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McCoy v. Favata

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 29, 2019

ISAIAH W. MCCOY, Plaintiff,
R. David FAVATA, et al., Defendants.

          Herbert W. Mondros, Margolis Edelstein, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Plaintiff

          Aaron R. Goldstein, Joseph C. Handlon, Deputy Attorneys General, State of Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Defendants Matthew Denn, Gregory Babowal, Stephen Smith, and Deborah Weaver

          Michael F. McTaggart, Deputy Attorney General, State of Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE - attorney for Defendants Nathaniel McQueen, Jr. and Mark Ryde

          Ryan P. Connell, Deputy Attorney General, State of Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE - attorney for Robert M. Coupe, David Pierce, Marcello Rispoli, Todd Drace, and George Gill



         Before the Court are four motions: three motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim, filed on September 29, 2017, by (1) Defendants Nathaniel McQueen, Jr. and Mark Ryde (“DSP Defendants”) (D.I. 17), (2) Defendants Gregory Babowal, Matt Denn, and Stephen Smith (“Prosecutor Defendants”) (D.I. 20), and (3) Defendants Robert M. Coupe, David Pierce, Marcello Rispoli, Todd Drace, and George Gill (“DOC Defendants”) (D.I. 23), as well as one motion (D.I. 28), filed on October 20, 2017, by Defendant Deborah Weaver (D.I. 28), to join the Prosecutor Defendants' motion to dismiss. Plaintiff opposes the motions to dismiss (D.I. 36, 37, 38), but does not oppose Weaver's motion to join.[1]

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the motions to dismiss of DSP Defendants (D.I. 17), Prosecutor Defendants (D.I. 20), and DOC Defendants (D.I. 23).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This litigation stems from the investigation, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of Plaintiff Isaiah McCoy (“Plaintiff or “McCoy”) for the May 4, 2010 murder of James Munford. (D.I. 1 ¶ 85; see also Id. ¶¶ 1-3). On July 6, 2010, Plaintiff was indicted for the murder of Munford. See State v. McCoy, No. 1005008059A, 2012 WL 5552033, at *1 (Del. Super. Ct. Oct. 11, 2012). The first trial was prosecuted by Defendants Favata and Weaver. (D.I. 1 ¶¶ 39, 49). Plaintiff represented himself pro se with the aid of stand-by counsel. (See, e.g., Id. ¶ 169). On June 29, 2012, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Plaintiff for the murder of James Munford. (Id. ¶ 164). On October 11, 2012, the court sentenced Plaintiff to death. (Id. ¶ 171).

         Plaintiff filed for post-conviction relief and, on January 20, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. (Id. ¶ 153). Explaining the reversal, the Delaware Supreme Court noted that the trial court had committed a “reverse-Batson” error and that Defendant Favata engaged in a number of improper actions during the prosecution of the case. See generally McCoy v. State, 112 A.3d 239 (Del. 2015). The Delaware Supreme Court also found that, “[a]lthough there was no physical evidence linking McCoy to the crime, the record does not support McCoy's argument that the evidence was insufficient to convict him.” Id. at 268.

         After remand, Plaintiff's second trial - a ten-day bench trial - began on January 9, 2017. (D.I. 1 ¶ 192). The second trial was prosecuted by Defendants Babowal and Smith. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 56-57). McCoy was represented by counsel. After trial, on January 19, 2017, Plaintiff was found not guilty of the murder of Munford and released from prison. (Id. ¶ 194, 197).

         On July 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case. (D.I. 1). Plaintiff's Complaint includes seven counts against twelve defendants, and the counts raise various theories of liability arising under federal and state law.

         A. The Defendants

         The twelve Defendants in this action had roles in the investigation, prosecution or incarceration of Plaintiff. The individual defendants are briefly summarized below.

