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Brewer v. Hayne

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 27, 2017

KENNEDY BREWER Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
STEVEN TIMOTHY HAYNE; MICHAEL H. WEST, Defendants - Appellees LEVON BROOKS Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
STEVEN TIMOTHY HAYNE, Defendant-Appellee

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

          Before HIGGINBOTHAM, JONES, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.

          PATRICK E. HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judge.

         In 1992, Plaintiff Levon Brooks was convicted of the murder of three-year-old Courtney Smith. In 1995, Plaintiff Kennedy Brewer was convicted of the murder of three-year-old Christine Jackson. When one Justin Albert Johnson later confessed to both crimes, the convictions of Brooks and Brewer were vacated. Each then sued Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the forensic consultants violated their constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when, as retained government experts, they provided investigators with-and later testified to-baseless findings regarding bite marks on the victims' bodies; that they knew that the evidence was baseless or at least acted with reckless disregard of that reality. The district court granted summary judgment for both defendants in the Brewer case and for Dr. Hayne in the Brooks case. The two cases have been consolidated here on appeal. We affirm.

         I.

         A.

         On May 1, 1992, Gloria Jackson left her boyfriend Kennedy Brewer at home in charge of her four children. Returning home at approximately 12:30 AM on May 3, she found the house dark, and Brewer refused to let her check on her three-year-old daughter, Christine. The following morning, Jackson realized that Christine was missing, and a search began. The police were summoned. Scent hounds led investigators to Christine's body floating in a creek.

         Dr. Hayne, a private pathologist who performed autopsies for the State of Mississippi, concluded that Christine had been raped and had died from strangulation. Noticing what he suspected to be bite marks on the body, Dr. Hayne requested the assistance of Dr. West, a dentist and forensic odontologist. At Brewer's trial, Dr. West testified that he found nineteen human bite marks on Christine's body-all made with only the upper arch- which he concluded belonged to Brewer.

         Brewer was indicted, convicted of capital murder, and sentenced to die by lethal injection. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.[1]Four years later that same court held that Brewer was entitled to an evidentiary hearing regarding DNA evidence taken from semen found on Christine's body. That testing excluded Brewer as the source, and the trial court vacated Brewer's conviction.

         The DNA evidence was a match for Johnson, who confessed to the rape and murder. Elements of Johnson's confession were inconsistent with evidence found in the investigation.[2] Nevertheless, on February 15, 2008, the State of Mississippi declined to again prosecute Brewer.

         Just under a year later, Brewer brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case against Dr. Hayne and Dr. West, alleging that their false and misleading reports caused his wrongful prosecution and conviction. Dr. Hayne and Dr. West moved to dismiss. The district court held that the defendants enjoyed absolute immunity for their testimony at trial and qualified immunity for the pre-trial reports, and granted summary judgment on the grounds that the suit was time barred. The district court granted a Rule 54(b) motion for final judgment on all federal claims for both defendants. Brewer timely appealed.[3]

         B.

         Sometime in the evening of September 15, 1990, or early the following morning, three-year-old Courtney Smith of Brooksville Mississippi went missing. After a night-long search, her body was found floating in a pond. Willie Willie, the Coroner and Medical Examiner of Noxubee County, asked Dr. Hayne to perform an autopsy. Dr. Hayne concluded that Courtney had been raped and that the cause of death had been freshwater drowning, finding contusions on Courtney's body, including one on the back of her right wrist that he believed could have been a human bite mark. Dr. West was brought in for an expert opinion, and he took dental impressions of a total of thirteen people, including Johnson, who would later confess to the crime. As the alleged bite mark consisted of only two imprints, Dr. West believed they were from an upper arch, and were made by the perpetrator's two front teeth. After excluding the other twelve individuals, Dr. West concluded that Levon Brooks, an ex-boyfriend of Courtney's mother, had inflicted the marks. Brooks was indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Brooks' direct appeals.

         While being interviewed about the death of Christine Jackson, Johnson also confessed to the abduction, murder, and rape of Courtney Smith. On February 20, 2008, a Mississippi Circuit Court vacated Brooks' conviction, and the state dismissed the case.

         On February 13, 2009, Brooks filed his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against Dr. Hayne and Dr. West, alleging that they had violated his right to due process by providing testimony and reports about the alleged bite mark that were either intentionally or recklessly fraudulent and which directly led to his indictment and conviction. Dr. Hayne and Dr. West moved to dismiss. Brooks amended his complaint. Dr. Hayne again moved to dismiss. Dr. West did not.

         The district court granted summary judgment, dismissing all federal claims against Dr. Hayne. The district court granted a Rule 54(b) motion for final judgment on all federal claims for Dr. Hayne only. Brooks timely noticed his appeal.[4] Dr. West is not a party to Brooks' appeal.

         II.

         We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court.[5] Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[6] On summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor.[7] To survive summary judgment, the non-movant must supply evidence "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."[8]

         "In resolving questions of qualified immunity at summary judgment, courts engage in a two-pronged inquiry. The first asks whether the facts, '[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury . . . show the officer's conduct violated a [federal] right.'"[9] "The second prong of the qualified-immunity analysis asks whether the ...


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