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Ross v. City of Jackson

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

January 31, 2017

JAMES ROBERT ROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF JACKSON, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33) and Plaintiffs Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 36). Both motions are fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         I. Background

         This case stems from Plaintiffs arrest after he posted a comment on Facebook in response to a photographic meme on a friend's Facebook page depicting various guns with an explanation of the intended use for each gun under each image.[1] (Pl's Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts ["SUMF"] ¶¶ 6, 8-11, 36, ECF No. 38) The meme was copied or shared from a Facebook page associated with 2nd Amendment rights. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 7) Below the image of an assault rifle, Plaintiff commented, "Which one do I need to shoot up a kindergarten?" (Pl's SUMF ¶¶ 10-12) Plaintiff meant the comment to be a "satirical question" to make a point that the post was ridiculous. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 40-42, ECF No. 34) Plaintiff commented on the evening of January 25, 2015, and within hours after Plaintiff posted the comment, the Facebook post and his comment were deleted from Facebook. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 16, Pl's SUMF ¶ 16)

         Plaintiff is a supporter of gun control measures as a means to reduce gun violence. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 3) He is also politically active and uses Facebook to express his political beliefs and views. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 2) He feels satire and humor are powerful ways to express political views, and he is frequently outspoken with friends and co-workers about lax firearm regulations. (Defs.'SUMF ¶¶ 41, 45-49)

         On January 26, 2015, the day after Plaintiff posted the comment, the Jackson Police Department became aware of Plaintiff s Facebook comment. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 19) Defendant Officer Ryan Medlin ("Medlin") was employed as a law enforcement officer with the Jackson Police Department, located in the Defendant City of Jackson, Missouri ("City of Jackson"). (Pl's SUMF ¶ 20) Medlin was not on duty that day, as he was on medical leave due to a work-related injury. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 21) However, his wife had received a text message with the Facebook post and Plaintiffs comment, and she showed the image to Medlin. (Pl's SUMF ¶¶ 22-24) Medlin then contacted Defendants Officer Anthony Henson ("Henson") and Officer Toby Freeman ("Freeman"), fellow law enforcement officers with the Jackson Police Department. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 27) Henson and Freeman were also off-duty that day. (Pl's SUMF 28) The Defendants did not know Plaintiff personally but believed there was a possibility that Plaintiff could shoot up a kindergarten. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 113-117, 119-122, 128-129, 134) Wade Bartels, Ed. D., was an Associate Superintendent of Finance/Business Operation for the Jackson School District and was notified of the Facebook post. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 135-137) He contacted the police and considered the possibility of locking down the district schools with pre-kindergarten and kindergartens the morning after the post because he regarded the comment as a threat. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 139)

         Also on January 26, 2015, Plaintiff went to work at the Casey's General Store in Fruitland, Missouri, a township just outside of the City of Jackson. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 2, 50) While at work, Defendants Henson and Freeman, along with an officer from the Cape Girardeau County Sheriffs Department, showed up at Casey's and proceeded to arrest Plaintiff for making a terroristic threat against a kindergarten. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 51-56; Pl's SUMF ¶¶ 34-39) Plaintiff told the officers that "[t]his is not serious. I made a joke." (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 57) Plaintiff was taken to the Jackson Police Department and was interrogated by Defendant Medlin. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 39) Defendant Medlin advised Plaintiff of his Miranda rights, and Plaintiff provided a written statement, indicating that the question posted on Facebook was satirical and that people interpreted his post as the opposite of the point that he was trying to make, which was that firearm regulations in the United States were lax. (Pl's SUMF ¶¶ 40-42; Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 65-81) After the interview concluded, Plaintiff was taken to a holding cell, where he stayed until the next day when he was transferred to the Cape Girardeau County Jail on a warrant for peace disturbance. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 82, 84-85) Plaintiff was held in the county jail for approximately three days before he posted bond and was released. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 56)

         Defendant Medlin provided a Probable Cause Affidavit to support the request for an arrest warrant. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 47; Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 110-112) In the statement, Medlin did not identify a particular person as the target of the statement or any particular victim. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 110) The statement quoted Plaintiffs description of why he posted the comment and what the comment meant, including that it was distasteful and intended to be satirical; it was in reference to the Sandy Hook gun massacre; and that Plaintiff is a pacifist who supports gun control and believes gun control will keep people safer. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 111) On January 27, 2015, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Cape Girardeau County prepared an information and warrant, which an associate circuit court judge signed. (Pl's SUMF ¶¶ 53-55; Pl's Ex. 28, ECF No. 38-28) The State of Missouri charged Plaintiff with the Class B misdemeanor of Peace Disturbance in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 574.010. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 57) On February 2, 2015, [2] Plaintiff entered a not guilty plea in Case Number 15CG-CR00237. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 58) On April 7, 2015, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Frank Miller dismissed the case against Plaintiff by nolle prosequi. (Pl's SUMF ¶ 59)

         On June 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a three-count Complaint in federal court, alleging constitutional violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he was arrested, incarcerated, and criminally prosecuted for engaging in constitutionally protected free speech and was detained and arrested without probable cause in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1) Plaintiff also brings a municipal liability claim against Defendant City of Jackson for intentionally violating Plaintiffs constitutional rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 33-40) He seeks injunctive relief, along with nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages. (Compl. ¶ 1)

         Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 27, 2016, arguing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all three counts because no genuine issue of material fact exists. Defendants also move for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. On that same date, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, alleging that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law against the Defendant police officers for detaining, arresting, and imprisoning Plaintiff without probable cause and for intentionally violating his right under the First Amendment to be free from arrest for constitutionally protected acts of expression.[3]

         II. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court may grant a motion for summary judgment only if all of the information before the court show "there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hutson v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 63 F.3d 771, 775 (8th Cir. 1995).

         The moving party has the initial burden to establish the non-existence of any genuine issue of fact that is material to a judgment in its favor. City of ML Pleasant, Iowa v. AssociatedElec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). Once this burden is discharged, if the record does in fact bear out that no genuine dispute exists, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and specific facts showing there is a genuine dispute on that issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         When the burden shifts, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations in its pleadings, but by affidavit and other evidence must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ .P. 56(e). The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In fact, the non-moving party must present sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party which would enable a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 411 U.S. at 249; Celotex, 411 U.S. at 324. Self-serving, conclusory statements, standing alone, are insufficient to defeat a well-supported motion for summary judgment. O'Bryan v. KTIV Television, 64 F.3d 1188, 1191 (8th Cir. 1995).

         III. Discussion

         Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment in this case, claiming that a genuine issue of material fact does not exist and ...


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