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Burton v. St. Louis Bd. of Police Com'rs

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 24, 2013

Darryl BURTON, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
ST. LOUIS BOARD OF POLICE COMMISSIONERS; Francis G. Slay, in his official capacity as a member of the St. Louis City Board of Police Commissioners; Michael Gerdine, in his official capacity as a member of the St. Louis City Board of Police Commissioners; Bettye Battle-Turner, in her official capacity as a member of the St. Louis City Board of Police Commissioners; Richard H. Gray, in his official capacity as a member of the St. Louis City Board of Police Commissioners; Don Cummings; Christopher Gunter; Stephen Hobbs; Daniel Nichols; Thomas Wilder, all in their official capacity and their individual capacity, Defendants-Appellees.

Submitted: March 12, 2013.

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Michael Kanovitz, argued, Chicago, IL (Michael Kanovitz, Chicago, IL, Brian McCallister, Kansas City, MO, on the brief), for Appellant.

Denise Garrison McElvein, AAG, argued, Saint Louis, MO, (Denise Garrison McElvein, Karin A. Schute, AAG, Saint Louis, MO, on the brief), for Appellees.

Before MURPHY, SMITH, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

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SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Darryl Burton was convicted of the 1984 murder of Donald Ball in St. Louis, Missouri. Burton served 24 years in prison before a Missouri court found that his trial had been fundamentally unfair and ordered his release. Burton then filed this action in the district court [1] against the members of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners and several law enforcement personnel (collectively, " defendants" ), asserting that the defendants recklessly or intentionally manipulated evidence and conducted suggestive identification procedures, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, his Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint also alleged state law claims of malicious prosecution and infliction of emotional distress. The defendants asserted the defense of qualified immunity and moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the defendant's summary judgment motion on the § 1983 claims and dismissed the remaining state law claims. Finding no genuine issue of material fact with respect to Burton's § 1983 claims, we now affirm.

I. Background

On June 4, 1984, a gunman shot and killed Ball at an Amoco service station in St. Louis, Missouri. Detective Donald Cummings interviewed three people at the scene who allegedly saw the shooter: Carolyn Lindsey, Stacy Lindsey, and Joan Williams. Officer Thomas Wilder arrived at the scene and interviewed Samuel Coleman, who did not witness the shooting but was present at the scene when the shooting took place. The following day, Detective Stephen Hobbs took over the murder investigation. Detective Hobbs quickly focused on Burton as a suspect. Police arrested Burton, and the State charged him with murder and armed criminal action. In March 1985, a jury convicted Burton based, in substantial measure, on eyewitness testimony from Claudex Simmons and Eddie Walker, both of whom testified that Burton was the gunman. The court sentenced Burton to 75 years' imprisonment.

Five months later, Simmons signed an affidavit, in which he stated that he " submitted perjury testimony to gain immunity, from the ... murder of one Donald Ball." He swore that he " made an agreement with one Anthony Gonzalez to testify against one Darryl Burton-Bey. For exchange of immunity of the homocide [sic] of/upon one Donald Ball." Simmons claimed that he " didnot [sic] witness [Burton] murder one Donald Ball." Burton appealed his conviction, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. See State v. Burton, 710 S.W.2d 306 (Mo.Ct.App.1986). Burton filed for post-conviction relief in the trial court, but the court denied relief. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the denial on appeal. See Burton v. State, 817 S.W.2d 928 (Mo.Ct.App.1991).

Walker died in 1996, but Burton's investigators obtained a statement from Daniel Pennington, one of Walker's friends. " Pennington said he had been drinking with Walker outside another friend's house near the Amoco station at the time of Ball's murder." Burton v. Dormire, 295 F.3d 839, 843 (8th Cir.2002). Pennington signed an affidavit stating, " If Eddie Walker said that he saw the shooting and could identify the shooter that night, he was lying. It [wa]s physically impossible for any of us to see the [Amoco] lot and the area of the shooting from where we were

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standing." Id. (quotation omitted) (second alteration in original). Furthermore, " Pennington and other affiants claimed Walker was a notorious liar. And one woman even asserted [that] Walker had poor eyesight and never wore his glasses while drinking." Id. Burton then sought federal habeas relief. The district court denied relief, and Burton appealed to this court. On review of the district court's denial of Burton's petition, we stated:

