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Peterka v. City of Maplewood

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 9, 2014



E. RICHARD WEBBER, Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on "Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count IV" [ECF No. 16].


On April 1, 2014, Plaintiff Timothy D. Peterka ("Plaintiff") filed a Petition for Damages in the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit, St. Louis County, Missouri, asserting claims against Defendants City of Maplewood ("Maplewood") and Sergeant Anthony Cavanaugh ("Cavanaugh") (collectively referred to as "Defendants"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [ECF No. 1-1]. Defendants filed a Notice of Removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446, on April 29, 2014 [ECF No. 1]; and they filed an Amended Notice of Removal on April 30, 2014 [ECF No. 10].

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint, asserting the following claims: Count I - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Peace Officer Liability); Count II - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Municipal Liability); Count III - Assault and Battery (against Cavanaugh only); and Count IV - Respondeat Superior as to Count III (not denominated in Amended Complaint, but referred to as "Count IV" for purposes of this discussion) [ECF No. 13].

Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss Count IV on May 30, 2014, contending Plaintiff's respondeat superior claim must be dismissed on the basis of the doctrine of sovereign immunity and failure to plead a claim upon which relief may be given [ECF No. 16]. On June 9, Plaintiff filed his Response to the Motion to Dismiss, and Defendants filed their Reply on June 10, 2014 [ECF Nos. 17, 18]. Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Leave to File a Sur-Reply, which the Court denied on June 12, 2014 [ECF Nos. 19, 20].


A party may move under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss a complaint for "fail[ing] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test "the sufficiency of a complaint[.]" M.M. Silta, Inc. v. Cleveland Cliffs, Inc., 616 F.3d 872, 876 (8th Cir. 2010).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Ordinarily, only the facts alleged in the complaint are considered for purposes of a motion to dismiss; however, materials attached to the complaint may also be considered in construing its sufficiency. Reynolds v. Dormire, 636 F.3d 976, 979 (8th Cir. 2011).

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court "must liberally construe a complaint in favor of the plaintiff[.]" Huggins v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 592 F.3d 853, 862 (8th Cir. 2010). However, if a claim fails to allege one of the elements necessary to recovery on a legal theory, that claim must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Crest Constr. II, Inc. v. Doe, 660 F.3d 346, 355 (8th Cir. 2011). "Threadbare recitals of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although courts must accept all factual allegations as true, they are not bound to take as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations and citation omitted); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-78.


As pertinent to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count IV, the Court accepts the following well-pleaded facts, as alleged in the Amended Complaint [ECF No. 13], as true.

On February 23, 2014, Plaintiff and a female companion arrived at the back of Gordon's Food Service in Deer Park Plaza in Maplewood, to source food from the store's dumpster for distribution to the homeless or less fortunate. Within two minutes of the couple's arrival at the dumpster, Maplewood police arrived. Plaintiff immediately exited the dumpster. When the first responding officer asked the couple what they were doing, they explained they were trying to retrieve over 100 newly discarded eggs to help feed the homeless and needy families.

Within two minutes of the first officer's arrival, Officer Cavanaugh arrived at the scene. At all times relevant to this matter, Cavanaugh was a duly-appointed, qualified, police officer acting on behalf of Maplewood. When Cavanaugh arrived, he appeared to be very aggressive, irate, disproportionately hostile; he maintained this demeanor throughout the entire encounter. Cavanaugh eventually asked Plaintiff for identification, which Plaintiff did not have with him. Plaintiff provided the police with his ...

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