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Bramblett v. City of Columbia

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

December 1, 2014

CITY OF COLUMBIA, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants

For Irene Maria Zimbobway Schwartze Bramblett, Plaintiff: Marjorie M. Lewis, Robert C. Colbert, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Brown, Willbrand, Simon, Powell & Lewis, PC, Columbia, MO; Wally Bley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bley & Evans, LC, Columbia, MO.

For City of Columbia, Missouri, Michael Matthes, Kenneth Burton, Defendants: Remington Barrett Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Benjamin Allen Stelter-Embry, Matthew Justin Gist, Ensz & Jester, PC, Kansas City, MO.

For Cavanaugh Noce, Deputy City Counselor, City of Columbia, Defendant: Matthew Justin Gist, LEAD ATTORNEY, Benjamin Allen Stelter-Embry, Ensz & Jester, PC, Kansas City, MO.


NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, United States District Judge.

Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and Defendant Cavanaugh Noce's motion to dismiss, Doc. [45], is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant Noce's motion to dismiss Counts III and IV of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint against him is granted.[1] Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I through III against all other Defendants is denied.

I. Pleading Standard

Defendants bring their motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6) and 12(c). The Rules require that a plaintiff plead sufficient facts to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. " 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citations omitted). In determining whether the complaint alleges sufficient facts to state a plausible claim to relief, all factual allegations made by the plaintiff are accepted as true. Great Plains Trust Co. v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 492 F.3d 986, 995 (8th Cir. 2007) (noting that legal allegations are not accepted as true). If the facts in the complaint are sufficient for the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct, the claim has facial plausibility and will not be dismissed. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

II. Background

Plaintiff Irene Maria Zimbabwe Schwartze Bramblett (" Schwartze") first became an officer of the Columbia Police Department (" the Police Department") in 1993. In 2003, she was promoted to Police Captain. According to the Revised Ordinances of the City of Columbia (" the Ordinances"), the Police Captain position is a " classified position." City of Columbia (" City") employees serving in classified positions may not be terminated or discharged without just cause.[2] In 2009, Schwartze was assigned the additional title and responsibilities of Emergency Communications and Management Administrator (" ECMA"). To document the changes in Schwartze's job and responsibilities, the City and Schwartze entered into an agreement (" the October 5, 2009 Agreement"), which included the terms and conditions of Schwartze's appointment as EMCA. [Doc. 28-1]. The October 5, 2009 Agreement was signed by Schwartze and Bill Watkins, the acting City Manager at the time the agreement was made.

In late 2011 and early 2012, a purportedly anonymous review of the Police Department was conducted. During the review, Schwartze criticized Chief of Police Kenneth Burton. Soon thereafter, acting City Manager Michael Matthes called Schwartze into his office and informed her that she had less than one hour to decide whether to resign or be fired. Schwartze refused to resign and was subsequently fired from her position with the Police Department. On May 9, 2012, Matthes presented Schwartze with a Termination Letter. [Doc. 28-2]. The letter stated that Schwartze was being terminated because the positions of EMCA and Police Captain were being eliminated due to budget amendments. Id. Approximately one week later, Schwartze initiated grievance procedures under Chapter 19 of the Ordinances. Matthes subsequently denied her grievance and Schwartze sought to appeal the decision to the Personnal Advisory Board (" the Board"). In a letter dated June 15, 2012, Deputy City Counselor Cavanaugh Noce notified Schwartze that she was not entitled to a hearing before the Board because she was terminated due to a combination of curtailment of work and a reduction in force. [Doc. 28-3].

Schwartze's complaint alleges claims against the City, Matthes, Burton, and Noce. Schwartze claims that she was improperly fired from the Columbia Police Department due to a critical review of Burton. She brings five counts: (I) Breach of Contract (as to the City); (II) Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing (as to the City); (III) Violation of Due Process -- Property Interest (as to all Defendants); (IV) Violation of Due Process -- Liberty Interest (as to all Defendants); and (V) Prima Facie Tort (as to Matthes and Burton). Defendants now seek to have Counts I through III and part of Count IV dismissed.

III. Discussion

The purpose of this Order is to determine whether certain allegations made by Schwartze in her First Amended Complaint are sufficient to state claims recognized by law. At this stage of the litigation, the Court makes no findings of fact but instead relies solely ...

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