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Isaiah v. City of Pine Lawn

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

February 2, 2015

MILTON ISAIAH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF PINE LAWN, et al., Defendants,

OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. [Doc. No. 64]. Plaintiffs have filed a response in opposition to the motion. [Doc. No. 66]. Defendants have filed a Reply. [Doc. No. 67]. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted.

Facts and Background[1]

Plaintiffs, Milton Isaiah and Joseph Goforth, are former City of Pine Lawn police officers who allege that they were wrongfully discharged for refusing to follow certain orders and directives which were improper, illegal and, in some instances, unconstitutional. Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("Complaint") is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges violations of both their procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment (Counts I), and their substantive due process rights (Count II).[2] Named as Defendants are: the City of Pine Lawn, a municipal corporation located in St. Louis County, Missouri; Sylvester Caldwell, the Mayor of Pine Lawn; and Ricky Collins, the Chief of Police of Pine Lawn.

On February 14, 2011, the Board of Aldermen of Pine Lawn, in separate votes, terminated Plaintiffs. The votes were taken upon the joint request of Defendants Caldwell and Collins. Plaintiffs assert that they were discharged from their tenured positions, without receiving hearings required under Pine Lawn municipal law. Further, Plaintiffs argue that they were entitled to, but did not receive, procedural due process guaranteed to them under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution-namely, notice, a hearing, and an opportunity to respond. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that they were terminated to "cover up the illegal or improper actions of the Police Department and City, " and contend that their discharge for refusing to violate the constitution was outrageous and shocks the conscience. Plaintiffs request damages and injunctive relief reinstating them in their former positions.

Standard

A defendant may file a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "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) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In other words, a plaintiff must plead facts from which the court can draw a "reasonable inference" of liability. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations" but must contain more than mere "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements" or "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. An "unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me accusation" will not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations, " id. at 679, which "raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court can "choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Turning to any "well-pleaded factual allegations, " the court should "assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. The court may only consider the initial pleadings. Brooks v. Midwest Heart Grp., 655 F.3d 796, 799 (8th Cir. 2011).

Discussion

Defendants contend that Plaintiffs were not entitled to procedural due process before their discharge and cannot state a substantive due process claim because Plaintiffs did not have a protected life, liberty, or property interest in their positions as police officers with the City of Pine Lawn. The Court agrees.

A. Procedural Due Process

The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits governments from "depriv[ing] any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. "To establish a constitutionally protected deprivation of property, [Plaintiffs] must show they each held a property right in continued employment.'" Crews v. Monarch Fire Prot. Dist., 771 F.3d 1085, 1089 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Floyd-Gimon v. Univ. of Ark. for Med. Scis. ex rel. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ark., 716 F.3d 1141, 1146 (8th Cir. 2013)). The Court looks to Missouri state law to determine whether Plaintiffs had a constitutionally protected property interest in their positions as police officers with the City of Pine Lawn. Mulvenon v. Greenwood, 643 F.3d 653, 657 (8th Cir. 2011). Plaintiffs must "show by reference to a specific source, such as a contract or statute, that they had a legitimate claim of entitlement to continued employment." Armer v. City of Salem, 861 F.2d 514, 515 (8th Cir. 1988) (citing Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)).

Under section 79.240 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, the Mayor of a fourth-class city "may, with the consent of a majority of all the members elected to the board of aldermen, remove from office any appointive officer of the city at will ...." R.S.Mo. § 79.240 (emphasis added).[3] The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that the City of Pine Lawn was classified as a fourth-class city in 2011, when Plaintiffs were terminated.[4] See Missouri Roster 2011-2012 - A Directory of State, District and County Officials, at 172, available at http://www.sos.mo.gov/MOroster/2011-2012_Missouri_Roster.pdf (last visited January 29, 2015); see also id. at 158 ("Once a community is incorporated under a given classification, the municipality does not automatically change classification with a gain or loss of population. A municipality may change classification only when the change is approved by a majority vote of the people."); R.S.Mo. § 72.070. Further, "Missouri courts have consistently treated fourth-class city police officers as appointive officers' within the meaning of § 79.240." Armer, 861 F.2d at 515 (citing Amaan v. City of Eureka, 615 S.W.2d 414 (Mo. 1981) (en banc); Pumphrey v. City of Lutesville, 707 S.W.2d 475 (Mo.Ct.App. 1986); State ex rel. Ciaramitaro v. City of Charlack, 679 S.W.2d 405 (Mo.Ct.App. 1984)).

Accordingly, because Pine Lawn is a fourth-class city and Plaintiffs were appointive officers, Plaintiffs were at-will employees under Missouri law who could be terminated for "no reason or any reason, " and thus did not have a property interest in their continued employment implicating procedural due process requirements. See id; State ex rel. Lupo v. City of Wentzville, 886 S.W.2d 727 (Mo.Ct.App. 1994) ("Under §§ 79.230 and 79.240 police officers of fourthclass cities are employees at will and may be removed for no reason or any reason by the mayor with consent of the Board of Aldermen. An employee at will has no property interest in his or her employment and is not entitled to procedural due process upon termination.") (citing Rapp v. City of Northwoods, 769 S.W.2d 815, 818 (Mo.Ct.App. 1989); Johnson v. City of Buckner, 610 S.W.2d 406, 408-09 (Mo.Ct.App. 1980); Cooper v. City of Creve Coeur, 556 S.W.2d 717, 720 (Mo.Ct.App. 1977); Karzin v. Collett, 562 S.W.2d 397, 399 (Mo.Ct.App. 1978)).[5] The Eighth ...


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