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Harrison v. Woolridge

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

June 12, 2019

SALISA LUSTER HARRISON PLAINTIFF
v.
RICHARD WOOLRIDGE, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GREG N. STIVERS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (DN 14, 18) and Defendants' Motion to Seal (DN 16). The motions are ripe for adjudication. For the reasons outlined below, Defendants' Motion to Seal is GRANTED, and Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND CLAIMS

         The alleged events giving rise to this action began when Plaintiff Salisa Luster Harrison (“Harrison”) failed to show up to work on April 29, 2008. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 35, DN 1). Harrison's unexplained absence was uncharacteristic, and her coworkers grew concerned, prompting efforts to contact her. (Compl. ¶ 35). Unable to reach her by phone, Harrison's coworkers went to her apartment where they saw her car, but their repeated knocks on Harrison's door and windows went unheeded. (Compl. ¶ 35). Their inability to contact Harrison prompted the coworkers to call 911 to request an emergency welfare check. (Compl. ¶ 36). LMPD Dispatch received the coworkers' first call at approximately 11:12 AM on April 29, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 36).

         Defendant Richard Woolridge (“Woolridge”) was an LMPD police officer at the time[1] and responded to the coworkers' call, arriving at Harrison's apartment at approximately 11:27 AM. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 37). The coworkers expressed their concerns, and Woolridge entered Harrison's apartment. (Compl. ¶ 37). Woolridge did not, however, allow Harrison's coworkers to follow him in, and he shut the front door behind him upon entry. (Compl. ¶ 37). Woolridge stayed in Harrison's apartment for around ten minutes. (Compl. ¶ 38). When he exited, Woolridge informed Harrison's coworkers that he had spoken with Harrison, that she had been crying because of a fight with her boyfriend, and that he had confirmed this with the boyfriend. (Compl. ¶ 38). The LMPD closed the matter at approximately 11:36 AM. (Compl. ¶ 39).

         The coworkers placed a second call to the police at 11:45 AM. (Compl. ¶ 45). While waiting for an officer to arrive, the coworkers went to the building manager in an attempt to gain access to Harrison's apartment. (Compl. ¶ 45). Before the police arrived, the coworkers were able to enter Harrison's apartment and found the apartment in a state of disarray, apparently ransacked. (Compl. ¶ 45). Harrison was in her apartment, incoherent and unable to leave the couch, wearing blood-stained clothing, with facial bruising and blood in her eyes. (Compl. ¶ 46). Harrison was also exhibiting respiratory distress and was transported to the University of Louisville Hospital for treatment, including brain surgery. (Compl. ¶¶ 47-48). The hospital also photographed Harrison's injuries and facilitated a rape kit. (Compl. ¶ 48).

         Brian Tucker (“Tucker”) was employed as a detective for the LMPD and initiated a criminal investigation that day. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 15, 49-50). According to Harrison, Tucker ignored crucial evidence in her apartment, including: failing to gather fingerprints; failing to recover, collect, and process a knife found in Harrison's bathroom; failing to interview apartment staff or any other contemporaneous witnesses; failing to collect DNA evidence; and failing to conduct any follow-up regarding the identity of the alleged boyfriend to whom Woolridge claimed to have spoken. (Compl. ¶¶ 52-53).

         Tucker filed an incident report the following day. (Compl. ¶ 54). In that report, Tucker indicated he interviewed Harrison's coworkers at the hospital, a fact she claims is willfully untrue. (Compl. ¶ 54). Harrison alleges Tucker subsequently worked to ensure physical evidence went untested, and Woolridge, Tucker, and other Defendants conspired to have Harrison's rape kit removed from Kentucky's testing lab and placed instead into the rape kit backlog. (Compl. ¶ 55). Furthering the conspiracy, Woolridge, Tucker, and other Defendants falsely told Harrison and the prosecutor's office that the rape kit had been tested but returned a negative result. (Compl. ¶ 57).

