950 F.3d 680 (10th Cir. 2020), 17-8089, Johnson v. Spencer

Docket Nº:17-8089, 17-8090, 17-8091
Citation:950 F.3d 680
Opinion Judge:HOLMES, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Andrew J. JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Alan W. SPENCER, Defendant-Appellee. Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, Amicus Curiae. Andrew J. Johnson, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. City of Cheyenne, a governmental entity; Don Pierson, Chief of Police for the Cheyenne Police Department; Bill Stanford, Cheyenne Police Detective, a/k/a George W. Stanford; ...
Attorney:Robert P. Schuster, Robert P. Schuster P.C., Jackson, Wyoming (Bradley L. Booke, Robert P. Schuster P.C., Jackson, Wyoming, and Thomas N. Long and Aaron J. Lyttle, Long Reimer Winegar Beppler LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Laurence O. Masson, Law Office of Laurence O. Masson, Berkeley, California, w...
Judge Panel:Before HOLMES, McKAY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:February 13, 2020
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 680

950 F.3d 680 (10th Cir. 2020)

Andrew J. JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Alan W. SPENCER, Defendant-Appellee.

Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, Amicus Curiae.

Andrew J. Johnson, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

City of Cheyenne, a governmental entity; Don Pierson, Chief of Police for the Cheyenne Police Department; Bill Stanford, Cheyenne Police Detective, a/k/a George W. Stanford; Cheyenne Police Department, Defendants-Appellees.

Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, Amicus Curiae. Andrew J. Johnson, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

City of Cheyenne, a municipal corporation; Doe 1, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate of George W. Stanford, an individual; Alan W. Spencer, an individual; Does 2-20, inclusive, Defendants-Appellees. Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, Amicus Curiae.

Nos. 17-8089, 17-8090, 17-8091

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 13, 2020

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming (D.C. No. 2:92-CV-00183-SWS), (D.C. No. 2:91-CV-00129-SWS), (D.C. No. 2:17-CV-00074-SWS)

Robert P. Schuster, Robert P. Schuster P.C., Jackson, Wyoming (Bradley L. Booke, Robert P. Schuster P.C., Jackson, Wyoming, and Thomas N. Long and Aaron J. Lyttle, Long Reimer Winegar Beppler LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Laurence O. Masson, Law Office of Laurence O. Masson, Berkeley, California, with him on the briefs), for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Justin A. Daraie, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Peter K. Michael, Attorney General, Daniel E. White, Deputy Attorney General, and Philip M. Donoho, Assistant Attorney General, with him on the brief), Office of the Attorney General for the State of Wyoming, Cheyenne, Wyoming, for Defendants-Appellees, Alan W. Spencer and George W. Stanford.

Norman Ray Giles, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, Houston, Texas, (William S. Helfand, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, Houston, Texas, and J. Mark Stewart, Davis & Cannon, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming, with him on the brief), for Defendant-Appellee, City of Cheyenne.

Elliot H. Scherker, Greenberg Traurig, P.A., Miami, Florida, filed an amicus curiae brief for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center in support of Plaintiff-Appellant.

Before HOLMES, McKAY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

HOLMES, Circuit Judge.

In 2013, a Wyoming court declared Andrew Johnson actually innocent of crimes for which he was then incarcerated. In 2017, after his release, Mr. Johnson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming ("Cheyenne"), the Estate of Detective George Stanford ("the Estate"),1 and Officer Alan Spencer alleging that they were responsible for violations of his constitutional rights that contributed to his conviction ("2017 Action"). While incarcerated, however, Mr. Johnson had unsuccessfully brought similar suits against Cheyenne and Detective Stanford in 1991 ("1991 Action") and against Officer Spencer in 1992 ("1992 Action"). The central question on appeal is what effect the judgments against Mr. Johnson in his 1991 and 1992 Actions have on his 2017 Action.

Answering this question requires us to resolve two primary issues. First, in addition to filing the 2017 Action, Mr. Johnson moved the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) for relief from the judgments in the 1991 and 1992 Actions. The district court denied Mr. Johnson’s motions, and he asks us to hold that the district court thereby erred. We conclude that the district court erred in particular in denying him Rule 60(b)(6) relief, and so we vacate the orders entered by the district court and remand for it to reconsider under the correct legal rubric Mr. Johnson’s requests for Rule 60(b)(6) relief. We recognize, however, that relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is discretionary; in remanding for further proceedings, we express no view on how the district court should ultimately use its discretion to resolve Mr. Johnson’s Rule 60(b)(6) motions.

