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Bivens v. Forrest County

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

March 30, 2015

PHILLIP BIVENS, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
FORREST COUNTY, et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons provided below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Motions to Dismiss [94, 97, 99, 102, 107, 119, 129, 147] filed by Defendants Terry Martin, Herbert Hart, Joe Hopstein, Henry "Red" Brown, Jim Erwin, the Estate of R. E. "Eddie" Clark, the Estate of Earnest "Arlon" Moulds, and the Estate of Larry James.

The Court also dismisses without prejudice Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant Wayne R. Taylor in his individual capacity and denies his Motion to Dismiss [105] as moot. Finally, the Court dismisses without prejudice Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant Gene Walters in his individual capacity.

The parties shall, within one week of the entry of this order, contact the chambers of Magistrate Judge Mike Parker to schedule a case management conference.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

This is a civil rights suit. Plaintiffs Phillip Bivens, Bobby Ray Dixon, and Larry Ruffin[2] - three African-American men - allege that they were wrongfully arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for the rape and murder of a white woman. They allege that Defendants coerced their false confessions through violence and threats of violence, fabricated evidence, ignored potentially exculpatory evidence, and otherwise conspired to prosecute them without probable cause - all motivated by racial animus.

On May 4, 1979, E.P., a young white housewife in Forrest County, Mississippi, was raped and murdered in her home. Her 4-year-old son, L.P., witnessed the crime. Within days, the Forrest County Sheriff's Department ("FCSD") and Hattiesburg Police Department ("HPD") formed a task force to find the perpetrator. Defendant Gene Walters (Sheriff, FCSD) named Defendant Earnest "Arlon" Moulds (Chief Investigator, FCSD) the task force's head investigator. Defendants Joe Hopstein (Chief Criminal Deputy Sheriff, FCSD), Terry Martin (Sheriff's Deputy, FCSD), Henry "Red" Brown (Sheriff's Deputy, FCSD), R E. "Eddie" Clark (Sheriff's Deputy, FCSD), Herbert Hart (Sheriff's Deputy, FCSD; Chief Jailer, Forrest County Regional Jail), and Raymond Howell (Officer, HPD) were assigned to or assisted the task force.

Each officer's investigative activities were recorded in notes and submitted to Moulds, and officers assigned to or assisting the task force regularly met to discuss the investigation. Defendants initially knew that the victim's child stated a single, "bushy-haired" African-American man had committed the crime; that fingerprints, footprints, tire prints, hair, and bodily fluids were left at the crime scene; and that the murder weapon and a bloody towel had likely been removed from the scene by the perpetrator. The victim's husband provided Defendants a list of men matching his son's description who knew the victim and/or her family. The list included Andrew Harris, the man whom DNA evidence eventually proved committed the crime.

Defendants focused their investigation on Ruffin despite exculpatory statements from his friends, family, and a bar owner who provided him an alibi. Defendants obtained false inculpatory statements from two residents of the Restitution Center where Ruffin lived. One of the informants was Defendant Clark's cousin, Andy DeFatta. Clark visited DeFatta at his mother's house and eventually brought him in to provide a statement implicating Ruffin. Defendants Clark, Hoptstein, Moulds, and Martin allegedly provided DeFatta with nonpublic facts about the crime, and Defendants Moulds and Martin signed DeFatta's statement as witnesses. DeFatta purportedly suggested that they speak with another Restitution Center resident, Cris Williams. Defendants Moulds, Hopstein, and Martin questioned Williams, and he eventually signed a statement implicating Ruffin, which Moulds signed as a witness.

After obtaining the false statements, Defendants Moulds and Howell arrested Ruffin and brought him in for questioning. Plaintiffs alleged that through the night of May 29, 1979, and into the morning of May 30, 1979, Defendants Hopstein, Hart, Brown, Clark, Martin, Howell, and Moulds coerced a false confession from Ruffin by beating him, threatening him, and depriving him of food and sleep. Defendants purportedly supplied Ruffin with factual details regarding the victim and her home. On May 30, Defendant Walters publicly announced that the task force had arrested Ruffin for the rape/murder. Defendants Brown, Clark, Erwin, and Taylor continued to beat Ruffin and coerce additional statements from him for several nights after his initial false confession. Defendants Hopstein, Brown, and Howell allegedly bragged to Defendant Walters, in the presence of jail trustees, about beating Dixon. They warned the trustees to remain silent regarding what they had heard.

