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ENGEL v. BUCHAN

January 19, 2012

DANIEL ENGEL, IN HIS CAPACITY AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF GARY ENGEL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ROBERT BUCHAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge.

Before KANNE, SYKES, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

Gary Engel was convicted in 1991 in Missouri state court for a drug-related kidnapping and was sentenced to 90 years in prison. In 2010 the Missouri Supreme Court vacated the conviction based on the State's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence — specifically, that a police investigator had paid a key witness to testify — thus violating Engel's due-process rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). See State ex rel. Engel v. Dormire, 304 S.W.3d 120, 127-30 (Mo.2010) (en banc). The State declined to retry Engel, and he was released after having served 19 years behind bars.

Engel then brought this lawsuit alleging a host of state and federal claims against the officers involved in his case, the local police department that oversaw the investigation, and the United States. Of particular relevance to this appeal is Engel's claim against Robert Buchan, a now-retired FBI agent, brought under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971). Engel claims that Buchan framed him by fabricating evidence and manipulating witnesses, then suppressed this evidence in violation ofBrady. Buchan moved to dismiss, arguing that (1) a Bivens remedy is not available for Brady violations; and (2) qualified immunity applies because Engel did not plead a plausible claim for a violation of his constitutional rights. The district court denied the motion, and Buchan appealed.

We affirm. A Bivens cause of action is available for violations of Brady. Although the Supreme Court has cautioned against extending Bivens to new contexts, this case meets the Court's requirements for doing so and is materially indistinguishable fromBivens itself. And Engel's complaint contains enough factual specificity to state a plausible claim for violation of his due-process rights under Brady. Because theBrady obligation was well established at the time of the events at issue here (Buchan does not argue otherwise), qualified immunity does not apply.

I. Background

The following account is from Engel's amended complaint; we accept the well-pleaded factual allegations as true at this stage of the litigation.[*fn1] Justice v. Town of Cicero, 577 F.3d 768, 771 (7th Cir.2009). The facts and legal contentions are closely related to those in a similar case brought by Steven Manning, a former Chicago police officer and FBI informant whose claims against Buchan and others have been before this court on two occasions. See Manning v. Miller, 355 F.3d 1028 (7th Cir.2004) ("Manning I"); Manning v. United States, 546 F.3d 430 (7th Cir.2008) ("Manning II"). In 1986 Manning ceased working as an informant for the FBI and thereafter came under investigation for a number of serious crimes, including the 1984 kidnapping of two drug dealers in Kansas City, Missouri, and two murders in Illinois. Buchan, then an FBI agent based in Chicago, was in charge of the probe. He was assisted by Robert Quid, then a police officer for the Village of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, where one of the murders was committed. During the course of the Manning investigation, Buchan and Quid approached Engel, who was a friend of Manning's. Engel alleges that the two officers threatened to implicate him in the kidnapping if he did not cooperate in their investigation of Manning. Engel denied involvement in the kidnapping and said he knew nothing that would help the murder investigation.

Rebuffed, Buchan and Quid made good on their threat to implicate Engel in the kidnapping. They built a false case against Engel and caused him to be arrested and charged in Missouri state court with two counts of kidnapping and related crimes. Manning, too, was arrested and charged in the Missouri kidnapping; he was also charged in Illinois state court for the 1990 murder of James Pellegrino. Manning was convicted on the Missouri kidnapping charges and received a lengthy prison sentence. Engel was tried separately in 1991 and was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 90 years in prison. Two years later Manning stood trial in Illinois for the Pellegrino murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

In 1998 the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Manning's murder conviction. SeePeople v. Manning, 182 Ill.2d 193, 230 Ill.Dec. 933, 695 N.E.2d 423 (1998). His Missouri kidnapping convictions were also overturned on federal habeas review in 2002. See Manning v. Bowersox, 310 F.3d 571 (8th Cir.2002). Manning then sued Buchan, Quid, and others in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois asserting constitutional claims under Bivens and 42 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and several commonlaw claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") and state law. Gary Miller, an FBI agent who worked with Buchan on the Manning case, was among the defendants. As relevant here, Manning alleged that Buchan, Miller, and Quid framed him by using highly suggestive lineups, inducing a jailhouse informant to testify falsely against him, knowingly submitting false reports that Manning had confessed, and destroying or tampering with physical evidence.

