Jackson v. City of Cleveland, 052019 FED6, 17-3840

Docket Nº:17-3840, 17-3843
Opinion Judge:JOHN K. BUSH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:Ricky Jackson (17-3840); Kwame Ajamu, fka Ronnie Bridgeman, and Wiley Edward Bridgeman (17-3843), Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. City of Cleveland; Jerold Englehart; Karen Lamendola, Guardian Ad Litem on behalf of Frank Stoiker; Estate of Eugene Terpay, Administrator; Estate of James T. Farmer, Administrator; Estate of John Staimpel, Administrator, ...
Attorney:Elizabeth C. Wang, LOEVY & LOEVY, Boulder, Colorado, for all Appellants. William M. Menzalora, CITY OF CLEVELAND, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee City of Cleveland. Stephen W. Funk, ROETZEL & ANDRESS, LPA, Akron, Ohio, for Appellees Karen Lamendola and the Estates of Eugene Terpay, James Farmer, an...
Judge Panel:Before: ROGERS and BUSH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 20, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Ricky Jackson (17-3840); Kwame Ajamu, fka Ronnie Bridgeman, and Wiley Edward Bridgeman (17-3843), Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

City of Cleveland; Jerold Englehart; Karen Lamendola, Guardian Ad Litem on behalf of Frank Stoiker; Estate of Eugene Terpay, Administrator; Estate of James T. Farmer, Administrator; Estate of John Staimpel, Administrator, Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 17-3840, 17-3843

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 20, 2019

Argued: June 14, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. No. 1:15-cv-00989-Christopher A. Boyko, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Elizabeth C. Wang, LOEVY & LOEVY, Boulder, Colorado, for all Appellants.

William M. Menzalora, CITY OF CLEVELAND, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee City of Cleveland.

Stephen W. Funk, ROETZEL & ANDRESS, LPA, Akron, Ohio, for Appellees Karen Lamendola and the Estates of Eugene Terpay, James Farmer, and John Staimpel.

ON BRIEF:

Elizabeth C. Wang, LOEVY & LOEVY, Boulder, Colorado, for Appellant Ricky Jackson.

Terry H. Gilbert, Jacqueline C. Greene, FRIEDMAN & GILBERT, Cleveland, Ohio, David E. Mills, THE MILLS LAW OFFICE LLC, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants Kwame Ajamu and Wiley Bridgeman. William M. Menzalora, CITY OF CLEVELAND, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee City of Cleveland.

Stephen W. Funk, ROETZEL & ANDRESS, LPA, Akron, Ohio, for Appellees Karen Lamendola and the Estates of Eugene Terpay, James Farmer, and John Staimpel.

Before: ROGERS and BUSH, Circuit Judges. [*]

AMENDED OPINION

JOHN K. BUSH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Appellants Ricky Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman, and Kwame Ajamu served a long time in prison for a crime they did not commit. For Jackson, it was thirty-nine years; for Bridgeman, thirty-seven years; for Ajamu, twenty-five years. They each spent close to two and a half of those years on death row.

These men cannot get back any of the time they lost or erase the things they experienced. The best they can hope for is a remedy of damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Ohio law. This appeal concerns whether their complaints state sufficient facts for certain claims not to be dismissed and whether the men have presented enough evidence for other claims to overcome summary judgment.

In 1975, Jackson, Ajamu, and Bridgeman were convicted of murder. Their convictions were based largely on the purportedly eyewitness testimony of Edward Vernon, who then was thirteen years old. In 2014, nearly forty years later, Vernon recanted, disclosing that police officers had coerced him into testifying falsely. Vernon's recantation led to the overturning of appellants' convictions.

The exonerated men filed suit in the Northern District of Ohio, alleging § 1983 claims based on alleged violations of their constitutional rights by the officers and the City of Cleveland ("Cleveland"), along with state-law claims for indemnification against Cleveland. This appeal requires us to untangle a knot of legal issues surrounding the district court's grant of appellees' motions for judgment on the pleadings and for summary judgment and its denial of appellants' motions to amend their complaints. We AFFIRM the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the § 1983 claims based on conspiracy, but we REVERSE and REMAND the district court's (1) judgment on the pleadings as to the indemnification claims; (2) denial of appellants' motions to amend their complaints to substitute the administrator of the estates of the deceased officers as a party in their place; (3) summary judgment as to § 1983 claims arising from violations of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), fabrication of evidence, and malicious prosecution; and (4) summary judgment as to claims against Cleveland based on Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

As befits this stage of the litigation, we recite the relevant facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, who are appellants here. See Ciminillo v. Streicher, 434 F.3d 461, 464 (6th Cir. 2006).