• Defendant Ryde was a homicide detective employed with the Delaware State Police. (D.I. 1 ¶ 59).He was assigned as lead investigator in the shooting death of Munford. (Id. ¶ 61).
• Defendant Coupe was the Superintendent of the Delaware State Police at the time of its investigation into Plaintiff's involvement in Munford's death. (Id. ¶ 69). He later went on to become Commissioner of the Department of Corrections in early 2013. (Id. ¶ 72). Defendant McQueen was the Superintendent of the Delaware State Police from December 20, 2012 during the investigation into Plaintiff, and he continued to hold that position during Plaintiff's retrial. (Id. ¶ 73). According to the Complaint, both Coupe and McQueen were responsible for training and supervising all Delaware State Police detectives, including Ryde. (Id. ¶¶ 70, 74).
• Defendant Favata was a prosecutor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and he was the “lead prosecutor” in the first trial of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 39).
• Defendant Weaver was likewise a prosecutor with the Department of Justice and worked on Plaintiff's first trial. (Id. ¶ 49).
• Defendant Denn was the Attorney General for the State of Delaware from January 2015 until January 2019. (Id. ¶ 25). According to the Complaint, Denn was involved in overseeing the retrial of Plaintiff, and “Denn and his predecessor” were also purportedly responsible for training and supervising Department of Justice prosecutors including, inter alia, Favata and Weaver. (Id. ¶ 33).
• Defendants Babowal and Smith were prosecutors with the Department of Justice who worked on Plaintiff's second trial. (See Id. ¶¶ 52, 55-56). According to the Complaint, Smith was specifically hired by Denn to prosecute Plaintiff in the second trial. (Id. ¶ 56).
• Defendant Pierce was the Warden of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center where Plaintiff was incarcerated until he was released in January of 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 76, 197).
• Defendants Rispoli, Drace and Gill were corrections officers at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center while Plaintiff was incarcerated there. (Id. ¶¶ 77-79).

         B. Allegations re: the Investigation and the First Trial

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Ryde, Favata, and Weaver conducted a constitutionally deficient investigation into Munford's death. (D.I. 1 ¶ 110). Plaintiff contends, inter alia, that the investigation identified several eyewitnesses to the shooting who did not identify him as being present at the scene, and the investigation included no forensic or physical evidence placing him at the scene. (Id. ¶¶ 93-95, 98). Plaintiff acknowledges that two witnesses, Deshaun White and Reykeisha Williams, identified him as being present at the shooting. (Id. ¶ 96). Plaintiff alleges, however, that Defendant Ryde “failed to conduct an investigation to discover evidence that would have corroborated or refuted the patently incredible and ever-changing versions of the stories told by White and Williams” (id. ¶ 67), and that Defendants Ryde, Weaver, and Favata “employed discredited interrogation techniques including lying to White and Williams in order to induce them to provide false testimony against Plaintiff McCoy” (id. ¶ 118). Plaintiff alleges that White and Williams received “sweet plea deals” in exchange for their testimony against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 96). According to Plaintiff, Defendants Ryde, Weaver and Favata suggested to those witnesses that Plaintiff was responsible for the murder. (Id. ¶ 97).

         On May 11, 2010, based inter alia on information from White and Williams, Defendant Ryde swore an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant, which was issued by a Justice of the Peace. (Id. ¶¶ 121-22). Plaintiff alleges that the “affidavit in support of the arrest warrant for Plaintiff McCoy contained material misstatements concerning the content of the surveillance of the videotape and the statements given to Defendant Ryde by Reykeisha Williams.” (Id. ¶ 121). Plaintiff further alleges that Ryde did not consult “several detectives who were trained in the technology of gunshot residue, ” that “no detective was asked to reconstruct the shooting of Mr. Munford and no detective made any attempt to reconstruct that crime, ” and that Ryde failed to re-interview certain eyewitnesses. (Id. ¶¶ 124, 129, 138).