Defendants failed to investigate or corroborate some of the details discovered during their investigation and interrogation of Ruffin. For example, Defendants discovered that Ruffin did not own a pair of shoes that matched the footprints discovered at the crime scene; that his fingerprints did not match those found at the crime scene; that he did not own or have access to a car matching a description provided by witnesses; and that his hair was shorter than the attacker's, according to testimony by the victim's child. Regardless, they arrested him, charged him, and he was eventually indicted for the subject crime.

Defendants Moulds, Hopstein, Clark, Brown, Martin, Hart, and Howell continued to investigate, looking for potential accomplices - despite the witness's statement that there had been a single attacker. In September 1980, over fifteen months after arresting Ruffin, the task force arrested Dixon, a mentally handicapped African-American man, for missing a work detail from a prior conviction. Dixon had previously been arrested with Ruffin for minor theft. Dixon initially denied having been involved in the rape/murder, or knowing anything about it. But officers - including Brown, Hopstein, and Howell - interrogated, beat, and threatened him until he provided a false confession of watching Ruffin rape and murder E.P., based on information officers provided him. He also falsely implicated Bivens. Officers - including Defendants Brown, Hopstein, and Howell - allegedly continued to beat Dixon repeatedly over the next several weeks, threatening to kill him if he did not plead guilty. He eventually pleaded guilty, and he received a sentence of life in prison in exchange for his testimony against Ruffin. Defendants Hopstein, Brown, and Howell allegedly bragged to Defendant Walters, in the presence of jail trustees, about beating Dixon. They warned the trustees to remain silent regarding what they had heard.

In October 1980 - over sixteen months after arresting Ruffin - Defendant Hart and others obtained an extradition order based on upon Dixon's false statement, arrested Bivens at his home in California, and escorted him back to Mississippi. During the flight, Hart interrogated Bivens. Once in Hattiesburg, Defendant Walters allegedly threatened Bivens while brandishing a knife, and officers interrogated and threatened him until he agreed to provide a false confession containing facts provided to him. Moulds and Hopstein videotaped the false confession.

In 2010 and 2011, Ruffin, Dixon, and Bivens were exonerated by DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim's body. The DNA matched Andrew Harris, an African-American man on the list of possible suspects provided to Defendants in 1979 by the victim's husband. Ruffin died in 2002, while still in prison. Dixon died in 2010, three months after he was released from prison on medical parole and five weeks before his exoneration. Bivens died in August 2014 [163], after this civil case had been filed. Ruffin, Dixon, and Bivens collectively spent eighty-three years in Parchman for a crime which they did not commit.

Plaintiffs asserted a wide variety of claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, and Plaintiff Ruffin's children - Laturas Smith and Carrie Strong - asserted their own Section 1983 claim. Plaintiffs named Forrest County, the City of Hattiesburg, and several individuals as Defendants. The individual Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss [94, 97, 99, 102, 105, 107, 119, 129, 147] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and on the basis of qualified immunity. The Court ordered [156] Plaintiffs to file a Rule 7(a) Reply as contemplated by Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1430-32 (5th Cir. 1995) (en banc). Plaintiffs filed the Reply [165], Defendants filed supplemental Responses [167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175], and Plaintiffs supplemented [178] their Reply. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). "To be plausible, the complaint's factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (punctuation omitted). The Court must "accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. But the Court will not accept as true "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Id. Likewise, "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

Additionally, "[h]eightened pleading' is needed in qualified immunity cases. Heightened pleading requires allegations of fact focusing specifically on the conduct of the individual who caused the plaintiffs' injury." Reyes v. Sazan, 168 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 1999). Plaintiffs must "rest their complaint on more than conclusions alone and plead their case with precision and factual specificity." Nunez v. Simms, 341 F.3d 385, 388 (5th Cir. 2003). Phrased differently, a "plaintiff seeking to overcome qualified immunity must plead specific facts that both allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the harm he has alleged and that defeat a qualified immunity defense with equal specificity." Backe v. Leblanc, 691 F.3d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 2012). The plaintiff must "speak to the factual particulars of the alleged actions, at least when those facts are known to the plaintiff and are not peculiarly within the knowledge of defendants." Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1432 (5th Cir. 1995).

III. DISCUSSION

First, the Court will first provide a brief overview of Plaintiffs' claims. Second, it will set out generally applicable law pertinent to those claims and Defendants' qualified immunity defense. Finally, it will address each individual Defendant's motion to dismiss.

A. Plaintiffs' Claims

1. Count I - § 1983

In Count I of the Second Amended Complaint [61], Plaintiff Ruffin alleges that Defendants, acting individually and in concert, forced him to incriminate himself, violating his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from self-incrimination. He alleges that they beat him, threatened him, deprived him of food and sleep, and coerced him to provide a false confession.

