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Taylor v. County of Pima

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

January 17, 2019

Louis Taylor, a single man, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
County of Pima, a body politic; City of Tucson, a body politic, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued and Submitted August 15, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona D.C. No. 4:15-cv-00152-RM Rosemary Márquez, District Judge, Presiding

          Nancy J. Davis (argued), Deputy County Attorney, Civil Division, Pima County Attorney's Office, Tucson, Arizona, for Defendants-Appellants.

          John P. Leader (argued), Leader Law Firm, Tucson, Arizona; Timothy P. Stackhouse, Peter Timoleon Limperis, and Lindsay E. Brew, Miller Pitt Feldman & McAnally P.C., Tucson, Arizona; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Eugene E. Siler, [*] and Susan P. Graber, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Civil Rights

         The panel dismissed, in part, an interlocutory appeal and affirmed, in part, the district court's order granting a motion to dismiss in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.

         In 1972, a jury convicted plaintiff in state court of 28 counts of felony murder on the theory that he had started a deadly fire at a Tucson hotel. In 2012, while still in prison, plaintiff filed a state post-conviction petition advancing newly discovered evidence that arson did not cause the hotel fire. The government and plaintiff entered into a plea agreement in 2013 under which the original convictions were vacated and, in their place, plaintiff pleaded no contest to the same counts, was resentenced to time served, and was released from prison. Plaintiff then brought his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Pima County and the City of Tucson. The district court held that the County of Pima was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, but that plaintiff could not recover damages for wrongful incarceration.

         The panel first gave deference to this court's previous order, issued by a motions panel, which denied the County's application for permission to appeal the denial of immunity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). The panel further concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the County's appeal under § 1291's collateral-order doctrine because the County appealed only from a denial of immunity from liability, as opposed to immunity from suit.

         The panel exercised its discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) to review the issue of whether plaintiff could recover compensatory damages for wrongful incarceration. The panel noted that a plaintiff in a § 1983 action may not recover incarceration-related damages for any period of incarceration supported by a valid, unchallenged conviction and sentence. The panel held that because plaintiff's valid 2013 conviction and sentence were the sole legal causes of his incarceration, he could not recover damages.

         Concurring, Judge Graber wrote separately to explain that in Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186 (9th Cir. 2002), this court wrongly exercised jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal in similar circumstances, and that, in an appropriate case, the court should overrule Cortez in its en banc capacity.

         Dissenting in part, Judge Schroeder wrote that the panel's decision that plaintiff could not recover compensatory damages magnified an already tragic injustice. Judge Schroeder stated that plaintiff accepted the 2013 plea offer because his only alternative was to stay in prison and wait for his petition for collateral relief to wend its way through the courts, a process that could take years.

          OPINION

          GRABER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In 1972, a jury convicted Louis Taylor in Arizona state court of 28 counts of felony murder, on the theory that he had started a deadly fire at a Tucson hotel. In 2012, while still in prison, Taylor filed a state post-conviction petition advancing newly discovered evidence: an expert, using new and more sophisticated investigative techniques, determined that arson did not cause the hotel fire. The government disputed Taylor's new theory but nevertheless agreed to the following procedure. The government and Taylor entered into a plea agreement in 2013 under which the original convictions were vacated and, in their place, Taylor pleaded no contest to the same counts, was resentenced to time served, and was released from prison.

         Taylor then sued Pima County and the City of Tucson in state court, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. With respect to the County, Taylor alleged unconstitutional practices, policies, and customs regarding criminal prosecutions, including racially motivated prosecutions of African-Americans and a failure to train and supervise deputy prosecutors. The City removed the case to federal court, and the County consented to removal.

         The County then moved to dismiss Taylor's operative complaint. Two of the County's arguments are relevant on appeal. First, the County argued that the relevant government officials acted on behalf of the State, not the County; the County asserted that, accordingly, it was entitled to "Eleventh Amendment immunity." Second, the County argued that, because all of Taylor's time in prison was supported by the valid 2013 criminal judgment, Taylor could not recover damages for wrongful incarceration.

         The district court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss. The court held that the County was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. But the court agreed with the County that Taylor could not recover damages for wrongful incarceration. The district court then certified its order for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), concluding that resolution of several legal issues "may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation."

         Both parties applied to this court for permission to appeal. See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) (permitting an "application for an appeal hereunder"). The County sought permission to appeal the district court's denial of immunity, and Taylor sought permission to appeal the district court's ruling that he may not recover damages for wrongful incarceration.

         A motions panel of this court denied both applications to appeal pursuant to § 1292(b). But the motions panel construed the County's application, in part, as a timely notice of appeal from the denial of Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit. See Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002) (holding that we have appellate jurisdiction under the collateral-order doctrine over a denial of Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit (citing Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 147 (1993))). The motions panel therefore ordered that the appeal proceed under the collateral-order doctrine of 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         In accordance with that order, the parties then filed briefs addressing the issue of the County's asserted immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. At our request, the parties also filed supplemental briefs addressing whether Taylor may recover damages for wrongful incarceration.

         A. Eleventh ...


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