Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Riley, Chief Judge.
Submitted: September 19, 2011
Before RILEY, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.
Terry J. Harrington and Curtis W. McGhee, Jr. (collectively, appellees) sued various defendants, including police officers Daniel C. Larsen and Lyle W. Brown (officers), under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and state law. The appellees claimed the defendants violated the appellees' rights during the Iowa state investigation and prosecution of the appellees for murder. The officers moved for summary judgment, asserting they are entitled to qualified immunity on the appellees' claims that can be defeated if the officers had probable cause to arrest the appellees. The officers appeal the district court's denial of their motion. We reverse and remand for further proceedings on the appellees' remaining claims.
A. Factual Background*fn1 In 1978, the appellees were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for murdering John Schweer, a retired police officer who was working as a security guard at a car dealership. In 2002, the Iowa Supreme Court vacated Harrington's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial because the prosecutor violated Harrington's due process rights in failing to disclose exculpatory evidence in compliance with Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The new prosecutor decided not to retry Harrington and agreed to vacate McGhee's conviction. McGhee pled guilty, pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of time served.
The appellees sued the officers, the prosecutors, Pottawattamie County, Iowa (County), and the City of Council Bluffs, Iowa under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and state law. The appellees generally contend the officers investigated them without probable cause to suspect them of the murder, knew the main prosecution witness had lied, coerced witnesses into lying in order to frame the appellees for murder, concealed this fact, and hid exculpatory evidence. As relevant to this appeal, the appellees argue these actions violated § 1983 by violating their (1) Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure; (2) Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights not to be deprived of their liberty without due process of law; and (3) Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws by targeting them because they are African-American. Both appellees also alleged the officers and prosecutors conspired to deprive the appellees of equal protection of the laws, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Harrington further contends the officers violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of association and Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a fair trial. The appellees' cases were consolidated.
In 2007, the district court found the officers were entitled to qualified immunity regarding their failure to disclose exculpatory evidence because any failure did not violate a right that was clearly established when the appellees were prosecuted. See McGhee v. Pottawattamie Cnty., Iowa, 475 F. Supp. 2d 862, 911 (S.D. Iowa 2007), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 547 F.3d 922 (addressing only the prosecutors' appeal from the district court's disposition of their motions in the same order). The district court also determined a reasonable jury could find the officers (1) lacked probable cause to arrest the appellees for murder, and (2) violated the appellees' due process rights by fabricating evidence. Id. at 890, 910, 913. The officers did not appeal these determinations. See generally McGhee, 547 F.3d at 925-26.
The appellees settled their claims against the County and the prosecutors. The district court dismissed the state-law claims as time barred.
In May 2010, the officers moved for judgment on the pleadings, maintaining the federal claims were untimely because they were akin to the tort of false imprisonment. The district court noted whether accrual of the § 1983 claims is based on false imprisonment rules or on malicious prosecution rules depends upon which of those torts most closely resembles the claims. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388-89 (2007) (false imprisonment); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484, 489-90 (1994) (malicious prosecution). The district court determined, if the appellees' claims are more similar to false imprisonment, the claims accrued when the appellees were charged with murder in 1978-and therefore the claims were brought well after the applicable two-year statute of limitations expired. See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389 ("[A] false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to [legal] process."). However, the district court denied the officers' summary judgment motion, finding the appellees' claims were more "in the nature of malicious prosecution," and, therefore, did not accrue until the appellees' convictions were vacated. Because the appellees sued within two years of their convictions being vacated, the district court determined the appellees complied with the applicable statute of limitations.
The officers again moved for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to qualified immunity on the claims that could be defeated by showing probable cause because they had probable cause to believe the appellees had stolen cars. The district court disagreed, deciding the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because they did not have probable cause to suspect the appellees of committing the crime with which they were charged-Schweer's murder. The officers timely appealed.
We have jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and the collateral order doctrine. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1945-46 (2009). Our review of the district court's denial of summary judgment is de novo. See Morrison Enters., LLC v. Dravo Corp., 638 F.3d 594, 602 (8th Cir. 2011). "'Summary judgment is appropriate [if] the record, viewed in the light most favorable to [the appellees], demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and [the officers are] entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Id. (quoting Myers v. Lutsen Mtns. Corp., 587 F.3d 891, 893 (8th Cir. 2009)). "Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense for ...