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Gevelinger-Scott v. Harrison

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

February 23, 2017

FR. RYAN GAVELINGER-SCOTT, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RUSSELL HARRISON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge

         Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Defendant Howard County Sheriff's Department, [Doc. 13], and Partial Motion to Dismiss, [Doc. 15]. For the following reasons, both Motions are granted.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiffs bring this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Defendant Howard County employees violated their civil rights by, inter alia, maliciously prosecuting, falsely arresting, and falsely imprisoning Plaintiff Ryan Gevelinger.

         Gevelinger is a Traditionalist Catholic priest belonging to an independent Benedictine Sect. In 2014, Gevelinger relocated to Armstrong, Missouri, where he purchased an abandoned church, made repairs to the building, and began holding church services there, naming the church and adjoining Abbey “Congregario Ordinis Sancti Benedicti.” Plaintiff Patricia Baldrige, known as Sister Monica, was a member of Gevelinger's church in Iowa and joined Gevelinger in Armstrong. Gevelinger and the Abbey struggled financially.

         Defendant Russell Harrison, a Deputy with the Howard County Sheriff's Department, was a frequent guest of Gevelinger's church, although he was not a member. Plaintiffs became socially acquainted with Harrison and Baldridge made Harrison and Gevelinger co-trustees of her estate and trust.

         At some point thereafter the relationship soured. Harrison reported to the Howard County law enforcement that Baldridge asked him for “help to leave” Gevelinger because Gevelinger was attempting to exploit her. On or about March 31, 2015 Defendants entered Plaintiffs property and the Abbey, seized property belonging to the Plaintiffs and the Abbey, and began an investigation. Harrison drafted, signed and presented a probable cause statement and Gevelinger was charged with three felony counts of financial exploitation of the elderly. Gevelinger was held in prison for over nine months during the investigation.

         At the preliminary hearing for Gevelinger's criminal case, Baldridge “testified that Defendant Harrison's account of events was inaccurate, wrong, and that in fact Fr. Ryan had done nothing wrong.” [Doc. 4, p. 13]. The financial exploitation charges were dismissed against Gevelinger, but he plead guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm, which was seized in one of the searches conducted during the investigation.

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, [Doc. 4], alleges eight counts: (I) Malicious Prosecution, False Arrest, Use of Unreliable and Fraudulent Investigatory Techniques, Procurement of Unreliable and Fabricated Evidence, Violation of Free Exercise of Religion, Infringing Freedom of Speech, Infringing Freedom of Assembly, Taking without Just Compensation of Property, Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment; (II) Conspiracy; (III) Suppression of Exculpatory Evidence; (IV) Violative Policies, Practices and Procedures; (V) Common Law Negligence Resulting in Wrongful Incarceration and Continued Detention; (VI) False Arrest; (VII) Malicious Prosecution; and (VIII) Defamation and Fraud.

         II. Discussion

         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)). A claim has facial plausibility when its allegations rise above the “speculative” or “conceivable, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547, and where “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Such a complaint will be liberally construed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs. Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008).

         A. Motion to Dismiss Defendant

          Defendant Howard County moves to dismiss Defendant designated as “Howard County Sherriff's Department” because, as a matter of law, the Howard County Sheriff's Department is not a separate legal entity amenable to suit. [Doc. 14]. Plaintiffs stipulate to the dismissal, without prejudice. [Doc. 20].

         Under Missouri law, the Howard County Sheriff's Department is not a suable entity. See Catlett v. Jefferson County, 299 F.Supp.2d 967, 968-69 (E.D. Mo. 2004) (“A local entity, such as a county sheriff's department, which lacks the capacity to be sued under the applicable state law may not be sued in federal court under the provisions of ...


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