2. Count II - § 1983

In Count II, Plaintiff Ruffin alleges that Defendants, acting individually and in concert, deprived him of liberty without due process of law, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. He claims that Defendants fabricated evidence, threatened witnesses, and deliberately failed to conduct an adequate investigation. He alleges that Defendants provided him with facts about the murder that were not public knowledge and later represented to the prosecutor, jury, and court that those details originated with him. He also alleges that they coerced and/or fabricated inculpatory statements from Plaintiffs and others, concealed and ignored exculpatory evidence, utilized coercive interview tactics, and used improper identification procedures.

3. Count III - § 1983

In Count III, Plaintiff Dixon alleges that Defendants, acting individually and in concert, forced him to incriminate himself, violating his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from self-incrimination. He also alleges that Defendants deprived him of liberty without due process of law, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. He alleges that they beat him, threatened him, arrested him on a false charge, coerced him to provide a false confession with details they provided him, and concealed or ignored exculpatory evidence - all while knowing he lacked the mental capacity to provide knowing and voluntary confession.

4. Count IV - § 1983

In Count IV, Plaintiff Bivens alleges that Defendants, acting individually and in concert, forced him to incriminate himself, violating his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from self-incrimination. He also alleges that Defendants deprived him of liberty without due process of law, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. He alleges that they threatened him, coerced him to provide a false confession with details they provided, and concealed or ignored exculpatory evidence.

5. Count V - § 1983

In Count V, Plaintiff Ruffin alleges that Defendants violated his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. He alleges that they beat him, threatened him, coerced his false confession, fabricated evidence against him, and deliberately ignored potentially exculpatory evidence - all without any evidence connecting him to the underlying crime.

6. Count VI - § 1983

In Count VI, Plaintiff Dixon alleges that Defendants violated his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. He alleges that they beat him, threatened him, coerced his false confession while knowing he lacked the mental capacity to provide a knowing and voluntary confession, fabricated evidence against him, and deliberately ignored potentially exculpatory evidence.

7. Count VII - § 1983

In Count VII, Plaintiff Bivens alleges that Defendants violated his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. He alleges that they threatened him, coerced his false confession, fabricated evidence against him, and ignored potentially exculpatory evidence.

8. Count VIII - § 1983

In Count VIII, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that Defendants violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of freedom from detention pursuant to the wrongful institution of legal process. They allege that Defendants arrested, detained, and prosecuted them without probable cause.

9. Count IX - § 1983

In Count IX, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that Defendants deprived them of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of access to the courts and executive clemency by failing to come forward with the truth after Plaintiffs' conviction.

10. Count X - § 1983

In Count X, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that each Defendant failed to intervene to prevent the other Defendants from violating their constitutional rights.

11. Count XI - § 1983

In Count XI, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that the individual Defendants conspired to deprive them of their constitutional rights as provided above and committed certain overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy.

12. Count XII - § 1985(2), (3)

In Count XII, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that the individual Defendants conspired to deprive them of their constitutional rights as provided above, committed certain overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, and were motivated by racial animus.

13. Count XIII - § 1983

In Count XIII, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that Defendants Walters, Hopstein, Hart, and Moulds have supervisory liability for the actions of their subordinate officers in the Forrest County Sheriff's Department ("FCSD"). Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants Walters, Hopstein, Hart, and Moulds failed to adequately supervise, discipline, or train their subordinates.

14. Count XIV - § 1983

In Count XIV, Plaintiffs Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin allege that unidentified supervisors in the Hattisburg Police Department ("HPD") have supervisory liability for the actions of their subordinate officers. Plaintiffs also allege that the unidentified HPD supervisors failed to adequately supervise, discipline, or train their subordinates.

15. Count XV - § 1983

In Count XV, Plaintiffs Smith and Strong allege that Defendants violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of familial association by wrongfully arresting and prosecuting their father, Plaintiff Ruffin, and by failing to come forward with the truth after Plaintiff Ruffin's conviction and incarceration.

16. Count XVI - § 1983

In Count XVI, all Plaintiffs allege that the individual Defendants' actions were committed pursuant to policies, practices, or customs of the City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Forrest County, Mississippi. Plaintiffs further allege that the City and County maintained policies, practices, or customs of failing to train, supervise, or discipline HPD and FCSD officers.

