Gray v. Hampton et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: It is hereby ORDERED as follows: 1. The motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Hampton, Persley, Willis, and Hammons 17 is GRANTED, in part; 2. The motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Shaw and Eardley 18 is GRANTED, in part; 3. Plaintiff Anthony Gray's Eighth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is DISMISSED, with prejudice; 4. Plaintiff Anthony Gray's claims for malicious prosecution and wrongful imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are DIS MISSED, without prejudice; 5. For the reasons explained in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court finds that it is appropriate to abstain from the remaining claims pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Accordingly, the matter shall be STAYED; 6. The parties shall FILE a joint status report within 10 days of the conclusion of Gray's criminal trial in state court or any other resolution of the criminal proceeding. Signed by Judge Danny C. Reeves on 11/9/2017.(KM)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
JAMES ANTHONY GRAY,
TONY HAMPTON, et al.,
Civil Action No. 5: 17-069-DCR
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This matter is pending for consideration of the defendants’ motions to dismiss. [Record
Nos. 17, 18] For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted, in part, and the remaining
claims will be stayed pending resolution of the relevant criminal proceedings in state court.
James and Vivian Gray were found deceased in their home in Scott County, Kentucky
in April 2007. [Record No. 1, p. 10 ¶ 8] Their son Anthony Gray (“Gray”), the plaintiff in
this action, with whom they had a turbulent relationship, quickly became a suspect in their
deaths. Id. at p. 10 ¶ 10. Approximately six months following James and Vivian’s deaths,
Scott County Sheriff Deputies Roger Persley and David Willis asked Gray to come in for an
interview. Id. at p. 11 ¶ 14. The investigators questioned Gray for approximately two hours
concerning his parents’ signatures on one or more wills. Id. Gray took a short break and
returned to the interview room to find grisly photographs of the crime scene. Officers had also
placed a slice of pecan pie and a Pepsi on the table. Id. at p. 11 ¶ 17. According to Gray, this
was done to “recreate the crime scene environment.” Id.
At this point, Persley and Willis turned off all recording devices and interrogated Gray
for over five hours. Id. at p. 11 ¶ 19. They employed various forms of “trickery and deceit,”
which included producing “a forged or altered lab report of DNA and blood evidence allegedly
linking Gray to the murders;” telling Gray that his car had been captured on surveillance video
heading to his parents’ home on the night in question; showing him a photograph of a car and
telling him that it was, in fact, his car; telling Gray that a neighbor identified him at his parents’
home on the night in question; and telling him that a judge had called the sheriff and threated
Gray with the death penalty if he did not confess to the murders immediately. Id. at p. 12 ¶
21. He was also shown photographs of his parents’ bodies and told that their blood was found
on his clothing and steering wheel, and that gunshot residue was found on his clothing. Id. at
p. 12 ¶ 22. Gray alleges that the officers knew all along that all of the assertions were untrue.
The officers eventually turned the cameras or other recording devices back on. Id. at
p. 12 ¶ 23. Gray told the officers that they “made [him] realize what [he] had done” and that
the evidence they had provided “helped [him] to . . . I still don’t believe I done it but you know,
with the evidence I must have.” Id. at p. 13 ¶ 25. Gray was immediately arrested, taken into
custody, and indicted. Id. at p. 13 ¶ 26.
Gray sought to suppress his confession prior to his first trial. Id. at p. ¶ 33. The state
trial court denied suppression and a mistrial resulted. Id. at p. 16 ¶ 40. Gray was tried again
and was convicted of two counts of murder and of tampering with physical evidence in 2013.
Id. at p. 16 ¶ 42. He was sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment. Gray appealed.
In February 2016, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed Gray’s convictions, finding
that “the hours of manipulation and fabricated evidence” amounted to coercion and that the
confession should have been suppressed. Gray v. Com., 480 S.W.3d 253, 261 (Ky. 2016).
The court stated that “considerable evidence” pointed to Gray’s guilt, but it was particularly
troubled by officers’ use of false reports linking DNA evidence to Gray. Id. At the time Gray
filed the instant Complaint, he was scheduled to be tried on the charges for a third time.
[Record No. 1, p. 17 ¶ 50]
Standard of Review
When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must determine
whether the complaint alleges “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, 555 (2007)). The plausibility standard is met “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. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff must provide more
than mere labels and conclusions, and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While plaintiffs are not required to plead facts
showing that the defendant is likely to be responsible for the harm alleged, plaintiffs must
demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678.
