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McKee v. Reuter

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

November 17, 2016

JEANETTE MCKEE, et al., Plaintiffs,
MICHAEL REUTER, et al., Defendants.



         The three plaintiffs in this case, Jeanette McKee, Susan Hickman and Sharon Rebecca Hickman (referred to as “Beckie”) are present or past Deputy Clerk employees of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. Defendant Michael Reuter is the elected Clerk of Court, who defeated plaintiff McKee in a partisan election in 2014. Plaintiffs Susan and Beckie supported McKee in the election.

         Plaintiffs have sued Michael Reuter and others under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They allege that after Michael Reuter won the 2014 election, he and the other individual defendants conspired to force plaintiffs out of their jobs because of their political affiliations and because of issues they raised during the election. McKee ultimately resigned, but alleges that she was constructively discharged. In addition to suing Michael Reuter, McKee has sued Michael's wife Renee Reuter, who is a member of the Jefferson County Council; Christy Scrivner, who Michael Reuter appointed to replace McKee as Chief Deputy Clerk; and Jefferson County. Plaintiff Susan Hickman also alleges that she was constructively discharged and has sued the same defendants. Plaintiff Beckie Hickman is still employed by Jefferson County, but is on extended medical leave. She has sued the same three individual defendants and Jefferson County, but has also sued her supervisor, Teresa Cusick.[1]

         Now pending before me are motions to dismiss filed by all defendants except Michael Reuter. Defendant Jefferson County seeks dismissal of all claims, arguing that none of the individual defendants had policy-making authority for the County, and therefore plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged the actions were taken according to any County policy as required to impose municipal liability. Defendant Renee Reuter argues that she was not acting under color of state law and that plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that she conspired with her husband to take the allegedly unlawful actions. Defendant Scrivner argues that plaintiffs have not alleged anything that could show she violated their constitutional rights: she had no authority over their employment and made none of the decisions that affected their positions. She argues that the bare assertion that she acted in concert with the other defendants is insufficient to state a claim for conspiracy to violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Finally, defendant Cusick alleges that plaintiff Beckie Hickman's allegations that Cusick gave her negative performance reviews and excluded her from meetings are insufficient to show any violation of her constitutional rights.

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint contains no factual allegations that the individual defendants had any final decision-making authority over Jefferson County policy. Plaintiffs also fail to plead facts demonstrating that defendant Renee Reuter was acting in the performance of her official duties when she allegedly urged her husband to take action against plaintiffs. Nor are the facts alleged sufficient to show a meeting of the minds or mutual understanding between Renee and Michael Reuter, as required for a conspiracy claim. However, I do find that plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to survive dismissal of their claims against defendants Christy Scrivner and Teresa Cusick. It can be construed from the allegations that Chief Deputy Clerk Scrivner participated in employment decisions concerning the Deputy Clerk plaintiffs. Similarly, Beckie's allegation that traffic supervisor Cusick completed false performance reports about her is enough to survive dismissal. Therefore, I will grant the motions to dismiss filed by defendants Jefferson County and Renee Reuter; I will deny the motions to dismiss filed by defendants Christy Scrivner and Teresa Cusick.

         I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. When considering a 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the factual allegations of a complaint are true and construes them in favor of the plaintiff. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989).

         Rule 8(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court clarified that Rule 8(a)(2) requires complaints to contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Specifically, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain enough factual allegations, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief “that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         II. Municipal Liability: Defendant Jefferson County

         A municipality or local government may be sued directly under § 1983 when that local government implements an unconstitutional policy or custom. Monell v. Dep't Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). In Monell, the Supreme Court of the United States held that municipalities may be liable under § 1983 where “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated” by the municipality. 436 U.S. at 690. It is when an employee acts “under color of some official policy” and violates another's constitutional rights, that the government is liable. Id. at 692. An official policy involves “a deliberate choice to follow a course of action made from among various alternatives by an official who is determined by state law to have the final authority to establish governmental policy.” Ware v. Jackson City., Mo., 150 F.3d 873, 880 (8th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Jane Doe A v. Special Sch. Dist., 901 F.2d 642, 645 (8th Cir. 1990)).

         A municipality may not be sued under § 1983 for injuries inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91. The ‘official policy' requirement was “intended to distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, ” thereby limiting what actions the municipality is responsible. Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986) (plurality opinion). Liability attaches only where the decision-maker possessed final authority to establish municipal policy. City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123 (1988); Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 480.

         As to defendant Jefferson County, plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint states:

         15. Defendant, Jefferson County, acting through its Officers Renee Reuter and Michael Reuter established and enforced a policy of disciplining, demoting and firing Plaintiffs, as Deputy Circuit Court Clerks for Jefferson County, because of their political affiliation and political activity … They established and implemented a Jefferson County Policy and Practice of attempting to force the resignations of Plaintiffs and other Democrats by making their working conditions intolerable, thereby causing injury and damages to Plaintiffs.

         55. At all times relevant, Michael Reuter, Renee Reuter, Scrivner, Cusick, and Jefferson County acted in concert pursuant to a common scheme and design for the purpose of forcing McKee to resign through the above-described onerous, abusive and intolerable working ...

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