B. Overview of Sections 1983, 1985

Generally, Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person who, under color of state law, deprives another person of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To state a section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." Whitley v. Hanna, 726 F.3d 631, 638 (5th Cir. 2013) (punctuation omitted).

Section 1985(2) provides, in pertinent part:

[I]f two or more persons conspire for the purpose of impeding, hindering, obstructing, or defeating, in any manner, the due course of justice in any State or Territory, with intent to deny to any citizen the protection of the laws, or to injure him or his property for lawfully enforcing, or attempting to enforce the right of any person, or class of persons, to the equal protection of the laws.

42 U.S.C. § 1985(2). Generally, the section "prohibits conspiracies to obstruct justice in state and federal courts." Ryland v. Shapiro, 708 F.2d 967, 973 n. 7 (5th Cir. 1983). It requires an allegation "that the actions of the defendants are motivated by racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based animus." Id. (punctuation omitted).

Section 1985(3) provides, in pertinent part:

If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire... for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws, or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons within such State or Territory the equal protection of the laws... [and] do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages, occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.

42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). "To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege: (1) a conspiracy involving two or more persons; (2) for the purposes of depriving, directly or indirectly, a person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws; and (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (4) which causes injury to a person or property, or a deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States." Hilliard v. Ferguson, 30 F.3d 649, 652-53 (5th Cir. 1994). The plaintiff must also allege "that the conspiracy was motivated by a class-based animus." Id. at 653.

C. Qualified Immunity, Generally

Plaintiffs asserted claims against the individual Defendants in both their official and individual capacities.

Personal-capacity suits seek to impose liability upon a government official as an individual while official-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. Thus, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity. It is not a suit against the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity.

Goodman v. Harris County, 571 F.3d 388, 395 (5th Cir. 2009). Officials sued in their individual capacity may assert the defense of qualified immunity. Id. at 395.

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal. Qualified immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law, and courts will not deny immunity claims unless existing precedent placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.

Id. (punctuation and citations omitted). To overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must demonstrate: "(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Id. (punctuation and citation omitted). The Court may address either element first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

D. Collective Allegations

Plaintiffs argue that they are not required to allege specific facts as to each individual Defendant. They contend, rather, that collective allegations as to all Defendants are sufficient to meet the heightened pleading requirement for Section 1983 actions against individual government officials who have asserted qualified immunity claims.

The Court need not repeat the pleading standard provided above. See Backe, 691 F.3d at 648; Nunez, 341 F.3d at 388; Reyes, 168 F.3d at 161. Plaintiff's argument on this point is without merit. Anderson v. Pasadena Indep. Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 439, 443-44 (5th Cir. 1999), cited by Plaintiffs in support of their "collective allegations" argument, specifically provides the "heightened pleading standard" for Section 1983 claims against individual government officials who have asserted a qualified immunity defense: "[P]laintiffs suing governmental officials in their individual capacities must allege specific conduct giving rise to a constitutional violation." In Anderson, the plaintiff alleged "specifically enumerated decisions" by each individual defendant, and the Court held that he "pleaded with sufficient particularity facts establishing a causal connection between defendants' actions and decisions and the alleged constitutional violations." Id. at 444.

E. Terry Martin [94]

1. Count I

Defendant Martin argues that Plaintiffs did not provide enough specific factual allegations as to his involvement in the alleged deprivation of Ruffin's right to be free from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

"It is axiomatic that a criminal defendant's constitutional rights have been violated if his conviction is based, in whole or in part, on an involuntary confession, regardless of its truth or falsity." Murray v. Earle, 405 F.3d 278, 285 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing U.S. CONST. amend. V). Plaintiffs specifically alleged that Martin participated in his interrogation, and that Martin helped beat and threaten a false confession from him. The allegations were not conclusory or speculative. Plaintiffs alleged specific actions by a specific person which are sufficient to state a claim against Martin which would defeat qualified immunity.

2. Count II

Martin argues that Plaintiffs did not provide enough specific factual allegations as to his involvement in the alleged deprivation of Ruffin's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. In their Rule 7(a) reply [165], Plaintiffs alleged that Martin "directly participated in the fabrication of the false statement from Andy DeFatta implicating Larry Ruffin on May 29, 1979, " and that he "directly participated in the fabrication of a second false statement implicating Mr. Ruffin taken from Cris Williams on May 30, 1979." They further alleged that Martin participated in the interrogation, beating, and threatening of Ruffin. Likewise, in the Second Amended Complaint [61], Plaintiffs alleged that Martin participated in the coercion of Ruffin's confession by beating him, threatening him, and depriving him of food and sleep.