Buchan and Miller moved to dismiss based on absolute and qualified immunity,[*fn2] but the district court denied the motion, and we affirmed on interlocutory appeal. Manning I, 355 F.3d at 1029. We held that Manning's allegations stated a valid constitutional claim based on Brady, not just a common-law claim for conspiracy to commit perjury, which might have been barred by absolute immunity. Id. at 1031-33. We also held that the agents were not protected by qualified immunity because the constitutional right in question was clearly established at the time of the events at issue in the case. Id. at 1034 ("prior to the actions that gave rise to this case, it was well established that investigators who withhold exculpatory evidence from defendants violate the defendant's constitutional due process right"). When the case returned to the district court, Manning prevailed on his Bivens/Brady claim against Buchan and Miller, winning a $6.5 million judgment.[*fn3] The jury entered specific findings that the agents had fabricated evidence and concealed material exculpatory evidence in both the Missouri and Illinois cases. Manning II, 546 F.3d at 432.

Manning then suffered a sharp reversal of fortune in his civil-rights case. After judgment was entered on the Bivens claim against Buchan and Miller, the FTCA claim against the United States was tried to the court. The district court ruled against Manning on the merits of this claim and then vacated the prior judgment against Buchan and Miller in the light of the FTCA's judgment bar. See 28 U.S.C. § 2676. InManning II we affirmed this decision, acknowledging the harshness of the result but nevertheless concluding that the plain language of the FTCA's judgment bar required the district court to vacate the judgment on the Bivens claim. 546 F.3d at 433-38.

Engel had followed the developments in the Manning litigation and in 2007 filed a state habeas petition seeking to have his convictions vacated. The lower courts denied the petition, but in 2010 the Missouri Supreme Court granted relief, holding that the State had violated Brady by failing to disclose that one of its key witnesses, a drug dealer named Anthony Mammolito, had been paid to testify. State ex rel. Engel, 304 S.W.3d at 122-24. The State was given 60 days to retry Engel but chose not to do so. In 2010 Engel was released from prison after 19 years of incarceration.

Engel then filed this suit in the Northern District of Illinois asserting a Bivens claim against Buchan for violation of Brady; claims under § 1983 against Quid and the Village of Buffalo Grove; RICO claims against Buchan, Quid, and the Village; an FTCA claim against the United States; and state-law claims for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Buchan moved to dismiss the Bivens claim, arguing that (1) a Bivens damages remedy is not available forBrady violations; and (2) qualified immunity applies.

The district court rejected both arguments. Regarding the availability of Bivens, the court construed our decision in Manning I as having resolved the question; there, we rejected the agents' immunity arguments and allowed Manning to proceed with hisBivens claim for the alleged violation of Brady. 355 F.3d at 1031-33. As for Buchan's assertion of qualified immunity, the court again relied on Manning I, noting that Engel's complaint alleged the same basic facts that had sufficed to overcome the qualified-immunity claims in Manning's case. The court thus denied the motion to dismiss,[*fn4] and Buchan appealed.

II. Discussion

The case is before the court on Buchan's interlocutory appeal from the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss, see FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6), based on qualified immunity. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985) (authorizing immediate appeal of a denial of immunity). Our review is de novo.See Alvarado v. Litscher, 267 F.3d 648, 651 (7th Cir.2001). The issue of qualified immunity necessarily includes the predicate question of whether a Bivens remedy is available in this context at all. See Wilkie v. Robbins, 551 U.S. 537, 548-49, 127 S.Ct. 2588, 168 L.Ed.2d 389 (2007); Carvajal v. Dominguez, 542 F.3d 561, 566 (7th Cir.2008). Buchan argues that (1) the Bivens remedy should not be extended toBrady violations; ...


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