Denial of a Fair Trial, Conspiracy, and Failure to Train under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Gray alleges that the defendants’ conduct deprived him of a fair trial in violation of his
due process rights (Count IV) and that his coerced confession resulted in a false conviction
(Count VII). He complains, inter alia, that the defendants coerced his confession and
knowingly used it against him at trial; arrested and prosecuted him without probable cause;
and withheld and destroyed evidence during the investigation and trials. [Record No. 1, p. 26
§ 84] Likewise, Gray claims that the defendants conspired to obstruct justice to achieve his
wrongful indictment, conviction, and unlawful imprisonment (Count VI), id. at p. 31 ¶ 99, and
that they failed to supervise or train their officers (Count IX).
A plaintiff’s § 1983 claims accrue when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause
of action. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 394 (2007); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477,
487-88, n.8 (1994). In Kentucky, the applicable statute of limitations for § 1983 actions is one
year. Collard v. Ky. Bd. of Nursing, 896 F.2d 179, 182 (6th Cir. 1990). Gray’s interrogation
occurred in late 2007 and the defendants’ “threats” regarding the death penalty persisted
through 2011, just prior to his first trial. [Record No. 1, p. 13 ¶ 28] Viewed in isolation, these
events would no longer be actionable, as they are outside the statute of limitations. See
Wallace, 549 U.S. at 349. However, Gray claims that the defendants conspired and used a
false confession and fabricated evidence against him during his trials to obtain a conviction.
This may have resulted in new constitutional claims that arose during his second trial, but,
once he was convicted, he was barred from bringing a § 1983 action challenging the validity
of his conviction or sentence based on the Supreme Court’s holding in Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. at 477.
The Sixth Circuit has held that challenges to a criminal investigation which led to a
conviction necessarily challenge the validity of the conviction and, therefore, fall within the
framework of Heck. Morris v. City of Detroit, 211 F. App’x 409, 411 (6th Cir. 2006). Gray
argues that his conviction was reversed and, therefore, he is now free to bring § 1983
challenges. Because Gray is scheduled to be retried, however, his § 1983 claims inherently
involve issues that are still before the state court in the criminal action. When a plaintiff files
a claim related to rulings likely to be made in a pending criminal trial, it is common practice
to stay the civil action until the criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case has concluded.
Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 394 (2007) (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487-88, n.8). If the
plaintiff is ultimately convicted, Heck will require dismissal. Id. Otherwise, the civil action
may proceed, absent some other bar to the litigation. Id. (citations omitted).
Younger abstention is based on the principle that the states have a special interest in
enforcing their own laws in their own courts. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971). In
applying this doctrine, the Court must consider whether a state proceeding is pending at the
time the federal action in initiated; whether an important state interest exists; and whether the
state forum will provide the plaintiff with an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional
claims. Nimer v. Litchfield Twp. Bd. of Trustees, 707 F.3d 699, 701 (6th Cir. 2013). The first
prong is satisfied, as Gray was being held in state custody and was scheduled to be retried at
the time he filed his federal complaint. Further, it is well-established that state courts have a
strong interest in enforcing their criminal laws. See Loch v. Watkins, 337 F.3d 574, 579 (6th
Cir. 2003). Finally, there is no suggestion that Gray cannot present his constitutional claims
in state court. See Sovereign News Co. v. Falke, 448 F.Supp. 306, 340 (N.D. Ohio 1977)
(stating that a pending state prosecution provides the federal plaintiff with a “concrete
opportunity” to vindicate his constitutional rights). The Kentucky Supreme Court already
ruled that the use of Gray’s coerced confession violated the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment and that the confession may not be used at Gray’s upcoming trial.
Accordingly, the plaintiff’s § 1983 claims seeking money damages based on the denial of the
right to a fair trial, conspiracy, and failure to supervise/train will be stayed pending resolution
of the state criminal proceedings. See Carroll v. City of Mt. Clemens, 139 F.3d 1072, 1075-76
(6th Cir. 1998) (explaining why stay is preferable to dismissal).
Eighth Amendment Claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Gray raises claims under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in Counts II
and V of his Complaint. Specifically, he claims that he was subject to “verbal abuse and
harassment” including “the threat that he would be put to death if he did not confess to the
crimes he was charged with.” [Record No. 1, p. 22 ¶ 65] Gray’s claim alleging cruel and
unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment does not implicate Heck and can be
addressed at this stage.