"[A] state's manufacturing of evidence and knowing use of that evidence... to obtain a wrongful conviction deprives a defendant of his long recognized right to a fair trial secured by the [Fourteenth Amendment] Due Process Clause...." Castellano v. Fragozo, 352 F.3d 939, 942 (5th Cir. 2003). Likewise, "a defendant's due process rights may be violated when exculpatory or impeachment evidence, which is both favorable to the defendant material to guilt or punishment, is concealed by the government, " Murphy v. Johnson, 205 F.3d 809, 814 (5th Cir. 2000), and "[c]onvictions based on evidence obtained by methods that are so brutal and so offensive to human dignity that they shock the conscience violate the Due Process Clause." Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760, 774, 123 S.Ct. 1994, 155 L.Ed.2d 984 (2003). "[T]he Fourteenth Amendment is grievously breached when an involuntary confession is obtained by state officers and introduced into evidence in a criminal prosecution which culminates in a conviction." Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 205, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242 (1960).

Plaintiffs specifically alleged that Martin participated in the fabrication of false statements by two individuals leading to Ruffin's arrest, and that Martin helped beat, threaten, and otherwise coerce a false confession from Ruffin. These allegations are not conclusory or speculative. They allege specific actions committed by a specific person. Defendant would apparently require Plaintiffs to provide a blow-by-blow account of the alleged interrogation, but he failed to cite any Fifth Circuit precedent imposing such an onerous pleading standard. Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to state a plausible claim against Defendant Martin for violation of Ruffin's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights and to overcome a qualified immunity defense.

3. Count III

Martin also argues that Plaintiffs did not provide sufficient factual detail regarding the alleged deprivation of Dixon's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and right to be free from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. He describes their allegations as "bare assertions, upon information and belief, '... without detail or context" which are not sufficient to meet the heightened pleading standard for qualified immunity cases. He notes that, in many paragraphs of the Rule 7(a) reply [165], Plaintiffs merely listed several individual Defendants and alleged that they all participated in the alleged constitutional violations.

"It is axiomatic that a criminal defendant's constitutional rights have been violated if his conviction is based, in whole or in part, on an involuntary confession, regardless of its truth or falsity." Murray, 405 F.3d at 285. Furthermore, "a state's manufacturing of evidence and knowing use of that evidence... to obtain a wrongful conviction deprives a defendant of his long recognized right to a fair trial secured by the [Fourteenth Amendment] Due Process Clause...." Castellano, 352 F.3d at 942. Finally, "a defendant's due process rights may be violated when exculpatory or impeachment evidence, which is both favorable to the defendant material to guilt or punishment, is concealed by the government, " Murphy, 205 F.3d at 814, and "[c]onvictions based on evidence obtained by methods that are so brutal and so offensive to human dignity that they shock the conscience violate the Due Process Clause." Chavez, 538 U.S. at 774.

Plaintiffs alleged, upon information and belief, that Martin helped beat, threaten, and otherwise coerce a false confession from Dixon. The actions alleged are sufficient to implicate the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. However, Plaintiffs admitted in their Rule 7(a) Reply [165] that they do not know the identities of the specific officers involved in the interrogation. Plaintiffs' "factual allegations must support a claim to relief that is plausible on its face and rises above mere speculation, " United States ex rel. Steury v. Cardinal Health Inc., 735 F.3d 202, 204 (5th Cir. 2013), but their allegations against Martin related to Count III are inherently speculative. Therefore, they are insufficient to pass Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, much less the heightened pleading standard applicable to qualified immunity cases.

4. Count IV

Martin argues that Plaintiffs provided insufficient detail regarding the alleged deprivation of Bivens' right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and right to be free from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. He contends that their allegations are speculative and argues that Plaintiffs merely listed several individual Defendants, without any supporting facts or details as to their individual participation.

Plaintiffs admitted that they do not know whether Martin was actually involved in the actions committed against Bivens. They alleged: "Mr. Bivens died in 2014; given the passage of over 30 years before Mr. Bivens was exonerated and interviewed about his experiences in the jail in 1980, when Mr. Bivens was asked, he could not remember the names of the police officers who questioned him, if he was ever even told them." Therefore, Plaintiffs' allegations against Martin related to Count IV are insufficient to pass Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, much less the heightened pleading standard applicable to qualified immunity cases. See Steury, 735 F.3d at 204. Plaintiffs' allegations against Martin related to Count IV are inherently speculative insofar as they admittedly have no factual support.

