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Laymance v. Shourd

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

July 18, 2019

RICKY SHOURD, Deputy, White County Sheriff's Office, et al . DEFENDANTS


         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States District D.P. Marshall, Jr. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objection; and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of the entry of this Recommendation. The failure to timely file objections may result in waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction

         This case arises from a custody dispute between Plaintiff Jeremey Dean Laymance (“Laymance”), [1] an Arkansan, and his child's great-grandparents, Sharon and John Van Compernolle (collectively, the “Van Compernolles”), who are Texans.[2] Docs. 2, 23. Laymance asserts the Van Compernolles' actions in the custody dispute led to his allegedly unlawful arrest by Defendants Sheriff Ricky Shourd (“Shourd”) and Deputy Paul Hofstead (“Hofstead”), and unlawful removal of Laymance's child (“J.D.L.”) from his care by Defendant Casey Walker (“Walker”), an Arkansas Department of Human Services employee. The uncontested background follows.

         On February 14, 2017, the Van Compernolles petitioned the District Court of Anderson County, Texas, (the “trial court”) for sole managing conservatorship of J.D.L.; the next day the trial court issued a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) prohibiting Laymance from “removing the child from [the Van Compernolles], ” among other restrictions. Doc. 40-1 at 10. On February 27, 2017, the trial court extended the TRO and set a March 3, 2017 hearing on the petition. Id. at 13. Laymance maintains he never received notice of the petition, TRO, or hearing. Doc. 23 at 5-8.

         On March 2, 2017, Sharon Van Compernolle reported to Texas authorities that Laymance took J.D.L. in violation of a custody order. Id. at 6. Texas law enforcement investigated the allegation, including contacting a Texas Department of Child Protective Services employee who explained that the Van Compernolles “were seeking/had managing conservatorship” of J.D.L. Id. After investigating, the Texas authorities issued an Amber Alert[3] and notified the White County, Arkansas, Sheriff's Office, as Laymance's mother lived in White County. Id. at 6-7. White County deputies found Laymance in his car at his mother's house and held him, handcuffed, for several hours. Id. at 7. Laymance asked Hofstead why he was being arrested, to which Hofstead responded “[w]e are waiting for the arrest warrant from Texas to see.” Id. Paramedics took J.D.L. “and turned him over to Defendant Casey Walker . . . upon her arrival [at] the scene.” Id. Hofstead eventually released Laymance and apologized for any misunderstanding about the arrest because Hofstead “thought Texas had a warrant or something.” Doc. 23 at 7.

         Back in Texas, the trail court proceeded with the scheduled March 3 hearing on the petition and TRO. Id. at 8. The trial court found Laymance “although duly and properly notified, did not appear and wholly made default.” Doc. 40-1 at 16. The Van Compernolles were awarded temporary sole managing conservatorship that day. Doc. 23 at 8. The trial court also temporarily enjoined Laymance from removing J.D.L. from the Van Compernolles, among other things. Doc. 40-1 at 20.

         Also on March 3, 2017, a Texas judge signed a warrant for Laymance's arrest for interference with child custody. Doc. 23 at 8. Laymance was arrested in White County, Arkansas, pursuant to the warrant that same morning. Id.

         Laymance filed this lawsuit on May 4, 2017.[4] Doc. 2.

         In June 2017, the trial court entered its final order in the child custody case and granted the Van Compernolles permanent sole managing conservatorship. Doc. 23 at 9.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff's claims against Walker, Shourd, and Hofstead (collectively “Defendants”) remain pending. Each of them has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).[5] Docs. 40, 41. In her Motion, Walker argued that Laymance's claims are barred under Rooker-Feldman, as well as several affirmative defenses. Doc. 40. Shourd and Hofstead incorporated Walker's arguments by reference. Doc. 41 at 1.

         Because Rooker-Feldman would deprive this Court of jurisdiction, that doctrine must be considered first. Arbaugh v. y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). “Rooker-Feldman . . . is confined to . . . cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Laymance alleges Walker violated his due process rights when she took J.D.L. on March 2, 2017. He asserts Hofstead and Shourd unlawfully arrested him on March 2 and March 3, 2017. These claims do not indicate an injury caused by the state-court judgment-which had not been entered at the time of the alleged unlawful conduct-even if the consequences of Defendants' actions somehow spilled over into the custody case. See, for example, Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 164-73 (3d Cir. 2010); Stanley v. Finegan, 356 F.Supp.3d 779, 784-86 (W.D. Ark. 2018). As such, Rooker-Feldman does not apply.

         Defendants also assert the affirmative defenses of res judicata and qualified immunity. “‘Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,' and ‘protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'” Stanton v. Sims, 571 U.S. 3, 5 (2013) (internal citations omitted). Determining whether qualified immunity applies involves two inquiries: whether the plaintiff's allegations make out the violation of a constitutional right and whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged unlawful acts. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Courts may exercise discretion as to which prong is addressed first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). “To overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must be able to prove that ‘every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates' a constitutional right . . . and that the constitutional question was ‘beyond debate.'” Story v. Foote, 782 F.3d 968, 970 (8th Cir. 2015).

         Laymance asserts Hofstead, at Shourd's direction, unlawfully arrested him on March 2 and March 3, 2017. As to the March 2 arrest, an Amber Alert may provide reasonable suspicion to justify an investigative stop, just as a “wanted” flyer or be-on-the-lookout alert may. See United States v. Hensley,469 U.S. 221 (1985); U.S. v. Roberts, 787 F.3d 1204, 1209-10 (8th Cir. 2015); Davis v. Novy, 433 F.3d 926, 930 (7th Cir. 2006). Once J.D.L. was seen in Laymance's car, arguable probable cause existed for Laymance's warrantless arrest on interference with child custody or a similar crime. “Probable cause is not a high bar.” District of Columbia v. Wesby, ___ U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 577, 586 (2018) (internal citation omitted). “It requires only a probability or substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual showing of such activity.” (Id.) “Arguable probable cause exists even where an officer mistakenly arrests a suspect believing it is based on probable cause if the mistake is ‘objectively reasonable.'” Ehlers v. City of Rapid City, 846 F.3 1002, 1009 (8th Cir. 2017). According to Laymance's ...

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