Argued: October 18, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Tennessee at Jackson. No. l:14-cv-01239-J. Daniel
Breen, District Judge.
S. Jordan, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL,
Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.
Thorne, THORNE & THORNE, Lexington, Tennessee, for
S. Jordan, Michael C. Polovich, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE
ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.
Thorne, THORNE & THORNE, Lexington, Tennessee, for
Before: SUHRHEINRICH, ROGERS, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.
SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judge.
Lamar Jones ("Jones"), a police officer with the
Decatur County Sheriff's Department, conducted a
controlled buy of marijuana on May 22, 2013, through a
confidential informant ("CI") as part of a
county-wide drug-bust operation. Plaintiff Amy Sanders
("Sanders") alleges that Jones prepared a
misleading police report and gave false grand jury testimony
identifying Sanders as the person who sold the CI drugs.
Based on these allegations, Sanders brought a § 1983
action against Jones for malicious prosecution in violation
of the Fourth Amendment. Jones moved for summary judgment on
the basis of absolute and qualified immunity, and the
district court denied both defenses. Jones appeals that
absolute immunity defense presents a question of first
impression about how the Supreme Court's provision of
absolute immunity for grand jury witnesses in Rehberg v.
Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497 (2012), intersects with the Sixth
Circuit's requirements for malicious prosecution claims
where a grand jury indicted the plaintiff. The issue compels
us to revisit the test applied in Webb v. United
States, 789 F.3d 647 (6th Cir. 2015) and other Sixth
Circuit cases requiring an indicted plaintiff to present
evidence that the defendant provided false testimony to the
grand jury. In light of Rehberg's absolute
immunity for false grand jury testimony, Rehberg
precludes Sanders's malicious prosecution claim because
she cannot rebut the indictment's presumption of probable
cause without using Jones's grand jury testimony.
is a police officer with the Decatur County Sheriff's
Department. Jones began working as a member of the 24th
Judicial District Drug Task Force ("DTF") in
October 2012, with his operation located in Decatur County,
Tennessee. DTF used confidential informants to identify
individuals willing to sell drugs and to purchase drugs from
these individuals under video surveillance. In May 2013, DTF
used a CI who identified Sanders as a drug seller. Jones
became acquainted with this CI through Joel Pate
("Pate"), another DTF officer who had conducted an
operation in Carroll County. Pate informed Jones that several
other agencies recommended the CI as a good and credible
source, and that the CI facilitated several convictions in
Pate's DTF operation in Carroll County. The CI was from
Memphis and did not have ties to Decatur County prior to
moving to the area for the spring 2013 operation. DTF paid
the CI in cash for each controlled buy. The CI had a criminal
drug history, but was not currently under investigation for
drug trafficking or manufacturing.
CI's modus operandi was to make contact with suspected
drug sellers, offer to purchase drugs from them, and ask to
meet later to make the purchase. Through this procedure, the
CI became acquainted with a woman he referred to as
"Amy." The CI obtained this woman's cell phone
number and, monitored by Jones, used the phone number to call
her and arrange a controlled buy on May 22, 2013. The woman
did not identify herself during the phone call. Jones did not
attempt to run a search on the owner of the cell phone
number. The phone number actually belonged to Amanda Ramey
("Ramey"), another target of the spring 2013
operation with whom Jones was familiar. Ramey was
Sanders's roommate at the time of the relevant
wired with a video camera, met the female suspect at the
Decaturville City Park. Jones followed the CI from a
distance. He observed a silver Monte Carlo pull into the park
but did not see the person driving it or obtain the
vehicle's license tag number. During the controlled buy,
the suspect did not identify herself or provide any other
information about herself. Jones knew, however, that Ramey
drove a silver Monte Carlo and that Sanders drove a Ford
Explorer. Jones also knew that Ramey and Sanders lived
together, although he was not aware that they were sisters.
the controlled buy, the CI gave Jones a description of the
female suspect as short and petite with long black hair and
tattoos. Jones asked around the Decatur County Sheriff's
Department if anyone knew a person matching that description.
Deputy Ricky Inman ("Inman") told Jones that the
description resembled Amy Sanders, with whom Inman was
familiar. Jones retrieved Sanders's driver's license
photograph and showed the CI the photo a couple of days after
the controlled buy. The CI then identified Sanders as the
person from whom he purchased marijuana. The CI reiterated
his identification to Jones a few days before Jones appeared
before the grand jury in September.
obtained the CI's identification and viewing the video of
the controlled buy, Jones drew up a police report of the
controlled buy and forwarded it to the district
attorney's office. The narrative portion of the report
related the following information:
On 5/22/2013 at approximately 1512 hrs. Ci made contact by
cell phone, (713-602-2593) with a white female by the name of
Amy Sanders Patterson in an attempt to purchase 1 Oz. of
marijuana. Amy agreed to sell the 1 oz. of marijuana to the
Ci and meet him at the Coty Park in Decaturville across from
Decaturville Elementary. At approximately 1528 hrs Ci meet
[sic] with Amy who was driving a silver Monte Carlo and
purchased the marijuana for 130.00. I then meet with the Ci.
And took the marijuana into evidence.
police report did not describe how the CI came to identify
the female suspect as Amy Sanders. It also did not indicate
that there was video-poor quality or otherwise-of the
transaction. The parties agree that this police report, in
tandem with the CI's identification, formed the basis for
did not discuss the report on Sanders with anyone from the
district attorney's office until the morning of the grand
jury, when he met with Assistant District Attorney Jim
Williams ("Williams"). It is unclear whether
Williams knew about or viewed the video of the controlled buy
prior to convening the grand jury. Although a transcript of
the grand jury proceedings are not in the record, Jones
related the substance of his grand jury testimony during his
deposition. Jones testified that his grand jury testimony
consisted largely of his reading verbatim from his police
report. Jones also testified that he described to the grand
jury how the CI identified the suspect from her driver's
license photo. Furthermore, he testified that Williams asked
during the grand jury whether there was audio and video of
the controlled drug purchase, and that Jones answered
"yes." Jones conceded that he did not tell the
grand jury that the quality of the video recording was poor.
According to Jones, the video quality was poor and
"didn't show the faces clear enough" to make an
during Jones's deposition, Jones viewed a
screenshot taken from the video of the controlled
buy, and the following line of questioning took place:
Q: As you sit here today, do you agree with me that, whether
it be before or after this litigation began, the individual
pictured in that video is not Amy Sanders?
A: I agree with you.
Q: And that video was within your control from the time it
was made, from May 22nd, all the way up through the date of