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Buckley v. Ray

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 16, 2017

Gyronne Buckley Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Keith Ray, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Agent operating under the authority of the South Central Drug Task Force; Linda Card, Individually and in her Official Capacity as Agent operating under the authority of the South Central Drug Task Force; Richard Wiggins, "Rip" Individually and in his Official Capacity as Agent operating under the authority of the South Central Drug Task Force; Henry Morgan, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Director of the South Central Drug Task Force; Brent Haltom, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Director of the South Central Drug Task Force; Taylor King, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Director of the South Central Drug Task Force; South Central Drug Task Force; Colonel J. R. Howard, Director, Arkansas State Police; Dustin McDaniel, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Attorney General of Arkansas; Brad Phelps, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Assistant Attorney General; Edward Armstrong, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Assistant Attorney General; Will Jones, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Assistant Attorney General; Jeff B. Sessions, [1] in his Official Capacity as Attorney General of the United States, Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: September 21, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         Gyronne Buckley brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional and statutory rights by the South Central Drug Task Force, several of its members and directors, certain Assistant Attorneys General of Arkansas, and the Attorney General of Arkansas. He also sought certification of a class action suit against the United States Attorney General on behalf of African-Americans in Arkansas subjected to equal protection and due process violations. The district court[2]granted summary judgment to all defendants. We affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         In May of 1999, Gyronne Buckley was convicted of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance and sentenced to life imprisonment, subsequently reduced to 56 years. His arrest and conviction were the result of a "controlled drug buy" operation orchestrated by the South Central Drug Task Force. Agents Keith Ray and Linda Card, investigators in the Drug Task Force, used a police informant to approach Buckley and buy rocks of crack cocaine from him. The informant later testified against Buckley at trial.

         During his state post-conviction appeal, Buckley learned of a video-recorded, pre-trial interview between the informant and Agents Ray and Card. The video showed Agent Ray coaching the informant on how to present his testimony in the trial against Buckley. The agents had never told state prosecutors about the existence of the video. Buckley's attorney repeatedly sought to obtain the video during his post-conviction appeal. He was unsuccessful in doing so, and Buckley's post-conviction appeal was likewise unsuccessful.

         Buckley only received a copy of this video as the result of a United States District Court order in his federal habeas proceeding. The district court then held his habeas petition in abeyance to permit Buckley's return to state court. The Arkansas Supreme Court granted Buckley's motion for leave to reopen his case based on the previously undisclosed video. Buckley alleged that suppression of the video violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The trial court agreed and vacated his conviction on November 1, 2010. The charges against him were dismissed by court order on December 6, 2010.

         Buckley thereafter moved to have the record in his case sealed pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated § 16-90-905. The Clark County Circuit Court ordered the record sealed on April 12, 2012. The expungement statute, as it existed in 2012, stated that:

Any individual who has been charged and arrested for any criminal offense where the charges are subsequently nolle prossed or dismissed or the individual is acquitted at trial is eligible to have all arrest records, petitions, orders, docket sheets, and any other documents relating to the case expunged in accordance with the procedures defined by this subchapter and upon entry of an order of expungement may state that no such charges, arrest, and the resulting trial ever occurred.

Ark. Code Ann. § 16-90-906.

         On March 9, 2013, Buckley filed a claim with the Arkansas State Claims Commission seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction and years of incarceration. The Arkansas General Assembly created the Claims Commission, which consists of five commissioners, two of whom must be attorneys. See id. § 19-10-201(a)(1). Each commissioner is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. Id. § 19-10-201(a)(2). With limited exceptions, the Claims Commission has "exclusive jurisdiction over all claims against the State of Arkansas and its several agencies, departments, and institutions . . . ." Id. § 19-10-204(a). Any party pursuing such a claim must file a complaint with the Commission; the State of Arkansas is designated as the respondent. See id. § 19-10-208(a). The commissioners then hold a public hearing, "giving the parties full opportunity for presentation of evidence, cross-examination of witnesses, and argument." Id. § 19-10-210(b)(1). When the Commission issues a final decision on a claim, it supports that decision with specific findings of fact and conclusions of law. Id. § 19-10-216(a)(1). "A decision of the Arkansas State Claims Commission may be appealed only to the General Assembly." Id. § 19-10-211(a); see also Fireman's Ins. Co. v. Ark. State Claims Comm'n, 784 S.W.2d 771, 775 (Ark. 1990) ("The act creating the Claims Commission clearly creates it as an arm of the legislature, reporting solely to that body."). The appeal is filed with the Commission, which then notifies the Arkansas Legislative Council of the appeal. Ark. Code Ann. § 19-10-211(c).

         Prior to the Commission's evidentiary hearing, Arkansas Assistant Attorneys General Brad Phelps, Edward Armstrong, and Will Jones accessed the records from Buckley's trial. Armstrong and Jones then appeared before the Commission to represent the State's interests. Armed with information gleaned from the sealed records, they argued that Buckley could not prove his actual innocence of the charges. After the hearing, the Commission recommended Buckley receive $460, 000 in compensation.

         The State Attorney General's office appealed the Commission's decision, and the appeal was heard at a hearing of the Claims Review Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council. See id. § 10-3-313. Dustin McDaniel, then Arkansas's Attorney General, appeared before the subcommittee in opposition to Buckley's awarded compensation. He contended that Buckley had not established his innocence. McDaniel also referenced an audio tape of the controlled drug buy and claimed that Buckley used the phrase "killing Whitey" on the tape. McDaniel later admitted he erred in attributing those words to Buckley.

         The subcommittee voted unanimously to deny Buckley compensation.

         B. Procedural History

         Buckley filed his original complaint on December 5, 2014. He subsequently filed an amended complaint on February 10, 2015. His amended complaint stated claims against three principal groups of defendants. First, he asserted § 1983 claims arising out of his wrongful conviction, naming the following defendants: the South Central Drug Task Force; Agents Ray[3] and Card; their supervising agent, Agent Richard "Rip" Wiggins; directors of the Task Force Henry Morgan, Taylor King, and Brent Haltom; and the Director of the Arkansas State Police, Colonel J.R. Howard[4](collectively the "Law Enforcement Defendants"). The claims against the Law Enforcement Defendants pertain to the Brady violation committed by Agents Ray and ...


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