Darryl Burton's habeas petition depicts a troubling scenario. One cannot read the record in this case without developing a nagging suspicion that the wrong man may have been convicted of capital murder and armed criminal action in a Missouri courtroom. Burton was convicted on the strength of two eyewitness accounts. Since his trial and imprisonment, new evidence has come to light that shakes the limbs of the prosecution's case. One eyewitness has recanted and admitted perjury. The other eyewitness's veracity has been questioned by a compatriot who avers it was physically impossible for him to have seen the crime. A layperson would have little trouble concluding Burton should be permitted to present his evidence of innocence in some forum. Unfortunately, Burton's claims and evidence run headlong into the thicket of impediments erected by courts and by Congress. Burton's legal claims permit him no relief, even as the facts suggest he may well be innocent. Mindful of our obligation to apply the law, but with no small degree of reluctance, we deny Burton a writ.

Id. at 842.

Next, Burton filed a state habeas petition. The Missouri trial court found that Burton's trial had been fundamentally unfair and ordered Burton's release from prison. See Burton v. Dormire, No. 06AC-CC00312 (Mo.Cir.Ct. Aug. 18, 2008). After 24 years of incarceration, Burton was released.

Burton then filed this action in the district court against the defendants, including Detective Hobbs, Detective Cummings, Officer Wilder, Detective Daniel Nichols, and Officer Christopher Gunter. Burton's first amended complaint asserted that the defendants withheld exculpatory material, conducted suggestive identification procedures, and fabricated evidence, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint also alleged state law claims of malicious prosecution and infliction of emotional distress. The defendants asserted the defense of qualified immunity and moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the § 1983 claims, stating:

Evidence discovered subsequent to Plaintiff's trial for the murder of Donald Ball suggests that he has served a long incarceration for a crime he did not commit. However unjust this is [it] is not for this Court to redress in the absence of a violation of his constitution[al] right to a fair trial by the named Defendants. See Baker [ v. McCollan ], 443 U.S. [137,] 145 [99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979) ] (" The Constitution does not guarantee that only the guilty will be arrested. If it did, § 1983 would provide a cause of action for every defendant acquitted— indeed, for every suspect released." ). " ‘ Due process does not require that every conceivable step be taken, at whatever cost, to eliminate the possibility of convicting an innocent person.’ " Id. (quoting Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 208 [97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281] (1977)).

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Burton v. St. Louis Bd. of Police Comm'rs, No. 4:1-CV 1540 TCM, 2012 WL 1933761, at *23 (E.D.Mo. May 29, 2012). The district court dismissed the remaining state law claims without prejudice.[2]

II. Discussion

On appeal, Burton argues that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants. Burton contends that the court improperly rejected his evidence and credited the defendants' denials that they did not manipulate the evidence, conduct suggestive identification procedures, or conspire to deprive him of a fair trial. Burton argues that he " provided considerable evidence indicating that Hobbs, working with Nichols, Cummings, and Wilder, framed Mr. Burton for a crime he did not commit."

" Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party presents no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We review de novo summary judgment where granted on the basis of qualified immunity." Coates v. Powell, 639 F.3d 471, 475-76 (8th Cir.) (internal citation omitted), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 412, 181 L.Ed.2d 269 (2011). " The party asserting immunity always has the burden to establish the relevant predicate facts, and at the summary judgment stage, the nonmoving party is given the benefit of all reasonable inferences." White v. McKinley, 519 F.3d 806, 813 (8th Cir.2008).
" Qualified immunity shields government officials from [personal] liability in a § 1983 action unless the official's conduct violates a clearly established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would have known." Brown v. City of Golden Valley, 574 F.3d 491, 495 (8th Cir.2009). Evaluating a claim of qualified immunity requires a " two-step inquiry: (1) whether the facts shown by the plaintiff make out a violation of a constitutional or statutory right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct." Id. at 496 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)). " The defendants are entitled to qualified immunity unless the answer to both of these questions is yes." McCaster v. Clausen, 684 F.3d 740, 746 (8th Cir.2012). A court may exercise its discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis to take up first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

Winslow v. Smith, 696 F.3d 716, 730-31 (8th Cir.2012) (alteration in original). " ‘ The party asserting immunity always has the burden to establish the relevant predicate facts, and at the summary judgment stage, the nonmoving party is given the benefit of all reasonable inferences.’ " Id. at 730 (quoting White, 519 F.3d at 813).

A. Manipulation-of-Evidence Claims

Burton argues that the defendants recklessly or intentionally manipulated exculpatory evidence, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, his Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Burton contends that the defendants withheld the statements of witnesses Coleman and Williams ...


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