893 F.3d 504 (8th Cir. 2018), 16-4059, Dean v. Searcey

Docket Nº:16-4059
Citation:893 F.3d 504
Opinion Judge:SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:James L. DEAN; Lois P. White, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Joseph White, deceased; v. Burdette SEARCEY, Dep., in his official and individual capacities; Wayne R. Price, PhD., in his official and individual capacities; County of Gage, Nebraska, a Nebraska political subdivision, Defendants-Appellants Ryan L. Timmerman, Personal ...
Attorney:Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellants was Melanie J. Whittamore-Mantzios, of Lincoln, NE. The following attorneys appeared on the appellant brief; Jennifer M. Tomka, of Lincoln, NE., Elizabeth Ryan Cano, of Lincoln, NE., Patrick T. O’Brien, of Lincoln, NE. Counsel who present...
Judge Panel:Before BENTON, SHEPHERD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 11, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 504

893 F.3d 504 (8th Cir. 2018)

James L. DEAN; Lois P. White, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Joseph White, deceased;

Kathleen A. Gonzalez; Thomas W. Winslow; Ada Joann Taylor; Debra Shelden, Plaintiffs-Appellees

v.

Burdette SEARCEY, Dep., in his official and individual capacities; Wayne R. Price, PhD., in his official and individual capacities; County of Gage, Nebraska, a Nebraska political subdivision, Defendants-Appellants Ryan L. Timmerman, Personal Representative of the estate of Jerry O. DeWitt, Defendant The Nebraska Association of County Officials; Nebraska Sheriffs Association; National Sheriff’s Association; International Municipal Lawyers Association; The Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, Amici on Behalf of Appellant(s)

No. 16-4059

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 11, 2018

Submitted: November 16, 2017

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 17, 2018

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Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska— Lincoln, Honorable Richard G. Kopf

Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellants was Melanie J. Whittamore-Mantzios, of Lincoln, NE. The following attorneys appeared on the appellant brief; Jennifer M. Tomka, of Lincoln, NE., Elizabeth Ryan Cano, of Lincoln, NE., Patrick T. O’Brien, of Lincoln, NE.

Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellees was Jeffry D. Patterson, of Lincoln, NE.

The following attorneys appeared on the appellee brief of White, Gonzalez, Winslow, and Taylor; Robert F. Bartle, of Lincoln, NE., Douglas J. Stratton, of Norfolk, NE.

The following attorney appeared on the appellee brief of Dean; Herbert J. Friedman, of Lincoln, NE.

The following attorneys appeared on the appellee brief of Shelden; Maren Lynn Chaloupka, of Scottsbluff, NE., Matthew Kosmicki, of Lincoln, NE.

The following attorneys appeared on the amicus brief of the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, the Nebraska Association of County Officials, and the Nebraska Sheriffs’ Association; David J.A. Bargen, of Lincoln, NE., Sheila A. Bentzen, of Lincoln, NE.

The following attorney appeared on the amicus brief of the International Municipal Lawyers Associations and the National Sheriffs’ Association; Lanny Dwight Richmond, II, of North Little Rock, AR.

The following attorney appeared on the amicus brief if the ACLU of Nebraska; Amy Anne Miller, of Lincoln, NE.

Before BENTON, SHEPHERD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

This case is familiar to us, as it is to Nebraskans and much of the nation. It returns after three prior opinions by this Court, two trials, and, now, one jury verdict that is contested on this appeal. We are asked here, in large part, to sweep the pieces off the board— to overturn our prior rulings— in order to vacate the jury’s verdict. We decline to do so. And, after careful examination of the remaining claims on appeal, we find no other reason to disturb the verdict or rulings by the district court.1 Thus, we affirm.

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I.

The underlying facts in this case have been discussed at length in past appeals. See Winslow v. Smith, 696 F.3d 716 (8th Cir. 2012); White v. Smith, 696 F.3d 740 (8th Cir. 2012); Dean v. Cty. of Gage, 807 F.3d 931 (8th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 2490, 195 L.Ed.2d 823 (2016). We provide a brief procedural summary to orient our discussion.

Appellees are six individuals— Joseph White, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, Debra Shelden, Kathleen Gonzalez, and James Dean— who were arrested for the gruesome February 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in Beatrice, Nebraska.2 All pled guilty to various charges in relation to the crime with the exception of Joseph White— he went to trial and was convicted for first-degree felony murder. Shelden, Gonzalez, and Dean served around five years; the rest served nearly twenty years.3 Appellees were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2008, and the State of Nebraska formally pardoned them in 2009. That same year, they filed this lawsuit on the grounds that their deprivations of liberty were preventable: they argued that their arrests and imprisonment were the result of a reckless investigation, manufactured false evidence, and coerced confessions. They assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as parallel conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, against Gage County (where Beatrice is located) and three individuals in the Gage County’s Sheriff Department— Sheriff Jerry DeWitt, Deputy Burdette Searcey, and Deputy Wayne Price.4

On prior appeals, we narrowed the scope of Appellees’ claims against Sheriff DeWitt and Deputies Searcey and Price to reckless investigation, manufacture of false evidence, and conspiracy. We also found that the officials were not entitled to qualified immunity. The case then proceeded to trial where it initially ended in a mistrial. After that, the district court, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b), certified its rulings on county liability and the conspiracy claims for appellate review. We reversed the district court on both claims, finding that Gage County could be liable for acts committed under policies instituted by Sheriff DeWitt, as county sheriff, and that the conspiracy claims could go forward.5

Appellees once again proceeded to trial after three interlocutory opinions from this Court. This time the trial ended in a verdict and awards for each of the Appellees totaling approximately $28.1 million. The verdict is summarized in the chart below:

Dean White Gonzalez Winslow Taylor Shelden
Searcey (Reckless Investigation) Dean White Gonzalez Winslow Taylor Shelden
Price (Reckless Investigation) Dean Price Price Price Taylor Shelden
DeWitt (Reckless Investigation) DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt
Searcey (Manufactured Evidence) Searcey White Gonzalez Winslow Taylor Searcey
Price (Manufactured Evidence) Dean White Gonzalez Price Price Shelden
DeWitt (Manufactured Evidence) DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt
Searcey (Conspiracy) Searcey Searcey Searcey Searcey Searcey Searcey
Price (Conspiracy) Price Price Price Price Price Price
DeWitt (Conspiracy) DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt DeWitt
County Liability Dean White Gonzalez Winslow Taylor Shelden
Damages
...

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