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Spradling v. Clay Hastings

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 8, 2019

Michael Spradling, as Personal Representative of the Estate of, William Collin Spradling, Deceased Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Clay Hastings, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Michael Ford, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Frederick Steve Woodall, "Steve" Individually and in his Official Capacity; Aaron Simon, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Stuart Thomas, Individually and in his Official Capacity; Little Rock, City of, A Municipality Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: September 27, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, MELLOY and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          SMITH, CHIEF JUDGE

         On July 16, 2008, Officers Clay Hastings, Michael Ford, Steve Woodall, and Aaron Simon of the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) were investigating William Collin Spradling ("Collin") as a robbery suspect. During the investigation, Collin was shot and killed. Over four years later, on November 5, 2012, Michael Spradling, as the personal representative of Collin's estate, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the officers, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas, and the City of Little Rock (collectively, "defendants"). Spradling alleged that the officers used excessive force resulting in Collins's wrongful death. The defendants moved for summary judgment because Spradling filed his complaint outside of the applicable statute of limitations. The district court[1] granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

         On appeal, Spradling does not contest that he filed his § 1983 lawsuit outside of the applicable statute of limitations. See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-105. Instead, he argues that he presented evidence of fraudulent concealment and conspiracy sufficient to equitably toll the statute of limitations. Because we conclude that the undisputed facts placed Spradling on objective notice of the need to investigate the shooting, we hold that the limitations period was not equitably tolled. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I. Background

         On July 16, 2008, Officers Hastings, Ford, Woodall, and Simon responded to 621 Gillette Road to investigate Collin as a robbery suspect. During the investigation, Collin was shot and killed.

         On November 5, 2012, Spradling filed this § 1983 lawsuit against the officers, alleging excessive force, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and wrongful death and negligence, see Ark. Code Ann. § 16-62-102(a) and (b). In addition, Spradling brought a survival claim. See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-62-101(a)(1). Spradling voluntarily nonsuited the case and refiled the action on April 23, 2015. In the refiled action, Spradling added Chief Thomas and the City of Little Rock ("City") as defendants and added three additional claims: (1) a claim of failure to train, supervise, or discipline against Chief Thomas and the City; (2) a claim that Chief Thomas and the City permitted a widespread, persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct; and (3) a civil conspiracy claim against the officers, Chief Thomas, and others. In the refiled complaint, Spradling alleged that the defendants did not disclose many pertinent facts and purposefully hid others following Collin's death.

         The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment based upon the statute of limitations. In resolving the motion to dismiss, the district court considered attachments and exhibits outside the pleadings. Consequently, it analyzed the defendants' dismissal motion as a summary-judgment motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). The district court denied the motion, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed as to when the statute of limitations began to run on Spradling's claims. The court explained:

Plaintiff alleges that he obtained the Spradling Use of Force File in 2009. However, that file did not contain certain audio and video recordings which cast doubt on the Defendants' version of the events leading to Collin's death. Until August 22, 2012, Plaintiff believed he possessed the complete and accurate file. Plaintiff claims that the Defendants withheld audio and video recordings from the day of the shooting, falsely transcribed witness statements, tampered with portions of video and audio records in order to destroy evidence, and intentionally gave the Plaintiff inaccurate information about the shooting.

Spradling v. Hastings, No. 4:15-cv-00238, slip op. at 4 (E.D. Ark. Nov. 18, 2015), ECF No. 14.

         Later, the defendants did move for summary judgment, noting that Spradling filed his initial complaint outside of the applicable statute of limitations. Based on the summary-judgment record, the district court granted the motion. The court noted that on November 4, 2008, Christina Hatfield, a witness to the shooting and the mother of Collins's girlfriend, requested a copy of the case file relating to the shooting from the LRPD. She received a 556-page case file in response to her request. Then, in late November 2008 or early 2009, Spradling received a copy of the 556-page case file along with a letter from Hatfield outlining the inconsistencies she believed existed in the file. Hatfield's letter provides, in relevant part:

As I read through the file, I was struck by so many inconsistencies, that I cannot believe the prosecuting attorney's office didn't even call us for an interview before determining that it wasn't prosecutable, even though I spoke with John Johnson twice, telling him we were available at any time and believed Collin had been murdered.
With you not having actually been there, I just wanted to point out a couple of things for you to keep in mind as you go through this, as they try to paint a pretty ...

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