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Cunningham v. Bates

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

February 13, 2017

LEONA BATES, et al., Defendants.



         Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings on Plaintiff Kristy Cunningham's due process claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Defendants argue Cunningham's claims are barred because she seeks to recover damages for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or sentence but has not pleaded that her conviction or sentence has been reversed, expunged, declared invalid, or called into question by a writ of habeas corpus, as required by the United States Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Because Cunningham has failed to satisfy Heck's “favorable termination” requirement, I will grant the motions for judgment on the pleadings.


         In ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, I must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Wishnatsky v. Rovner, 433 F.3d 608, 610 (8th Cir. 2006). “[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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “The purpose of this threshold pleading requirement is to allow a defendant to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint so as to eliminate those actions which are fatally flawed in their legal premises and designed to fail, thereby sparing litigants the burden of unnecessary pretrial and trial activity.” Am. Traffic Solutions, Inc. v. B & W Sensors, LLC, 2014 WL 1272509, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 27, 2014) (quotation marks omitted).


         Cunningham brings due process claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged actions taken against her in and around the city of Farmington in St. Francois County, Missouri. She claims, in short, that defendants conspired to manufacture false charges against her, deny her bail, and hold her in jail indefinitely to coerce her to plead guilty to false charges. As a result, she claims she was deprived of her liberty for more than 200 days while incarcerated and suffered a variety of damages, including loss of her childcare business. She sues eight defendants in their individual capacities: (1) Leona Bates, a St. Francois County resident; (2) Dennis Smith, the jail administrator for St. Francois County; (3) David Kennedy, a St. Francois County bailiff; (4) Daniel Bullock, the Sheriff of St. Francois County; (5) Spring Henson Gray, a clerk or secretary for the St. Francois County Prosecutor; (6) Donald Duncan, a Farmington police officer; (7) Rick Baker, Farmington Police Chief; and (8) John Doe, a Farmington police officer. She also sues the City of Farmington and St. Francois County. Cunningham alleges the following facts.

         In 2013, Cunningham alleges she discovered her husband was having an affair with Defendant Leona Bates and with another woman, Kelly Vaugh, a friend of Bates. Cunningham complained publicly about Bates. Cunningham also sent an email to several people stating that Vaugh was having an affair with her husband. Vaugh filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against Cunningham. The request for a temporary restraining order was denied.

         Cunningham alleges that Bates began appearing at functions she knew Cunningham would be attending in an attempt to provoke Cunningham into a confrontation. After these functions, Bates would secretly file false police reports claiming Cunningham had stalked and assaulted Bates. Duncan, Baker, and Doe kept these reports secret because Bates claimed Cunningham would attack her if she knew about the reports. Cunningham alleges that this occurred at least three times between November 2013 and January 2014.

         Cunningham alleges that on or about January 11, 2014, Duncan and Doe, who are Farmington police officers, were waiting for Cunningham when she left a restaurant after a confrontation with Bates. Cunningham alleges she was pulled over by the police officers. Cunningham passed a field sobriety test but refused to take a breathalyzer test. Cunningham alleges she refused a breathalyzer test because she had had gastric bypass surgery and had been told this would cause a high reading on a breathalyzer. Cunningham was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. She posted bond for that charge and for a pending aggravated stalking charge that had been previously filed in January 2014.

         Cunningham's bond on the stalking charge was revoked in May 2014. A hearing was held on June 11, 2014, on Cunningham's motion to reinstate her bond. Bates did not testify at that hearing. Cunningham was denied bond on the grounds that Bates was afraid Cunningham would stalk and assault her. Cunningham pleaded guilty to aggravated stalking on August 16, 2014 because she believed that was the only way to be released from jail to see her children. Cunningham claims she was kept in jail for an indefinite period to pressure and coerce her into pleading guilty. Cunningham also pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated. Cunningham was sentenced to five years of probation and was released on August 16, 2014. Cunningham alleges she was never interviewed by the police department or the Sheriff's office with respect to the police reports Bates filed or the stalking charge that resulted.

         Around August 28, 2014, Cunningham went to the Elks Club near Farmington with friends. When Cunningham left the Elks Club, Duncan and Doe were waiting for her to exit the building. Cunningham's friend had been drinking and attempted to drive. Cunningham alleges she gently pushed her friend to prevent him from driving. The officers arrested Cunningham, and she was charged with misdemeanor assault and incarcerated from August 28, 2014 to September 25, 2014, when she obtained a bond.

         Cunningham's probation was revoked on November 7, 2014, and the court sentenced her to 120 days in prison. Cunningham was incarcerated from November 7, 2014 to March 24, 2015. Before her probation revocation hearing, Cunningham spoke with Sheriff Bullock and told him that the charges against her had been manufactured by Bates, with the assistance of her friends in public office. Cunningham alleges Sheriff Bullock did not investigate these claims. Cunningham alleges Bates sought revenge against her for revealing Bates's affair with Cunningham's husband. She also alleges some of the other defendants had their own personal reasons for wanting revenge against her. Cunningham claims the defendants worked together to “falsely charge [her] with stalking Leona Bates, ” “falsely charge her with assaulting [her friend], ” and “falsely charge [her] with driving while intoxicated.” Compl. 3‒4, ECF No. 4.

         Cunningham brings four due process claims. She brings Counts I and II against the individual defendants, arguing they denied her due process of law by acting in concert, under color of state law, to recklessly present false evidence to the prosecutor, fail to investigate the facts, persuade the prosecutor to deny her bond, hold her in jail indefinitely until she pled guilty, revoke her probation, and selectively prosecute her on false charges. She brings Count III against the City of Farmington and Count IV against St. Francois County, arguing they had a custom, policy, or practice of permitting the denial of due process to individuals when the alleged victim of a crime had friendly connections to Farmington and St. Francois County public officials. She also alleges inadequate hiring and training practices. Cunningham claims her damages include deprivation of her liberty for more than 200 days when she was falsely incarcerated, the loss of her business, ...

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