708 F.2d 967 (5th Cir. 1983), 82-3201, Ryland v. Shapiro

Docket Nº:82-3201.
Citation:708 F.2d 967
Party Name:Hardy W. RYLAND and Alma Odessa Ryland, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Alfred B. SHAPIRO, et al., Defendants, Edwin O. Ware and Edward E. Roberts, Jr., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 05, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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708 F.2d 967 (5th Cir. 1983)

Hardy W. RYLAND and Alma Odessa Ryland, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Alfred B. SHAPIRO, et al., Defendants,

Edwin O. Ware and Edward E. Roberts, Jr., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 82-3201.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 5, 1983

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Dennis R. Whalen, Baton Rouge, La., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Gold, Little, Simon, Weems & Bruser, John F. Simon, Alexandria, La., for Ware and Roberts.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, THORNBERRY and REAVLEY, Circuit Judges.

THORNBERRY, Circuit Judge:


Hardy and Alma Ryland appeal from the dismissal of their section 1983 suit against Edwin Ware and Edward Roberts, defendants below. 1 In their complaint, the Rylands alleged that their daughter, Lavonna, was murdered by Shapiro, and that the defendants, acting under color of state law, concealed that fact, and prevented a full investigation into the murder. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the Rylands lacked standing to bring this suit, and that the defendants were protected by prosecutorial immunity. 2 We reverse and remand.

Facts and Disposition Below:

Since this is an appeal from a dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 12(b)(6), we accept as true the allegations of the complaint, together with any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom. Marrero v. City of Hialeah, 625 F.2d 499, 502 (5th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 913, 101 S.Ct. 1353, 67 L.Ed.2d 337 (1981). The complaint alleges the following facts. Lavonna Ryland was murdered by Shapiro, then a local prosecutor, on November 25, 1979. After shooting Lavonna, Shapiro telephoned Roberts, then an assistant District Attorney, and asked him to come to his residence. Subsequent to the murder, Roberts and co-defendant Ware, at the time the District Attorney, while acting under color of state law, prevented a full investigation into the causes of Lavonna's death. Ware and Roberts accomplished this by cancelling an autopsy previously scheduled to be performed by the local coroner. During the next six weeks, the defendants sought to obtain the signatures of various deputy coroners and doctors on Lavonna's death certificate, which listed as suicide the cause of death. No doctor would sign the certificate. Finally, the defendants persuaded the coroner to sign a Coroner's Report and Death Certificate, even though he had never examined the body. The Certificate listed the cause of death as suicide. The defendants also stymied a police investigation into the circumstances surrounding Lavonna's death by representing to the police that her death was a suicide. The alleged murder cover-up was exposed by the Attorney General of Louisiana, who, on September 30, 1980, obtained a conviction of Shapiro for the murder. 3 The Rylands claim that by concealing the murder for a period of approximately eleven months, the defendants prevented them from discovering that their daughter had been murdered. Since

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the Rylands were entitled to bring a wrongful death action against Shapiro under Article 2315 4 of the Louisiana Civil Code, they claim that the defendants deprived them of their civil rights by wrongfully interfering with their access to the state courts to pursue their tort claim against Shapiro.

In concluding that the Rylands did not have standing to bring a section 1983 action against Roberts and Ware, the district court stated that the conduct of the defendants did not invade any legally protected right of the parents. Rather, the court viewed the complaint as nothing more than one for failure to enforce the criminal laws of Louisiana. As a result, the court determined that the Rylands had only a generalized grievance against the defendants, common to all citizens of Louisiana, namely, the enforcement of the criminal laws. This, the court concluded, did not constitute a "case or controversy" sufficient to maintain a suit in federal courts. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2204, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962). As stated by the district court:

The alleged conduct of the defendants, Ware and Roberts, did not invade a private substantive or procedural legally protected interest guaranteed by the statutes and constitution of the United States. It deals with the defendants' failure to enforce the criminal laws of Louisiana, since this failure has allegedly delayed the plaintiffs in securing the necessary information to bring their civil actions in the state court. Rights which derive solely from state law cannot be the subject of a claim for relief under Section 1983.

It is clear that what the defendants are charged with is a generalized grievance held in common by all citizens; i.e., the enforcement of the criminal laws. Hoston v. Silbert, 514 F.Supp. 1239 (1981). The principal motivating factor was not to deny the parents of their right of access to the courts and thereby violate their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiff's alleged damages were too remote a consequence of the defendants' action to hold them responsible under Section 1983. The complaint does not make out a claim of federal constitutional magnitude.

The district court next held that the defendants enjoyed absolute prosecutorial immunity under Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). The court characterized the complaint as one for suppression of evidence damaging to Shapiro. Finding no distinction between a prosecutor who conspires to bring false criminal charges (Imbler ) and the suppression of evidence that might lead to an indictment, the court concluded that "the functional nature of the activities that defendants ... were actually engaged in ... were in the scope of their prosecutorial duties, and under Imbler, they are immune from suit."


Our standard of review on this appeal is that set out by the Supreme Court in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957): "In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow ... the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim

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unless it appears beyond a doubt that a plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief."

In dismissing the Rylands' complaint, the district court held that the alleged conduct of the defendants "did not invade a private substantive or procedural legally protected interest guaranteed by the ... constitution." (emphasis added). We shall therefore begin our analysis by briefly discussing the difference between suits brought to remedy substantive constitutional violations, and those brought to remedy procedural due process violations.

In paragraph 8 of their complaint, the Rylands alleged that "the defendants have denied the complainants the privileges and immunities extended by the Constitution of the United States, to seek redress in the Courts of Louisiana, thereby depriving [them] ... of Civil Rights guaranteed by the Constitution...." We read the complaint as alleging both substantive and procedural deprivations. That state agents may simultaneously violate both substantive and procedural rights was made clear by the now retired Justice Stewart, sitting by designation:

A single act of depriving a citizen of his right to correspond may simultaneously constitute a violation of substantive constitutional rights and of the right to procedural due process. Because the right to correspond is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the result of depriving a citizen of this right will violate those substantive guarantees unless the action is justified by sufficiently compelling countervailing state interests. At the same time, because the interest in corresponding is a "liberty" interest within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, the manner of depriving a citizen of this right could violate the procedural norms embodied in the Due Process Clause. See, e.g., Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1973) (analyzing restrictions on a prisoner's correspondence rights as a violation of both substantive constitutional rights and the right to procedural due process).

Owen v. Lash, 682 F.2d 648, 652 n. 4 (7th Cir.1982) (emphasis in original). Although...

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