5. Count V

Martin argues that Plaintiffs provided insufficient detail regarding the alleged deprivation of Ruffin's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights. As noted above, Plaintiffs specifically alleged that Defendant Martin "directly participated in the fabrication of the false statement from Andy DeFatta implicating Larry Ruffin on May 29, 1979, " and that he "directly participated in the fabrication of a second false statement implicating Mr. Ruffin taken from Cris Williams on May 30, 1979." They further alleged that Martin participated in the interrogation, beating, and threatening of Plaintiff Ruffin. Likewise, in the Second Amended Complaint [61], Plaintiffs alleged that Martin participated in the coercion of Ruffin's confession by beating him, threatening him, and depriving him of food and sleep.

"[C]oercive questioning by a law enforcement officer may support a § 1983 substantive due process shocks the conscience' claim...." Edmonds v. Oktibbeha County, 675 F.3d 911, 916 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Chavez, 538 U.S. at 774). Ruffin specifically alleged that Martin helped beat, threaten, and otherwise coerce a false confession from him. These allegations are not conclusory or speculative. They allege specific actions committed by a specific person, and they are sufficient to state a plausible claim against Defendant Martin for violation of Ruffin's Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process rights and to overcome a qualified immunity defense.

6. Count VI

Martin argues that Plaintiffs provided insufficient detail regarding the alleged deprivation of Dixon's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights. As noted above, Plaintiffs admitted that they do not know whether Martin was actually involved in the actions committed against Dixon. Therefore, Plaintiffs' allegations against Martin related to Count VI are insufficient to pass Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, much less the heightened pleading standard applicable to qualified immunity cases. Steury, 735 F.3d at 204.

7. Count VII

Martin argues that Plaintiffs provided insufficient detail regarding the alleged deprivation of Bivens' Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights. As noted above, Plaintiffs admitted that they do not know whether Martin was actually involved in the actions committed against Bivens. Therefore, Plaintiffs' allegations against Martin related to Count VII are insufficient to pass Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, much less the heightened pleading standard applicable to qualified immunity cases. Steury, 735 F.3d at 204.

8. Count VIII

Martin argues that Plaintiffs provided insufficient detail regarding his alleged involvement in the deprivation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from detention pursuant to the wrongful institution of legal process. He contends that Plaintiffs failed to allege any specific facts showing his involvement in the arrests of Ruffin, Bivens, or Dixon.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to which Plaintiffs refers are not simply the right to be free from false arrest or, phrased differently, detention without legal process. Rather, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by detention accompanied "by wrongful institution of legal process." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 390, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007). "[C]laims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution [can] implicate Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment rights when the individual complains of an arrest, detention, and prosecution without probable cause." Castellano, 352 F.3d at 946. The "pretrial events" of such a prosecution implicate the Fourth Amendment, id. at 959, and the Fourteenth Amendment proscribes "a state's manufacturing of evidence and knowing use of that evidence along with perjured testimony to obtain a wrongful conviction...." Id. at 942. These claims, as they "call the validity of the conviction into play, " did not accrue "until the conviction [had] been set aside...." Id. at 959 (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484-87, 129 L.Ed.2d 383, 114 S.Ct. 2364 (1994)).

Here, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants detained Ruffin, Dixon, and Bivens so that they could beat, threaten, and otherwise coerce false confessions from them. As noted above, Plaintiffs specifically alleged that Martin participated in the detention and coercion of Ruffin, and that he participated in the fabrication of false statements by DeFatta and Williams. Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiffs stated plausible Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims for the wrongful institution of legal process that defeat qualified immunity against Martin as to Ruffin. However, Plaintiffs admitted that they do not know whether Martin participated in the detention and coercion of Bivens and Dixon. Therefore, Plaintiffs' allegations in Count VIII as it relates to Bivens and Dixon are insufficient to pass Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny. Steury, 735 F.3d at 204.

Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims are time-barred. They contend that "false arrest" claims accrued when Plaintiffs were first arraigned and became held pursuant to legal process. See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389-90. However, as noted above, Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims are not for "false arrest, " a detention without legal process. Therefore, this argument is inapplicable.

9. Count IX

Martin argues that Plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that he deprived them of their First Amendment right of access to the courts and Fourteenth Amendment right of access to the clemency process.