         Plaintiff also contends that Favata engaged in prosecutorial misconduct during the first trial by belittling Plaintiff, vouching for witnesses, interfering with Plaintiff's right to represent himself at trial, interfering with his communications with stand-by counsel, lying to the trial judge, and provoking and threatening Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 6). Favata was reprimanded by the trial judge for his conduct. (Id. ¶ 153).

         C. Allegations re: the Second Trial

         Plaintiff asserts that certain Defendants improperly tried him a second time for the death of Munford. (See D.I. 1 ¶¶ 172-193). In particular, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Denn, Ryde, Babowal and Smith knew there was “no credible evidence to support the charges that Plaintiff McCoy was involved in the shooting” but nevertheless attempted to retry Plaintiff and again seek the death penalty. (Id. ¶ 172). Plaintiff contends that, although these four Defendants knew that crucial eyewitness testimony implicating Plaintiff was “completely unreliable, ” the Defendants made no attempt to search for evidence that would either corroborate or refute the eyewitness testimony. (Id. ¶¶ 173-175). In fact, according to Plaintiff, Defendants Denn, Ryde, Babowal and Smith had knowledge of “independent evidence” that contradicted the eyewitness testimony. (Id. ¶ 177). According the Complaint, the retrial and continued pursuit of the death penalty was “in bad faith” because Defendants Denn, Ryde, Babowal and Smith knew there was “insufficient evidence to convict Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 178).

         During the pursuit of the second trial, according to Plaintiff, Defendants Denn, Ryde, Babowal and Smith attempted to negotiate a plea deal with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 181). Plaintiff alleges that he was “threatened” with a sentence of life in prison (if convicted at trial) in the hopes that would plead guilty to manslaughter. (Id. ¶ 184). Plaintiff suggests that this plea offer, which was allegedly authorized by Denn, was an attempt to “save face” and avoid an acquittal in the retrial. (Id. ¶¶ 187-188). In response to the plea offer, Plaintiff alleges that he offered to take a polygraph test if the eyewitnesses implicating him would do the same. (Id. ¶ 189). According to Plaintiff, Defendants rejected the polygraph offer because they knew their “star witnesses . . . were not being truthful.” (Id. ¶ 190). Plaintiff alleges that, during the second trial where he was ultimately acquitted, “the State”[2] knowingly, “maliciously” and “in bad faith” offered eyewitness testimony that was “unreliable, biased, contradictory, incredible, unsupported by any forensic evidence and refuted by eyewitness statements.” (Id. ¶ 193).

         D. Allegations re: Incarceration

         From May 2010 until his release on January 19, 2017, Plaintiff was incarcerated in the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (“JTVCC”) in Smyrna, Delaware. (D.I. 1 ¶ 13; see also Id. ¶¶ 15, 24). Plaintiff alleges that, for “the vast majority of [his incarceration, he] was held in solitary confinement in the [security housing unit] at JTVCC, ” including the time “while he was a pre-trial detainee.” (Id. ¶¶ 199-200). In the security housing unit, Plaintiff was “permitted to leave his cell for only forty-five minutes, three times a week.” (Id. ¶ 201). Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that while he was in the security housing unit, certain unnamed “Prison Defendants” “beat and tortured [him], ” “allowed other Department of Corrections personnel and other inmates to beat and torture [him], ” “denied [him] proper medical care, ” “emotionally and psychologically abused [him], ” “spat in [his] food, ” “denied [him] access to the law library and denied him access to his legal counsel, ” “transported [him] . . . in small and highly dangerous prison vans, ” and “provoked [him], and charged him with and convicted him of disciplinary violations without just cause or due process.” (Id. ¶¶ 203-210).


         When a complaint is challenged by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court conducts a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the Court separates the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting “all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but [disregarding] any legal conclusions.” Id. at 210-11. Second, the Court determines “whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show . . . a ‘plausible claim for relief” Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(60 motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its fact.'” Iqbal, 556, U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible where “plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id.

         “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputed authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court is not obligated to accept as true “bald assertions” or “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Instead, “[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of ...

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