In 1973, the Cleveland Division of Police promulgated General Police Order 19-73 ("GPO 19-73"), entitled "PRETRIAL DISCOVERY RIGHTS OF DEFENSE ATTORNEYS AND COURTS IN CRIMINAL CASES." R. 101-7, PageID 1630.1 GPO 19-73 provided that "defense counsel may be entitled" to several types of evidence, including "[e]vidence favorable to the defendant." Id. But it also included a section entitled "EXCEPTION TO THE FOREGOING," which contained the following provision: "The foregoing does not authorize the discovery or the inspection of . . . statements made by witnesses or prospective witnesses to state agents." Id. The Manual of Rules used by the Division of Police (the "Manual") did not otherwise instruct officers in handling potentially exculpatory information and did not mention Brady, as the Manual's last update had occurred before Brady was decided.

As described later in this opinion, some testimony suggests that Cleveland police officers may have received no formal training in their Brady obligations, and may not have known that Brady imposed any obligations upon them.

Deposition testimony also reveals that, regardless of how officers understood their obligations under Brady, violations of those obligations were common. Although it was generally understood that anything in a detective's file that was pertinent to a case "should go to the prosecutor," it was up to individual officers whether they followed this policy, and they did not always do so. R. 103, PageID 3794. The general practice at the time, followed in "every case," was for detectives to provide prosecutors with only "arrest reports, witness forms and written statements taken by the Statement Unit," and "photos," while omitting to turn over other evidence, including potentially exculpatory evidence, unless it was specifically requested by the prosecutor. Id. at PageID 3672-75. Deposition testimony describes this as a "practice," which "happened more than it should," of "detectives not [turning] over all the evidence to prosecutors." R. 104, PageID 3970.

Some detectives took a more proactive role by "manipulating the evidence" before giving it to prosecutors. Id. at PageID 3967. This was done, one officer testified, "because winning the case was what it was all about. It wasn't about what was fair, it wasn't about what was honest, it was about winning." Id. at PageID 3967-68.

Against this backdrop of evidence of incomplete Brady knowledge and frequent Brady violations, the record tells the following story.

On May 19, 1975, Edward Vernon, then twelve years old, was riding the bus home from school when he heard two gunshots. Being twelve, Vernon exited the bus at the earliest opportunity and ran to where he believed the shots originated. Coming upon the scene, Vernon found a gunshot victim, but nothing to indicate who was responsible for the shooting. After police had secured the area, Vernon left and met up with a friend who told Vernon that the perpetrators were Ricky Jackson, Kwame Ajamu (then known as Ronnie Bridgeman), and Wiley Bridgeman (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). Vernon, a civic-minded youth, returned to the crime scene and told an officer that he knew who had committed the shooting, whereupon the officer recorded Vernon's contact information.

The next day, Detectives Eugene Terpay and James Farmer went to Vernon's house and requested that he go down to the station to give a statement. As Vernon later recounted, when his mother asked to accompany him to the station, the officers "told her, no, he'll be all right, he'll be all right." R. 99-1, PageID 1183. At the station, Vernon told Terpay and Farmer that Plaintiffs had committed the shooting and gave their descriptions, which he was able to do because he knew them from the neighborhood. The following day, Terpay and Farmer again went to Vernon's house and asked him for Plaintiffs' addresses.

Detective John Staimpel, along with his partner Frank Stoiker, was working the case with Terpay and Farmer. On May 25, Staimpel and another detective, whose name Vernon cannot remember, picked Vernon up at his house to bring him to a line-up. Vernon's mother again asked to accompany him, and Vernon recalls the detectives saying, "[N]o, he'll be all right. We'll bring him back after the lineup." Id. at PageID 1189. The detectives brought Vernon to the line-up and, as he recollects, asked him if "I see anybody that I recognize up there," which Vernon interpreted as asking whether he had seen anyone in the line-up commit the shooting. Id. at PageID 1190. Vernon replied that he had not. Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman, who had been arrested earlier in the day, were in that line-up. From Vernon's point of...

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