Second, Cheyenne, the Estate, and Officer Spencer each moved the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the 2017 Action because its claims are precluded by the judgments in the 1991 and 1992 Actions. The district court granted those motions and denied Mr. Johnson’s later motions for reconsideration of and relief from that dismissal. On appeal, Mr. Johnson argues that even if the judgments in his 1991 and 1992 Actions are valid, the dismissal of his 2017 Action was erroneous. He asks us to reverse the dismissal and allow the 2017 Action to proceed. Because our remand of Mr. Johnson’s 1991 and 1992 Actions for further consideration of his motions for Rule 60(b)(6) relief does not actually grant him such relief— and the motions, themselves, do not "affect the [underlying] judgment[s’] finality or suspend [their] operation," FED. R. CIV. P. 60(c)(2)— we address the claim-preclusion issue that the defendants presented in their 12(b)(6) motions, even though we acknowledge that the district court on remand could conceivably grant Mr. Johnson Rule 60(b)(6) relief from those judgments. And we affirm in part and reverse in part the district court’s dismissal of the 2017 Action. More specifically, we affirm the dismissal of the claims against Cheyenne and the Estate because the judgment in the 1991 Action— in which they were the defendants— is entitled to claim-preclusive effect. We reverse, however, the dismissal of the claims against Officer Spencer because the judgment in the 1992 Action— in which he was the defendant— was not on the merits and, thus, is not entitled to claim-preclusive effect.

In the following discussion, we set forth the background underlying this appeal, address the Rule 60(b) arguments pertinent to the 1991 and 1992 Actions, address the Rule 12(b)(6) arguments pertinent to the 2017 Action, and conclude by briefly addressing an outstanding motion relating to the record on appeal (which we deny as moot).

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background2

Late one night in June 1989, Mr. Johnson ran into a female acquaintance at a bar in Cheyenne and returned with her to the apartment that she shared with her boyfriend, who was away at the time. They drank wine and smoked marijuana in her living room, and Mr. Johnson used his driver’s license and picture I.D., which were enclosed in a clear plastic sleeve, to separate marijuana leaves from their stems and seeds for the joints that they smoked. Mr. Johnson and his female acquaintance then left her apartment in her car and visited multiple bars in downtown Cheyenne. Mr. Johnson, however, forgot his license and picture I.D. on the coffee table in his acquaintance’s living room.

The acquaintance eventually became sick and vomited in her car while Mr. Johnson was driving them to an after-hours club. When Mr. Johnson went inside the club to get some paper towels to clean up her vomit, the acquaintance climbed into the driver’s seat and drove herself home. Mr. Johnson returned to find that his acquaintance and her car were gone. He then walked to his home, thirty-five minutes away, and went to sleep.

Later that night, from around 3:00 a.m. to 3:10 a.m., the acquaintance’s downstairs neighbor heard aggressively loud, periodic knocking on the door to the stairs leading to the acquaintance’s upstairs apartment. Eventually, she heard the door’s glass window pane shatter, followed by footsteps crossing the broken glass and walking upstairs to the acquaintance’s apartment. The neighbor heard the intruder walking around the acquaintance’s apartment and then a woman screaming what sounded like "No, no!" The neighbor immediately called the police. While the neighbor was speaking to the police dispatcher, she heard the intruder walk back down the stairs, over the broken glass, and out of the building, less than ten minutes after breaking into the upstairs apartment.

When Officer Spencer and Officer Phillip Raybuck of the Cheyenne Police Department arrived about a minute later, they found the acquaintance whimpering hysterically in her bathroom with the door ajar. The rest of the apartment was dark. Officer Spencer later testified at trial that, when they asked the acquaintance to come out of the bathroom, she screamed at them, and it took him a moment to realize that she was repeatedly asking, "Is he still here?" The officers searched her apartment and found no one else. They told her that they were the only ones there and she could open the bathroom door. Officer Spencer testified that the acquaintance opened the door some more— revealing that her hair was mussed, her eyes were wet and red, and her robe was half undone— and she repeatedly said, "He hurt me."

According to Mr. Johnson, Officer Spencer must have taken his driver’s license and picture I.D. off of the coffee table in the living room and, upon being told by the acquaintance that a man had "hurt" her, showed them to her, "prompting" her "to affirmatively assert Mr. Johnson was that man." Officer Spencer testified that it took him a while to understand what Mr. Johnson allegedly did to the acquaintance because she was still choked up and crying, but that she ultimately led him to believe that Mr. Johnson had sexually assaulted her.

Officer Spencer took the acquaintance to a local hospital where she was medically examined and had a sexual-assault kit performed, resulting in the discovery of seminal fluid. Officer Raybuck then went through the acquaintance’s apartment taking photographs of the crime scene. Some of these photographs were provided to Mr. Johnson’s trial counsel, but others were not.

Later that morning, Mr. Johnson was awakened by a police officer knocking on his front door. The officer asked him if he had any knowledge about a burglary and sexual assault that had happened...

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