717 F.3d 410 (5th Cir. 2013), 12-40288, Crostley v. Lamar County, Texas

Docket Nº:12-40288.
Citation:717 F.3d 410
Opinion Judge:EDWARD C. PRADO, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Ryan CROSTLEY; Shannon Finley, Plaintiffs-Appellants v. LAMAR COUNTY, TEXAS; Chris Brooks; Stacy McNeal; Timothy Keele, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Michael Douglas Mosher, Esq., Law Office of Michael D. Mosher, Paris, TX, Scott E. Schutzman, Santa Ana, CA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. Robert Scott Davis, Esq., Lee Ina Correa, David Ryan Herring Iglesias, Flowers Davis, P.L.L.C., Tyler, TX, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before REAVLEY, PRADO, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 29, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 410

717 F.3d 410 (5th Cir. 2013)

Ryan CROSTLEY; Shannon Finley, Plaintiffs-Appellants

v.

LAMAR COUNTY, TEXAS; Chris Brooks; Stacy McNeal; Timothy Keele, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 12-40288.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

May 29, 2013

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Michael Douglas Mosher, Esq., Law Office of Michael D. Mosher, Paris, TX, Scott E. Schutzman, Santa Ana, CA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Robert Scott Davis, Esq., Lee Ina Correa, David Ryan Herring Iglesias, Flowers Davis, P.L.L.C., Tyler, TX, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before REAVLEY, PRADO, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.

EDWARD C. PRADO, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellants Ryan Crostley and Shannon Finley (" Appellants" ) were arrested for the murder of Brandon McClelland after an investigation conducted by, among others, Defendant-Appellees Stacy McNeal and Chris Brooks (" Appellees" ). Eventually, all charges against Appellants were dropped, and they filed this civil rights action on January 26, 2010, seeking damages for injury suffered as a result of their nine-month imprisonment. In addition to McNeal and Brooks, the original complaint named Lamar County as a defendant. The district court dismissed all claims against Lamar County with prejudice on July 21, 2010. After the deadline for joining new parties to the litigation expired, Appellants filed a motion for leave to amend their complaint to add Department of Public Safety (DPS) Officer Timothy Keele as a defendant for the first time, and to add Lamar County as a defendant for a second time. The district court denied this motion. In September 2011 and February 2012 respectively, the district court granted summary judgment for McNeal and Brooks on the basis of their qualified immunity.

Appellants appeal the denial of their motion for leave to amend to add Lamar County and Officer Keele as defendants, as well as the orders granting summary judgment for McNeal and Brooks. We reverse the district court's denial of Appellants' motion for leave to amend as it relates to Lamar County, but affirm the denial as it pertains to Keele. We affirm the district court's orders granting summary judgment for Appellees on Appellants' § 1983 false arrest and state malicious prosecution claims.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND1

On September 15, 2008, Shannon Finley and Brandon McClelland installed sheet rock together for a man in Paris, Texas. After work, they picked up their friend Ryan Crostley, bought beer, and drove to another friend's house nearby to begin

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drinking. Once there, all three drank beer and smoked marijuana. At some point in the evening, McClelland and Finley also took Xanax, a central nervous system depressant. Because they could not purchase alcohol in Texas after midnight, at some time in the early morning of September 16, all three left and drove in Finley's Dodge Dakota to Oklahoma to purchase more beer, taking Highway 271.

On their return trip, the group drove slowly and only on back roads because the transmission in Finley's truck was malfunctioning. While they were traveling on one of these country roads, McClelland and Crostley began arguing with Finley about whether he was too intoxicated to drive, and tried to convince him that either McClelland or Crostley should drive instead. When Finley refused, McClelland continued to argue with him. Finley eventually told McClelland that if he preferred not to ride with him, he could get out of the truck. McClelland then exited the truck and Finley and Crostley drove away. After about a mile, Crostley suggested they go back and retrieve McClelland. Finley agreed and turned the truck around. When they found McClelland walking along the side of the road on which they had left him, he again refused to ride with Finley. McClelland took two beers from the truck and continued walking. At some point that night, Crostley vomited in the front seat and out the front passenger window down the side of the truck. Crostley and Finley ultimately returned to Finley's apartment without further interaction with McClelland.

