officers to fabricate evidence in order to strengthen the case against a suspect.” Webb v. United States, 789 F.3d 647, 670 (6th Cir. 2015).

         Anderson alleges that the defendants “knowingly fabricated” evidence, “including without limitation, false police reports, fabricated statements attributed to witnesses, and fabricated testimony offered at grand jury and other pretrial proceedings.” (DE 1 at 27 ¶ 173). Accepting these allegations as true for purposes of consideration of the defendants' motions to dismiss, it cannot be said that the mere existence of a grand jury indictment alone is sufficient grounds to dismiss Anderson's malicious prosecution claim against the Knox County and KSP Defendants. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (requiring no more than probability based on the facts accepted as true for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion). More discovery will be required to determine the merits of Anderson's claim, but Anderson's pleadings are sufficient to survive the current Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Hoskins v. Knox County, Ky., 2018 WL 1352163 (E.D. Ky. Mar. 15, 2018).

         Similarly, Anderson's claim against Defendant Lawson will go forward, despite Lawson's independent motion to dismiss. (DE 29). This is because-while Lawson alleges there are insufficient facts and allegations listed in the complaint to include him in the malicious prosecution claim-Anderson specifically pleads that all of the defendant officers “individually, jointly and in conspiracy with each other” violated Anderson's constitutional rights. (DE 1 at 27 ¶ 173). Further, Anderson alleges that Lawson himself worked with the other KSP Defendants to obtain false statements from a witness implicating Anderson as the murderer. Id. at 23 ¶ 148-24 ¶ 155. Such an allegation is “beyond mere negligence or innocent mistake, ” as is required to satisfy the first element of a malicious prosecution claim. Johnson v. Moseley, 790 F.3d 649, 655 (6th Cir. 2015). At this stage of litigation, the Court is required to accept Anderson's allegations as true. Accordingly, Anderson's malicious prosecution claim shall go forward against all defendants, whose motions to dismiss shall be denied. (DE 25-1 at 13-15; DE 29-1 at 6-11; DE 30-1 at 4-7).

         b. Count II: Fabricated Evidence

          i. Fourth Amendment

         “A Fourth Amendment claim for fabricated evidence lies where a defendant knowingly manufactures probable cause, thereby effecting a seizure.” Robertson v. Lucas, 753 F.3d 606, 616 n.5 (6th Cir. 2014). To adequately state a claim for relief for fabrication of evidence under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant knowingly fabricated evidence against him or her and that there is a reasonable likelihood that the false evidence would have affected the decision of the jury. Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444 F.3d 725, 737 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Stemler v. City of Florence, 126 F.3d 856, 872 (6th Cir.1997)). In Kentucky, this Section 1983 claim is governed by the one-year statute of limitations of Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. ยง ...

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