The claim appears to be based primarily on Gray’s allegation that, during his
interrogation, he was threatened with the death penalty. Id. at p. 12 ¶ 21. However, the Eighth
Amendment concerns punishment and has no application to events that occurred before Gray
was convicted. See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671-72 n. 40 (1977); Galas v. McKee,
801 F.2d 200, 205 (6th Cir. 1986). Gray also claims to have been subjected to “cruel and
unusual punishment,” including “excruciating mental, emotional, and physical deprivations,
suffering and harms far greater than those suffered or sustained by ordinary criminal suspects.”
[Record No. 1, p. 29 ¶ 91]
However, he has not alleged any facts which describe the nature
of the alleged punishment or when it occurred. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347
(1981) (plaintiff must allege facts showing that he has been subjected to specific deprivations
denying him “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities”); Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d
950, 955 (6th Cir. 1987). Accordingly, Gray’s claims under the Eighth Amendment will be
Malicious Prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Gray asserts malicious prosecution claims against all defendants under 42 U.S.C. §
1983.1 This tort, which addresses wrongful institution of legal process, requires plaintiffs to
establish the following elements: (1) a criminal prosecution was initiated against the plaintiff
and the defendant made, influenced, or participated in the decision to prosecute; (2) there was
a lack of probable cause for the criminal prosecution; (3) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of
liberty as a result of the legal proceeding; and (4) the criminal proceeding was resolved in the
plaintiff’s favor. Sykes v. Anderson, 625 F.3d 294, 309 (6th Cir. 2010).
Resolution in the plaintiff’s favor means “successful termination of the state criminal
proceedings.” See White v. Rockafellow, 181 F.3d 106 (6th Cir. 1999) (table) (plaintiff’s
malicious prosecution claim did not accrue until prosecutor filed notice of nolle prosequi).
Although the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed Gray’s conviction, the proceedings have not
been finally resolved in his favor. Gray reports that he is currently in state custody facing
retrial for the same charges. Accordingly, a claim for malicious prosecution has not accrued
and this count will be stayed pending the outcome of the pending criminal charges.2
Gray also alleges abuse of process under § 1983, but the Sixth Circuit does not recognize
such a cause of action and this claim (Count II) will be dismissed. Moore v. WesBanco Bank,
Inc., 612 F. App’x 816, 823 (6th Cir. 2015). Additionally, “Wrongful Imprisonment” (Count
III) appears to duplicate the claim for malicious prosecution and will be dismissed without
prejudice for the reasons stated above. To the extent Gray attempts to state a claim for
wrongful or false arrest under § 1983, the statute of limitations began to accrue on the date of
his arrest and any such claim is time-barred. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 394 (2007);
McCune v. City of Grand Rapids, 842 F.2d 903, 906 (6th Cir. 1988).
The parties agree, in the alternative, to stay the malicious prosecution claim until after Gray’s
retrial. [Record Nos. 19, p. 31; 17-1, p. 20 n.4]
State Law Claims
Gray alleges claims under Kentucky law for abuse of process (Count II); wrongful
imprisonment (Count III); “invasion of privacy and reputation” (Count VIII); malicious
prosecution (Count IX); negligence and Kentucky’s “anti-sweating” statute (Count X). Each
of these claims involves the same core allegations—that the defendants wrongfully
investigated, arrested, and prosecuted the plaintiff for the murder of his parents. Federal courts
are instructed not to interfere with pending state criminal proceedings except in the rare
situation where an injunction is necessary to prevent “great and immediate” irreparable injury.
Younger, 401 U.S. at 45-46. Here, there is a strong likelihood that proceeding with litigation
of these claims would infringe upon activity in the state criminal case, which was instituted
first. Accordingly, the Court will stay proceedings regarding the state law claims until Gray’s
criminal proceedings have been resolved.
Based on the foregoing analysis, it is hereby
ORDERED as follows:
The motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Hampton, Persley, Willis, and
Hammons [Record No. 17] is GRANTED, in part.
The motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Shaw and Eardley [Record No. 18]
is GRANTED, in part.
Plaintiff Anthony Gray’s Eighth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is
DISMISSED, with prejudice.
Plaintiff Anthony Gray’s claims for malicious prosecution and wrongful
imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are DISMISSED, without prejudice.
For the reasons explained in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court
finds that it is appropriate to abstain from the remaining claims pursuant to Younger v. Harris,
401 U.S. 37 (1971). Accordingly, the matter shall be STAYED.
The parties shall FILE a joint status report within 10 days of the conclusion of
Gray’s criminal trial in state court or any other resolution of the criminal proceeding.
This 9th day of November, 2017.
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