Walden v. Pryor

Decision Date10 March 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 5:18-CV-171-TBR
PartiesBENJAMIN WALDEN, PLAINTIFF v. LYNN PRYOR, et al., DEFENDANTS
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Kentucky
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Lynn Pryor's Motion in Limine to Exclude Expert Testimony of Larry Rogers (Motion in Limine), [DN 59], and Motion for Summary Judgment, [DN 58]. Plaintiff Benjamin Walden filed responses to both motions, [DN 67; DN 68], and Defendant replied, [DN 71; DN 72]. These motions are therefore fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion in Limine, [DN 59], and will grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, [DN 58].

I. BACKGROUND

On or about September 23, 2016, Kentucky State Police (“KSP”) received information that a female had been taken to Oak Grove, Kentucky-specifically to the Quality Inn-to be “pimped out as a prostitute.” [DN 57-6]; see also [DN 57-5; DN 57-7]. Officers eventually learned that multiple female victims were involved and interviewed two of those victims, J.G. and R.V. See, e.g [DN 57-6]. Both women confirmed that they had been sexually assaulted and forcibly employed as prostitutes. Id. Specifically, J.G. claimed that she had been paid to engage in sexual activities with officers employed by the Oak Grove Police Department. Id. She stated that one of the officers was “particularly aggressive” and had used his gun to “threaten or intimidated her, ” and he had forcibly raped and sodomized her. Id. Plaintiff, an officer at the Oak Grove Police Department, was not involved in the investigation but appeared at the hotel on two separate occasions. Id. He testified that he noticed the KSP presence in the hotel parking lot on September 23, 2016 and decided to stop and ask the troopers if everything was okay. [DN 57-1, p. 21]. He was told that his assistance was not needed; however, he remained on the scene for approximately forty-five minutes talking to an officer. Id. During this time, J.G. saw Plaintiff and identified him as the officer that had raped and sodomized her. [DN 57-6]. Plaintiff eventually left the scene but returned a few hours later to see “what was going on.” [DN 57-1, p. 22]. J.G. saw Plaintiff and “immediately began to vomit upon seeing him.” [DN 57-6]. Plaintiff was asked to leave the scene. [DN 57-1, p. 22].

During a follow-up interview on September 27, 2016, J.G. stated that Plaintiff had contacted her on September 24, 2016, struck her in the face with his handgun, and threatened to harm her and her family if she spoke with police. Id. J.G. also identified Plaintiff through photographs shown to her by KSP. Id. J.G. repeated her allegations against Plaintiff when interviewed by F.B.I. agents on September 29, 2016. [DN 57-8].

KSP Trooper Zachary Jones, the lead officer on the case, filed a criminal complaint against Plaintiff on September 27, 2016. [DN 57-2, p. 2]. That evening, Trooper Jones arrested Plaintiff. Id. at 5. On or about February 3, 2017, Defendant Pryor, the Christian County Commonwealth Attorney, presented the case to the grand jury. Id. at 6-7; [DN 57-3, p. 36]. The grand jury indicted Plaintiff on the following charges: 1st Degree Sodomy; 1st Degree Rape; Assault 4th Degree, Minor Injury; Promoting Prostitution; Official Misconduct, 1st Degree; Terroristic Threatening, 3rd Degree; Intimidating a Participant in a Legal Process; Retaliating Against a Participant in a Legal Process; and Tampering with a Witness. [DN 57-13]. Shortly thereafter, a special prosecutor was appointed at the request of Plaintiff's defense counsel. [DN 57-3, pp. 32-34]. After appointment of the special prosecutor, Defendant Pryor had no further involvement with the criminal case. Id. at 72.

In May 2018, the Commonwealth moved to dismiss without prejudice all charges against Plaintiff, stating that it had “recently completed an extensive forensic examination of all known electronic devices associated with the [] case.” [DN 57-13]. It explained, that [t]he absence of forensic evidence which had been anticipated to be supportive of the pending charges will now . . . preclude successful prosecution.” Id.