         Harrison alleges that on or about April 13, 2009, the LMPD closed her criminal case, but Harrison and her mother directed questions to LMPD Chief Robert C. White (“White”) requesting information on the investigation and seeking to provide additional assistance to the police. (Compl. ¶¶ 58-59, 61). Harrison informed LMPD officials, including White, that she wished to lodge a complaint against Woolridge for willful abdication of his duties. (Compl. ¶ 62). Harrison later learned White had allowed Woolridge to take early retirement, so that filing a complaint against him would be futile. (Compl. ¶ 62). Harrison alleges she informed White and others of her wish to file a complaint long before Woolridge's retirement and alleges White conspired with other Defendants to conceal incriminating facts about Woolridge for over ten years. (Compl. ¶ 63).

         Harrison claims she sought information about the attack and Woolridge's background from the LMPD via FOIA requests.[2] (Compl. ¶ 64). Harrison contends these requests were met with fraudulent concealment by LMPD officials Carey Klain (“Klain”) and Dee Allen (“Allen”). (Compl. ¶¶ 18, 19, 64). Specifically, Klain and Allen informed Harrison that such materials did not exist, which Harrison claims is false and a violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act and LMPD policy. (Compl. ¶ 64). In 2012, Harrison and her mother reached out to White's successor, Steve Conrad (“Conrad”), asking him to use his authority to reopen the investigation of Harrison's attack. (Compl. ¶ 65). Conrad did not reopen the investigation, and Harrison alleges she continued making open records requests that were met with incomplete information. (Compl. ¶ 65).

         In 2015, a highly-publicized statewide audit revealed that Kentucky had a significant backlog of untested rape kits. (Compl. ¶ 66). Harrison contends the publicity surrounding the audit alerted Defendants to the fact that Harrison's rape kit would eventually be found among the other untested rape kits. (Compl. ¶ 66). Defendants were thus prompted to reopen the investigation into Harrison's attack without contacting her, despite refusing her numerous prior requests. (Compl. ¶ 66). Harrison alleges this fact shows the existence of an institutional conspiracy within the LMPD. (Compl. ¶ 66).

         Harrison further alleges that Special Victims Unit Coordinator Carolyn Nunn (“Nunn”) falsely claimed Harrison's rape kit was being retested because of advancements in technology, and it had been fully tested in 2008-09. (Compl. ¶ 68). Harrison claims that Nunn told the Kentucky State Police that her rape kit had fallen through the cracks in a No. of areas. (Compl. ¶ 69). Nunn also instructed other police officers not to share information with Harrison or her mother. (Compl. ¶ 69). Additionally, Harrison asserts that in January 2016, David Ray (“Ray”) refused to test her rape kit in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy, with the hope that her attacker would not be identified. (Compl. ¶¶ 21, 70).

         Sometime in 2016, Nunn was replaced by David Allen (“Allen”), who became Harrison's liaison with LMPD. (Compl. ¶¶ 23, 71). In November 2016, Whitney Collins (“Collins”), a supervisor with the Kentucky State Police laboratory, wrote to Allen seeking written authorization to retest Harrison's rape kit because the testing would fully consume the physical evidence. (Compl. ¶ 72). Harrison claims that a week after Collins wrote to Allen, Allen knowingly misrepresented to her he was still waiting on communications from the laboratory. (Compl. ¶ 73). Subsequently, Allen told Harrison that LMPD had received the communications from Kentucky State Police, that there was only enough physical evidence left for one final test, and that they were awaiting authorization for that test. (Compl. ¶ 73). On December 28, 2016, Allen wrote to Harrison, informing her that the test had occurred but did not reveal new information, but Harrison alleges the rape kit was not actually tested. (Compl. ¶¶ 75-76).

         Harrison now asserts three counts against Defendants concerning their handling of the initial response to the crime and subsequent investigation. (Compl. ¶¶ 80-105). Count I alleges Defendants denied Harrison access to the courts in violation of her rights under the First Amendment. (Compl. ¶¶ 80-89). Count II alleges that Defendants denied Harrison the equal protection of the laws by treating her differently on the basis of her status as an African American. (Compl. ¶¶ 90-96). Count III alleges civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. (Compl. ¶¶ 97-105).

         II. JURISDICTION

         The Court has original jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” and is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss, courts must presume all factual allegations in the complaint to be true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield,552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). “But the district court need not accept a bare assertion of legal conclusions.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of ...


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