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Mills v. Barnard

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 28, 2017

Randall Mills, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Weakley E. Barnard, et al., Defendants, Sharon D. Jenkins, in her individual and official capacities as an agent of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: June 21, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Columbia. No. 1:14-cv-00150-William J. Haynes Jr., District Judge.



          Michael J. Wall, BRANSTETTER, STRANCH & JENNINGS, PLLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant. .

          Dawn Jordan, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Michael J. Wall, James G. Stranch III, BRANSTETTER, STRANCH & JENNINGS, PLLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Dawn Jordan, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: BOGGS, GRIFFIN, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.


          BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

         This suit involves three main questions:

(1) whether plaintiff Randall Mills sufficiently pleaded a claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
(2)whether Mills sufficiently pleaded a claim for fabrication of evidence under § 1983; and
(3)whether Mills sufficiently pleaded a Brady claim. The district court found that Mills had not so pleaded and granted defendant Sharon Jenkins's motion to dismiss on those claims. We reverse the district court on all three issues, holding that the complaint contains the requisite facts to constitute viable claims on all counts.


         On the evening of March 15, 1999, twelve-year-old C.M. slipped out of her house while her mother was out of town. Her sister Jennifer, and her sister's boyfriend, Robert Hodge, realized that C.M. was missing and searched the house and neighborhood for her. Upon their return to the house, the two found C.M. sitting on the front doorstep, disoriented. When asked where she had been, C.M. initially told her sister that she had been in the backyard but changed her story when confronted with the fact that Jennifer and Robert had searched the backyard. C.M. then stated that she had been at the house of Randall Mills, her next-door neighbor, and he had smoked marijuana with her and fondled her. Jennifer and Robert went to Mills's home and confronted him in front of his two sons, accusing him of providing drugs to and sexually assaulting C.M. The Lewisburg, Tennessee, police were informed and began an investigation, during which C.M. also alleged that Mills provided her with Valium. A few days into the investigation, Mills turned himself over to the custody of law enforcement.

         On July 21, 1999, [1] Mills was indicted for digital and oral sexual contact with a minor and casual exchange of a controlled substance. According to Mills, on August 16, 1999, the Lewisburg Police Department received a report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") that semen had been found in C.M.'s underwear. An officer from the police department then spoke with C.M., and C.M. explained that Mills had engaged in sexual intercourse with her but that she had not reported it because she was afraid that she would get in trouble. As a result, on August 18, 1999, a grand jury indicted Mills once more and added the charge of rape of a child by penile penetration.

         That same day, the Marshall County Circuit Court granted an order for the taking of saliva and blood samples from Mills. Sharon Jenkins was the DNA analyst assigned by TBI to review the evidence in Mills's case. After examining the underwear, Jenkins stated that there were two sources of DNA found: C.M. and a male contributor, whose DNA profile was consistent with Mills. Jenkins testified at trial that the likelihood of an unrelated Caucasian individual having the same DNA profile was 1 in 290, and that there was only a 0.3% chance that the DNA belonged to a Caucasian male other than Mills. Complaint ¶¶ 46, 63.[2] Jenkins also testified that her analysis of the underwear yielded "inconclusive data": twelve of the thirteen markers she tested were inconclusive. According to the complaint, toxicology reports contradicted C.M.'s initial claim that she had taken Valium and that Mills had smoked marijuana.

         A jury convicted Mills of rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery, and casual exchange of a controlled substance, and he was sentenced to serve twenty years in prison. Mills unsuccessfully appealed his convictions in state court and later sent a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee. The Federal Public Defender, working together with the Innocence Project, sent the preserved DNA evidence and underwear from Mills's trial to a private DNA laboratory, the Serological Research Institute ("SERI"). The SERI analysts were unable to retest the exact portions of the underwear that Jenkins had used because, according to Gary Harmor (an expert from SERI), those samples were "gone." Additionally, Mills's own samples had biodegraded, and he provided new samples to SERI. In performing the tests, Harmor took one sample from a portion of the underwear adjacent to the sample taken by Jenkins and three other samples from different locations on C.M.'s underwear. Using the "same analysis techniques as those used by" Jenkins, Harmor concluded that the underwear contained semen from two different male contributors and that neither of those contributors was Mills.

         In May 2009, Mills filled a petition for a writ of error coram nobis before the state court. After evidentiary hearings, the Marshall County Circuit Court on post-conviction review granted Mills a new trial on the rape-of-a-child charge on January 26, 2011, but denied relief on the remaining charges. Mills appealed. In April 2011, after having served eleven years in prison, Mills was released on time served in exchange for signing a release of claims while his appeal was pending. In November 2013, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned all of Mills's convictions, finding that the new DNA evidence called into question the critical testimony of C.M. at trial. Mills v. State, 2013 WL 6069276, at *26. In 2014, Mills filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, and the State responded with a nolle prosequi motion. The Marshall County Circuit Court entered a nolle prosequi order on April 4, 2014.

         On November 19, 2014, Mills filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. In his action, he named as defendants Weakley Barnard (the Assistant District Attorney General for the Tennessee Seventeenth Judicial District, including Marshall County), Jenkins (the TBI DNA analyst), and Beth Rhoton (a police investigator with the Lewisburg Police Department) in both their individual and official capacities; Mark Gwyn (the Director of the TBI) in his official capacity; Marshall County; and the City of Lewisburg. Mills claimed that: (1) he was subjected to malicious prosecution and "a conspiracy to cover-up the truth" in contravention of the Fourth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) Barnard, Jenkins, and Rhoton conspired to deprive Mills of his constitutional rights; (3) the City of Lewisburg and Marshall County ratified and condoned the unconstitutional actions taken against Mills; and (4) Barnard and Jenkins falsely imprisoned Mills in violation of Tennessee state law. The district court construed Mills's assertion that Barnard, Jenkins, and Rhoton manufactured "knowingly false inculpatory evidence" against him and suppressed "exonerating exculpatory evidence" as a claim under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). After all defendants moved to dismiss Mills's suit, the district court granted the motions. The court determined that the Fourth Amendment false-arrest and false-imprisonment claims were time barred by the statute of limitations; Mills's claims for money damages against Jenkins, Gwyn, and Barnard were barred by the Eleventh Amendment; Gwyn was protected by absolute prosecutorial immunity; probable cause existed and therefore defeated Mills's malicious-prosecution claims against the defendants; any Brady claim failed because the new DNA findings were based on "material that Jenkins did not have" or test; and the other constitutional claims were insufficiently pleaded to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Mills timely appealed the district court's judgment "only insofar as [it] dismissed the claims against . . . Jenkins" and only in her individual capacity. Appellant's Br. 13.


         We examine de novo the grant of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Bickerstaff v. Lucarelli, 830 F.3d 388, 395-96 (6th Cir. 2016). In order to defeat a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must "allege[] facts that 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and that, if accepted as true, are sufficient to 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, 695 F.3d 531, 538 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). In reviewing a complaint, we construe it "in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ...

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