Sometime around 4:20 a.m., McClelland, now walking along FM 2648, was struck and killed by a semi-trailer truck driven by Gary Clark. Clark felt a bump from the right side of his trailer tires, but otherwise had no indication that he had hit anything. Clark continued down the road for about five miles before stopping to see if he had gotten a flat tire. Finding that he had not, he continued to his destination in Idabel, Oklahoma.

Around the time of the accident, Brandon Smith and Clint Frachiseur, two friends driving on FM 2648 in separate cars, passed an eighteen-wheeler coming the opposite direction that was allegedly driving over the speed limit and partly over the center dividing line. Moments after passing the truck, they came upon McClelland's body in the road. They then pulled over and called 911. Smith later told authorities that McClelland's body was still emitting steam when they arrived. Two other witnesses also attested to passing a truck similar to Clark's shortly before passing McClelland's body in the road.

DPS Officer Keele, DPS Sergeant James Kain, Lamar County Investigator Joe Tuttle, and Lamar County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Barr were all dispatched to the scene. Tuttle recorded the witnesses' statements. DPS Sergeant Chris Brooks arrived at the accident site sometime close to 5:00 a.m., after the witnesses had left. The officers at the scene noted that McClelland, who weighed 284 pounds at the time of his death, had been severely injured by the impact. He suffered a complete fracture of his pelvis, blunt head trauma so serious that brain matter was found on the highway, and lacerations of his legs approximately thirteen inches above the heel. No debris from any vehicle was found at the accident site.

Later in the morning of September 16, Keele met with members of McClelland's family to deliver the news of his death. McClelland's mother informed Keele that McClelland had been with Crostley and Finley the night before, and gave him their telephone numbers. Keele called Crostley and Finley and asked them to come to the

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Paris DPS office. When they arrived, Keele obtained a written statement from Finley while another officer simultaneously obtained a statement from Crostley. Both statements contained accounts of the argument between Finley and his passengers, and neither suggested that Crostley and Finley saw McClelland at any point after they drove away the second time. After Crostley and Finley left, Keele called Finley again to ask him to bring his truck into the DPS office, which Finley did. At some point before Finley brought in his truck, Finley and Crostley had cleaned the vomit out of the area in front of the front passenger seat, but it is unclear whether this occurred before or after they were first contacted by DPS personnel. Keele and Kain examined the truck and noticed no significant damage to the truck's body. Photographs of the truck indicate there was no observable damage to the bumper, hood, or windshield. Keele noted that a part of the truck looked like it had been washed, but not very well. There was grass, rust, and dirt on the truck's undercarriage. The truck was released back to Finley after the officers had finished their examination. The next evening, on September 17, Crostley and Finley were visited by two acquaintances, Trey Laster and Josh Newkirk. Laster had been arrested earlier in 2008 for injuring Finley in a fight. When they arrived at Finley's apartment, Laster and Newkirk made statements suggesting they were seeking vengeance for McClelland's death and wished to harm Finley and Crostley. Crostley, as well as an elderly neighbor who could hear the argument, each made 911 calls to report that Laster and Newkirk were trying to kill Finley.

The next day, on September 18, Keele interviewed Lisa Deninfield, the mother of Finley's estranged wife Ashley Finley, who stated that her daughter had information about McClelland's death. Keele then interviewed Ashley Finley, who said that she had spoken with Newkirk, who said that he had talked to Crostley, and that Crostley had told him he had been in Finley's truck when Finley ran over McClelland and killed him. Ashley also stated that she had been told Finley had washed his truck at a car wash in Powderly, Texas, after the incident. That afternoon, either Kain or Keele reviewed videotape from the car wash Ashley Finley identified, but found no indication in the footage that the car wash had been visited by a Dodge Dakota.

The same day, Billy Pillars, a Paris police officer on patrol at the time, was flagged down by Laster, who said that he had information about the events of the night of September 15-16. Laster stated that Finley had told him about fighting with McClelland and that Finley had admitted to running McClelland over. Laster claimed that the vehicle in question was a Toyota Tundra. Pillars provided an incident report to Brooks, who had been briefed on the investigation that day by Keele.

That evening, on September 18, Ranger Stacy McNeal also began working on the investigation. After he and Brooks were briefed, they went to Crostley's residence and asked him to come into the Paris police station to give another interview. Crostley agreed, and gave an account consistent with his September 16th statement. Keele prepared an affidavit for a search warrant to allow the investigators to search Finley's truck, which was signed by a magistrate later that evening.

On September 20, McNeal and Brooks executed the search warrant after they located Finley's truck in a field...

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