On October 28, 2018, Plaintiff sued Defendant Pryor, in her individual and official capacities, in Christian Circuit Court. [DN 1-1]. In his original complaint, he asserted claims of malicious prosecution, “the tort of defamation and libel, ” and “the tort of outrage, ” as well as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. Id. at 2. Defendant removed the matter to this Court, [DN 1], and shortly thereafter filed a Motion to Dismiss, [DN 4]. The Court granted the motion in part and dismissed all claims against Defendant in her official capacity, as well as the defamation/libel and outrage claims against Defendant in her individual capacity. [DN 14]. The Court allowed the state law claims for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment to move forward against Defendant in her individual capacity. Id.

Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint, [DN 18]. To this complaint, Plaintiff added his wife as a plaintiff, and he also added KSP and Trooper Jones as defendants. Id. He asserted the following causes of action against Defendant Pryor: false imprisonment, loss of consortium, malicious prosecution, and breach of duty to disclose exculpatory evidence. Id. Defendant Pryor moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, and the Court granted her motion in part, dismissing the false imprisonment, loss of consortium, and breach of duty claims. [DN 27]. However, it allowed a single claim to move forward against Defendant Pryor: the state law malicious prosecution claim against Defendant in her individual capacity. Id. The claims against KSP and Trooper Jones were later dismissed, [DN 34], and the only claim remaining at this time is the malicious prosecution claim against Defendant Pryor.

Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim stems at least in part from Defendant Pryor's interviews with the victims and witnesses in this case. See [DN 1-1, p. 3]. In his original complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Pryor “acted outside the scope of her duties as a Prosecutor and acted as an investigator when she interviewed the alleged victims and witnesses, ” and the interviews “were conducted in a plainly incompetent manner which included showing the alleged victim the Facebook photo of the Plaintiff for identification.” Id. He alleged that this act “violated the clearly established professional standard which prohibits the investigator from suggesting that there is a specific suspect and using a single-photo identification.” Id. Plaintiff did not repeat these allegations in his Amended Complaint, [DN 18], but apparently continues to rely on Defendant Pryor's interview practices to support his malicious prosecution claim. See [DN 67].

Defendant Pryor has now filed two motions. In her Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant argues that she is entitled to prosecutorial immunity and regardless, Plaintiff has failed to produce evidence supporting two essential elements of his claim. [DN 58]. In her Motion in Limine, she asks the Court to exclude the expert testimony of attorney Larry Rogers because his opinion consists of legal conclusions and such expert testimony is improper.

[DN 59]. These motions are now fully briefed and ripe for review. [DN 67; DN 68; DN 71; DN 72].

II. ANALYSIS
A. Defendant's Motion in Limine, [DN 59]

In her Motion in Limine, Defendant Pryor asks the Court to exclude the expert testimony of Larry Rogers. In doing so, she quotes Kentucky Rule of Evidence 702, but cites Federal Rule of Evidence 702. [DN 59, p. 3]. Thus, as a threshold matter, the Court must consider whether federal or state evidentiary rules apply.[1] Notably, the plaintiff originally invoked this Court's federal question jurisdiction, but at this time, the only remaining cause of action in this case is a malicious prosecution claim arising under state law. Thus, the Court is exercising its supplemental jurisdiction over the malicious prosecution claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367. “When deciding matters of supplemental jurisdiction, a federal court must apply the substantive law of the forum state in which it sits.” Diamond Computer Systems, Inc. v. SBC Communications, Inc., 424 F.Supp.2d 970, 979 (E.D. Mich. 2006) (citing Menuskin v. Williams, 145 F.3d 755, 761 (6th Cir. 1998)). As for procedural rules, like evidentiary rules, the Court applies federal law. See Super Sulky, Inc. v. U.S. Trotting Ass'n, 1174 F.3d 733, 741 (6th Cir. 1999) (“A federal court exercising supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims is bound to apply the law of the forum state to the same extent as if it were exercising its diversity jurisdiction.” (citation omitted)); Kotalik v. A.W. Chesterton Company, 471 F.Supp.3d 934, 944 (D. N.D. 2020) (“It is well-settled the federal courts apply federal procedural law and state substantive law in the context of pendent jurisdiction over supplemental state law claims.” (citations omitted)).

Thus, in this case, the Court will apply Federal Rule of Evidence 702. That rule states, A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. Pursuant to this rule, the...

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