"[T]he right of access to the courts is an aspect of the First Amendment right to petition the Government for redress of grievances. The Constitution requires that inmates have a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts." Driggers v. Cruz, 740 F.3d 333, 336-37 (5th Cir. 2014). However, the Constitution does not require "that an inmate must be able to discover grievances... or litigate effectively once in court." Id. at 337; see also Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 354, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996). It only requires that inmates be provided "tools... that [they] need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally.... Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355. In summary, the Constitution merely requires "the conferral of a capability - the capability of bringing contemplated challenges to sentences... before the courts." Id. at 356; see also Terry v. Hubert, 609 F.3d 757, 761 (5th Cir. 2010). To make out such a claim, an inmate must demonstrate an "actual injury." Driggers, 740 F.3d at 337. He "must demonstrate that a nonfrivolous legal claim has been frustrated or is being impeded." Id. (citing Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353).

Plaintiffs claim that Defendants, including Martin, deprived them of their right of access to the courts by failing to come forward with the truth about their misconduct and the coerced false confessions, causing the denial of their post-conviction motions and parole requests. Plaintiffs do not allege, though, that any Defendant prevented them from appealing their conviction, filing petitions for post-conviction relief, or otherwise accessing the courts. Rather, their complaint appears to be that their appeals and petitions would have been more likely to succeed if the individual Defendants had admitted their wrongdoing.

As noted above, the First Amendment only guarantees "the conferral of a capability - the capability of bringing contemplated challenges to sentences... before the courts." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 354; see also Terry, 609 F.3d at 761. Plaintiffs do not allege that Defendants prevented them from filing appeals or petitions. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 354. They do not allege that Defendants deprived them of writing and mailing materials, withheld court contact information, barred them from accessing a prison library, prevented them from consulting inmate legal assistance, or obstructed their receipt of court communications. See Terry, 609 F.3d at 762. In fact, they admit that they filed post-conviction motions which were addressed by a court. The First Amendment does not guarantee that inmates will be able to "litigate effectively once in court." Driggers, 740 F.3d at 337. The right encompasses no more than "the ability of an inmate to prepare and transmit a necessary legal document to the court." Brewer v. Wilkinson, 3 F.3d 816, 821 (5th Cir. 1993). As Plaintiffs failed to allege any facts indicating that Martin - or any other Defendant - deprived them of that ability, they failed to state a claim for violation of the First Amendment right of access to the courts.

As for the due process right of access to the clemency process, "[i]t is clear that some minimal due process safeguards... apply to clemency procedures. But these requirements really are minimal ...." Turner v. Epps, 460 F.Appx. 322, 331 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Ohio Adult Parole Auth. v. Woodard, 523 U.S. 272, 288-89, 18 S.Ct. 1244, 140 L.Ed.2d 387 (1998) (O'Connor, J., concurring) (plurality opinion)). "[P]ardon and commutation decisions are not traditionally the business of courts[, ] and... they are subject to the ultimate discretion of the executive power." Faulder v. Tex. Bd. of Pardons & Paroles, 178 F.3d 343, 344 (5th Cir. 1999). Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment is only implicated where an inmate is arbitrarily denied access to the clemency process, or the clemency decision itself is made arbitrarily. Id .; see also Woodard, 523 U.S. at 289.

Plaintiffs alleged no facts indicating that Martin - or any other Defendant - arbitrarily denied them access to the clemency process. In fact, Plaintiffs do not contend that they were barred from seeking clemency. They merely contend that Defendants' failure to admit their alleged wrongdoing rendered their clemency petitions less effective. Therefore, they did not state a violation of their due process right of access to the clemency process. See Turner, 460 F.Appx. at 331.

10. Count X

Martin argues that Plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient specific facts in support of their claim that he failed to intervene and prevent others from violating their Constitutional rights.

"[A]n officer may be liable under § 1983 under a theory of bystander liability where the officer (1) knows that a fellow officer is violating an individual's constitutional rights; (2) has a reasonable opportunity to prevent the harm; and (3) chooses not to act." Whitley, 726 F.3d at 646. But "liability will not attach where an officer is not present at the scene of the constitutional violation." Id. "In resolving whether a plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a bystander liability claim we also consider whether an officer acquiesced in the alleged constitutional violation." Id. at 647 (punctuation omitted).

As discussed above, Plaintiff specifically alleged that Martin and other officers beat, threatened, and otherwise coerced a false confession from Ruffin. Plaintiff alleged that Martin was present and participated in the coercive interrogation. These allegations are sufficient to state a plausible claim that Martin and others violated Ruffin's constitutional rights, that Martin had an opportunity to intervene, but that he chose not to do so. Id. at 646. At the very least, they demonstrate that he "acquiesced in the alleged constitutional violation." Id. at 647. However, Plaintiffs admitted that they do not know whether Martin participated in or was present for the deprivation of Bivens and Dixon's constitutional rights. Therefore, Plaintiffs failed to state a bystander liability claim against Martin with respect to Bivens and Dixon.

