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Liggins v. Cohen

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

November 10, 2016

ANTOINETTE LIGGINS, et al., Plaintiffs,
OFFICER MICHAEL COHEN, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the motion (Doc. No. 10) filed by Defendants Michael Cohen (“Cohen”) and the City of Saint Louis (“City”) to dismiss certain claims in Plaintiff Antoinette Liggins's first amended complaint (Doc. No. 3). Defendants seek the dismissal of Plaintiff's due process claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against both Defendants, and her claims against the City arising under Missouri law: assault, battery, and loss of services during her son's minority. Plaintiff has asserted the state law assault and battery claims on behalf of her natural son, B.C., a minor. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion shall be granted.


         Plaintiff Antoinette Liggins filed a first amended complaint (Doc. No. 3) against Defendants Cohen and the City on April 14, 2016, which includes claims on her own behalf and on behalf of her son, B.C., a minor. In the first amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts on her own behalf a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation based on the deprivation of her due process rights to care for and associate with her son, as well as a claim under Missouri law for loss of services during his minority. On behalf of her son, B.C., Plaintiff asserts a § 1983 violation based on Cohen's use of excessive force and the City's failure to adequately train, supervise, and control the actions of Cohen; and she asserts state-law claims of assault and battery under Missouri law. Each of the foregoing claims arose out of B.C.'s July 11, 2015 arrest and the injuries he sustained during that arrest, and each claim has been asserted against both Defendants. At issue in the present motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 10) are Plaintiff's personal due process claims against both Defendants, her loss of services claim against the City, and B.C.'s assault and battery claims against the City.[1]

         As alleged in the amended complaint, on the evening of July 11, 2015, Defendant Cohen and four other City police officers were dispatched to an address near Hodiamont Avenue in North Saint Louis, Missouri, in response to a call from a neighborhood resident identifying an individual believed to have stolen a firearm the previous day. In responding to this call, Cohen and the other officers encountered B.C., his brother, and several other neighborhood youths, all of whom had been playing at a park near Hodiamont Avenue. Upon seeing the police, B.C. and his brother began to run. Plaintiff alleges that eyewitnesses observed an unarmed B.C. running away from the police officers; but that the officers reported that B.C. either ran toward them or that B.C. ran away from them but that he was carrying a firearm, which he pointed at them. The amended complaint further alleges that Cohen then immediately and without warning brandished his service weapon and fired four shots at B.C., three of which struck his person. One of the bullets grazed B.C.'s head, while another reached and damaged his spine, instantly and permanently rendering him paraplegic. B.C. was 16 years old at the time of this incident.

         Plaintiff alleges that Cohen caused her son's injuries by shooting him three times with his service weapon, and that the City is responsible for her son's injuries by failing to adequately train, supervise, and control the actions of Cohen, its employee. Plaintiff further alleges that the City was aware of prior, similar behavior by its police officers and failed to properly respond, resulting in a de facto policy of indifference to its officers' conduct and to the constitutional violations likely to arise therefrom. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that B.C.'s debilitating injuries-which include kidney damage requiring two weeks of dialysis, a broken forearm requiring a surgically implanted intramedullary rod, and permanent paralysis in the lower half of his body-have “severely compromised” Plaintiff's due process rights to care for and associate with her son. These alleged deprivations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights are the bases of Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Plaintiff next alleges that under Missouri law, Cohen and the City committed assault and battery against B.C. through Cohen's shooting of B.C. with his service weapon, as described above. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that both Defendants are liable to Plaintiff for the loss of B.C.'s services during his minority.


         With respect to Plaintiff's due process claims for the loss of the rights to care for and associate with her son, Cohen and the City argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because she has not alleged acts sufficient to demonstrate a deprivation of her constitutional rights. Specifically, Defendants assert that Plaintiff has not pled facts suggesting that she suffered a wholesale relinquishment of her parental rights over B.C. Defendants argue that merely alleging that Plaintiff's interests in caring for and associating with B.C. have been “severely compromised” is insufficient to sustain an action under § 1983. Moreover, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's due process claims must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege that Defendants took any action targeted at the parent-child relationship between Plaintiff and B.C.

         Regarding Plaintiff's state law claim for loss of B.C.'s services during his minority, and the state law assault and battery claims Plaintiff asserts on B.C.'s behalf, the City argues that these claims are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which prevents holding the government or its political subdivisions liable for the torts of its officers or agents. Such immunity may be waived and there are established exceptions precluding its application, but the City argues that no exception is applicable in the instant case and that it has not waived its immunity, thus barring Plaintiff's claims.

         In response to Defendants' contentions regarding her due process claims, Plaintiff argues that she has adequately alleged a claim under § 1983 and suggests that Defendants have misarticulated the relevant legal standards. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that her son's injuries have sufficiently inhibited her own rights to care for and associate with him so as to sustain a § 1983 claim for deprivation of those rights.

         In response to the City's contention that Plaintiff's assault, battery, and loss of services claims are barred by sovereign immunity, Plaintiff argues that the City's proffered legal authority is inapposite or factually distinguishable to the case at bar, and she reiterates the circumstances under which a law enforcement officer can be held individually liable in tort. Plaintiff does not argue that the City waived sovereign immunity, and she does not identify a recognized exception that applies here.

         Plaintiff also asks for leave to amend her first amended complaint to re-allege any claims subject to dismissal under this motion.

         By way of separate motion, Plaintiff also requests leave to file a surreply (Doc. No. 19) to respond to what she alleges are novel claims and legal authority in Defendants' reply memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss. Plaintiff included her proposed surreply in the body of her motion. For good cause shown and no opposition having been filed by the Defendants, the Court will grant Plaintiff's ...

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