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Bowden v. Meinberg

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

August 28, 2014

THOMAS A. BOWDEN, Plaintiff,
STEVE MEINBERG, et al., Defendants.


JOHN A. ROSS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the following motions: Defendant Vernon Martin's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 52); Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against Defendant Vernon Martin on the Issue of Liability (Doc. No. 57); Defendants Meinberg, Hawkins, Hoffman and Wagner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 59); Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against Defendants Meinberg, Hawkins, Hoffman and Wagner on the Issue of Probable Cause (Doc. No. 64); Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude or, in the Alternative, to Limit the Trial Testimony of Diane Damos (Doc. No. 78); and Defendants' Motions to Exclude Testimony of Plaintiff's Expert Artemis Keitt Darby. (Doc. Nos. 80, 82) The motions are briefed and ready for disposition.[1]

I. Factual background[2]

Plaintiff Thomas A. Bowden brings this §1983 action against Deputy Sheriff Vernon Martin (Martin), Lieutenant Colonel Steve Meinberg (Meinberg), Lieutenant Patrick Hawkins (Hawkins), and Corporal Chris Hoffman (Hoffman) of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, and Wes Wagner (Wagner), Jefferson County Clerk, all in their individual and official capacities, as well as two Jefferson County residents, Benjamin Simmons and Aaron Gyurica.[3] Plaintiff alleges Defendants conspired to have him arrested for the crime of unlawful use of a weapon without probable cause in violation of his civil rights. (First Amended Complaint for Damages (FAC), Doc. No. 41) He further alleges state law claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, fraudulent concealment and civil conspiracy.

This action arises out of an incident that occurred on January 29, 2009 in the area of Plaintiff's home located at 2120 Seneca Court in Jefferson County, Missouri. Defendants Ben Simmons and Aaron Gyurica were fishing from a bridge crossing Plattin Creek on Seneca Drive. Plaintiff saw the men fishing and shouted out at them to identify themselves. Simmons and Gyurica did not respond. Plaintiff fired a shotgun into the air from his back deck. According to Plaintiff, he fired his shotgun in the opposite direction of Simmons and Gyurica. (Martin SOF at ¶ 9) Following the gunshot, Plaintiff and Simmons engaged in a heated verbal altercation while Plaintiff was holding his shotgun. Thereafter, both Plaintiff and Simmons called 911 to report the incident. Martin responded to the calls.

Martin went first to the residence of Barbara Voyles, Simmons' grandmother. He spoke with Simmons and Gyruica, who told him they heard a shotgun blast and believed Plaintiff shot at them because they saw leaves fall in front of them following the blast. Simmons demanded Plaintiff be arrested; Gyurica insisted something be done. Voyles said she guessed she could call Howard Wagner to "see what she could do about this." (Martin SOF at ¶ 8). Whether Howard Wagner was actually called is disputed. (See Voyles Depo., Doc. No. 53-7 at 29:16-30:1; Simmons Affidavit, Doc. No. 61-5 at ¶ 4(a); County Defendants SOF at ¶ 8).[4] Next, Martin spoke with Plaintiff at his residence. Plaintiff told Martin about the exchange with Simmons and that he had fired his shotgun in the opposite direction of the two men. He also told Martin about the verbal altercation he had with Simmons while he, Plaintiff, was holding his shotgun.

Martin then spoke by telephone with his supervisor, Defendant Hoffman. Upon hearing the facts from Martin, Hoffman ordered Martin to seize Plaintiff's shotgun and write a report and probable cause statement for unlawful use of a weapon. According to Martin, in that phone call Hoffman told him that "somebody from [the trailer that Simmons was at] had called Howard Wagner because they had worked for Howard Wagner." Martin further testified that "Howard Wagner, allegedly - and I don't know this to be true, but Howard Wagner allegedly called Lt. Colonel Meinberg.... who called Lt. Hawkins and Lt. Hawkins contacted [Cpl. Hoffman] to convey to me to do a report and seize the weapon and to draft a probable cause statement charging Mr. Bowden with unlawful use of a weapon." (PSOF-1 at ¶ 11e; PSOF-2 at ¶ 5e; Martin SOF at ¶ 14; County Defendants SOF at ¶¶ 4-5) The County Defendants deny having any communication with each other regarding the incident. (County Defendants SOF at ¶¶ 2, 3, 7)

Martin's probable cause statement alleges the following:

I, Deputy Vernon Martin #242, knowing that false statements on this form are punishable by law, state that the facts contained herein are true.
1. I have probable cause to believe that on 7/29/2009, at 2120 Seneca Court, Festus, Missouri, in the County of Jefferson, Thomas Bowden... committed one or more criminal offense(s):
Unlawful Use of a Weapon

2. The facts supporting this belief are as follows:

According to the victim's [sic], they reported that they parked their pickup truck on a low water bridge in the area of 2120 Seneca Court, to fish off the bridge when a local resident Thomas Bowden shoot [sic] at them with his shotgun.

(Emphasis added). (Doc. No. 53-5 at 8) Martin later admitted that after fully investigating the matter, he did not believe a crime had been committed and that he would not have written and signed a probable cause statement but for his supervising officer ordering him to do so. (PSOF-1 at 11; PSOF-2 at 5)

Plaintiff was subsequently charged with unlawful use of a weapon, a Class D felony in violation of RSMo. § 571.030.1(4).[5] A preliminary hearing was held before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Nathan B. Stewart. Simmons and Martin both testified and were crossexamined by Plaintiff's counsel. Plaintiff disputes that his attorney was given the opportunity to present evidence at the preliminary hearing. (Martin SOF at ¶ 19 and Pltf. Resp.) Judge Stewart determined that probable cause existed to charge Plaintiff with unlawful use of a weapon and bound him over for trial. Martin testified at Plaintiff's criminal trial. Plaintiff was acquitted following a jury trial.

II. Summary Judgment motions

A. Legal standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists in the case and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The initial burden is placed on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op., Inc. , 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). If the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of fact is in dispute, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and specific facts showing a genuine dispute on that issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate in a particular case, the Court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and give that party the benefit of any ...

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