11. Count XI

Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to plead enough facts to support a Section 1983 conspiracy claim. They contend that Plaintiffs failed to state what the individual Defendants did in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy.

"To prove a conspiracy under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts that indicate (1) there was an agreement among individuals to commit a deprivation, and (2) that an actual deprivation occurred." Jabary v. City of Allen, 547 F.Appx. 600, 610 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 (5th Cir. 1994)). "Plaintiffs who assert conspiracy claims under civil rights statutes must plead the operative facts upon which their claim is based. Bald allegations that a conspiracy existed are insufficient." Lynch v. Cannatella, 810 F.2d 1363, 1369-70 (5th Cir. 1987). The plaintiff must provide "material facts, " Brinkmann v. Johnston, 793 F.2d 111, 113 (5th Cir. 1986), or "factual allegations from which a conspiracy to violate [his] rights can reasonably be inferred...." Lynch, 810 F.2d at 1370. The "conspiracy claim need not have met a probability requirement at the pleading stage; plausibility simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal agreement." Jabary, 547 F.Appx. at 610. The "facts, when placed in a context... must raise a suggestion of a preceding agreement, not merely parallel conduct that could just as well be independent action." Id. "A conspiracy may be charged under section 1983 as the legal mechanism through which to impose liability on all of the defendants without regard to who committed the particular act...." Hale v. Townley, 45 F.3d 914, 920 (5th Cir. 1995).

In the Court's opinion, Plaintiffs' pleadings are sufficient to state a plausible claim of conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs Ruffin, Dixon, and Bivens. The Court need not repeat the allegations provided above in the case's background. It is undisputed that Plaintiffs alleged deprivations of their constitutional rights. Plaintiffs also alleged the existence of a law enforcement task force. The members of the task force allegedly shared their notes and investigatory findings, met regularly to discuss the investigation, and worked together to investigate the subject crime. Finally, Plaintiffs alleged that multiple individual Defendants worked together in perpetrating the alleged constitutional deprivations at issue in this case.

The Court must also consider the case's particular circumstances and setting. Plaintiffs allege a conspiracy among Mississippi law enforcement officers to coerce false confessions from three innocent black men for the rape and murder of a white woman. The Court need not provide a lesson in Mississippi history to emphasize the significance of these allegations.

Plaintiffs specifically alleged that Defendant James threatened to "just take [Ruffin] to the woods and kill him." Defendant Clark allegedly told Ruffin, "I don't like niggers anyway, I'll kill you." Defendant Hopstein allegedly threatened to kill Ruffin and claim that he tried to escape. During the task force's investigation, Ruffin's family allegedly received anonymous threatening phone calls. The NAACP organized a fund raiser at a local church to pay Ruffin's legal fees; an anonymous caller threatened to "bomb that church out where you niggers is, " and the church's power was cut during the meeting. Ruffin's family's mobile home was destroyed by a fire, and officers allegedly refused to investigate. While brandishing a knife, Defendant Walters allegedly told Bivens: "You niggers come down here from California and think you can kill a white woman and get away with it. Something should be done to you." Finally, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants used racial slurs throughout the coercive interrogations of each Plaintiff.

Plaintiffs' allegations suggest a "preceding agreement" among the individual Defendants. Jabary, 547 F.Appx. at 610. Plaintiffs did not rely on bald allegations or conclusory statements. They provided specific factual allegations regarding a coordinated group effort to deprive them of their constitutional rights. Moreover, as discussed above, Plaintiffs provided specific allegations regarding Martin's actions in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy. Therefore, Plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded a Section 1983 conspiracy claim.

12. Count XII

Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts to state a conspiracy claim under Section 1985. Plaintiffs asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(2) and (3). "Section 1985(2) prohibits conspiracies to deny any citizen equal protection of the laws or to injure a citizen for his efforts to ensure the rights of others to equal protection." Bryant v. Military Dep't, 597 F.3d 678, 687 (5th Cir. 2010). "To state a claim under § 1985(3), [Plaintiffs] must allege that two or more persons conspired to directly, or indirectly, deprive him of the equal protection of the laws or equal privileges and immunities under the laws." Green v. State Bar, 27 F.3d 1083, 1089 (5th Cir. 1994). "The conspiracy must be race-based to state a cause of action for violation of § 1985." Rayborn v. Miss. State Bd. of Dental Examiners, 776 F.2d 530, 532 (5th Cir. ...


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