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Bragdon v. Malone

March 17, 2006

ANTHONY BRAGDON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL MALONE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Plaintiff Anthony Bragdon sues FBI agent Michael Malone and ten other unnamed FBI agents for violations of his constitutional rights under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The complaint alleges a conspiracy to convict him using false evidence in deprivation of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. Because Malone is absolutely immune from suit based on his trial testimony in Bragdon's case, his motion to dismiss will be granted in part. The other part of Malone's motion, which seeks the protection of absolute immunity for his investigative work, must be denied.

Background

Bragdon was arrested in 1991 and charged with the rape of Coranda Farmer. On March 10, 1992 a jury found him guilty of assault with intent to rape while armed and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, 15 years for each of the two counts of conviction.

At Bragdon's trial, the prosecution introduced evidence from an FBI fiber analysis performed under Malone's supervision. Malone compared fibers scraped from the victim's panties and pants with samples collected from plaintiff's apartment, where the rape allegedly occurred. His examination included microscopic observation and color-testing using a microspectrophotometer. He did not perform a cross-sectional analysis, nor did he do other forms of destructive testing that are against FBI policy.

Malone found that four beige nylon trilobal fibers found on the victim's clothing matched a sample from defendant's carpet. He also found red and beige nylon trilobal fibers that did not match the defendant's carpet. On October 29, 1991, Malone issued an official report of his findings. The report discussed the matching beige and non-matching red fibers. It did not mention the presence of the non-matching beige fibers on the victim's clothing. According to the amended complaint, the allegations of which are taken are true for purposes of this motion, evidence of the non-matching fibers was withheld from the prosecution and defense teams.*fn1 This report apparently ended Malone's involvement in the investigation. He later testified at plaintiff's trial.

In April 1997, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), United States Department of Justice, issued a special report titled, "The FBI Laboratory: An Investigation into Laboratory Practices and Alleged Misconduct in Explosives-Related and Other Cases" (OIG Report). The OIG Report identified Malone as an individual who had falsified work. Plaintiff's case was not mentioned in the report, but Steve Robertson, an independent scientist, later investigated and reported on Malone's work in plaintiff's case.

The independent investigation faulted the Malone's final report and trial testimony for several instances of overstatement or error. Malone testified that the matching beige trilobal fibers could only have come from Bragdon's carpet or "another carpet sample with exactly the same microscopic characteristics...if that source even existed." Tr. at 247. Robertson's report, however, noted that a variety of materials besides carpet contain trilobal fibers, and that, since "a carpet is mass-produced, to state that other carpet with the same characteristics as the suspect's carpet may not exist is erroneous and implausible." The report also found that Malone's analysis did not include the correct type of examination necessary to truly match the fibers: Malone had not performed the cross-sectional observations or dye-testing that are needed to establish a true match of fibers.

In March 2002, based on these findings and Malone's failure to mention evidence of non-matching beige trilobal fibers in his final report or trial testimony, plaintiff filed a petition to vacate his conviction. On March 14, 2003, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia overturned plaintiff's conviction based on what it termed Malone's false testimony and failure to disclose potential exculpatory evidence. Plaintiff then filed this Bivens action, which Malone moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Malone also asserts a defense of absolute immunity and moves, in the alternative, for summary judgment.

Analysis

Failure to State a Claim

Malone's first argument, that the complaint does not give him fair notice of the nature and basis of plaintiff's claims, is rejected. Nothing more is required than "'a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The "notice pleading" standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and to dispose of unmeritorious claims. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-12 (2002).

The complaint alleges that Malone withheld exculpatory evidence from plaintiff and his prosecutors, supplied the prosecution with false forensic evidence, and provided false testimony at his trial, Am. Compl. ¶ 12-13, ¶ 15-16, and it alleges that this false evidence and testimony related to Malone's "testing, findings, and conclusions concerning the hair and fiber evidence found and presented in the case." That more than suffices for the "short and plain statement" required by Rule 8(a). Moreover, since the complaint refers to the findings of the Superior Court in its ruling overturning plaintiff's ...


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