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Collins v. City of Pine Lawn

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

March 6, 2017

RICKEY COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PINE LAWN, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action was removed from state court, and is before the Court on the motion (Doc. No. 71) of Defendant Donnell Smith (“Smith”) to dismiss the claims of Plaintiff Rickey Collins asserted against him in the Second Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff asserts three claims against Smith: (1) violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”); (2) a state law claim of intentional interference with a business relationship; and (3) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's third iteration of the complaint. Plaintiff amended his initial complaint twice, each time after one or more Defendants filed motions to dismiss or for summary judgment. At issue in the current motion are the claims in the Complaint. (Doc. No. 64.)

         Plaintiff is the former Chief of Police for the City of Pine Lawn (“Pine Lawn”). He had served in that capacity since May 2007. Defendant Pine Lawn is a municipality in the state of Missouri, and was Plaintiff's employer. Defendant Sylvester Caldwell (“Caldwell”) is the former mayor of Pine Lawn, and Smith was the City Attorney for Pine Lawn. Each of the individual Defendants is sued in his individual capacity.

         In his current Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that as Chief of Police of Pine Lawn's police department, he learned about illegal activities conducted by Caldwell, and informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). Thereafter, Plaintiff supplied information about these activities to the FBI on multiple occasions. Among other allegations, Plaintiff claims the information he provided to the FBI may have led to the identification of witnesses in an extortion scheme involving Caldwell. Plaintiff alleges that Caldwell engaged in numerous improper or illegal acts involving the Pine Lawn police department including that he used the Pine Lawn police department to summon political adversaries or critics to court.

         Plaintiff alleges he also reported Caldwell's activities to elected officials, and reported that Caldwell had fired Pine Lawn police officers without cause. Plaintiff claims that his reporting Caldwell's illegal activities resulted in a hostile work environment. Plaintiff also alleges that he communicated with Smith and Pine Lawn's City Administrator, Brian Krueger, [1] and asked that the hostile work environment stop, and that the malicious actions by certain administrators against him also cease. Plaintiff claims that he received no response from Smith, and that the hostile work environment continued. He further alleges that he advised Smith and Krueger of Caldwell's illegal activities, but that they said there was nothing they could do.

         With respect to his termination, Plaintiff claims that the Board of Aldermen for Pine Lawn suspended (and later terminated) him without an adequate, legal hearing in a meeting that was not held in compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.011, et. seq. He claims that Pine Lawn did not post a notice of the meeting 24 hours in advance, the notice did not contain sufficient details of the meeting's agenda, and the notice was not posted in a conspicuous location. Plaintiff alleges he informed the Board of Aldermen of the impropriety of the meeting, but they proceeded. Plaintiff further alleges that the various Defendants engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, that included an attempt to obstruct justice and tamper with witnesses after the mayor was indicted, [2] and that these actions caused Plaintiff to be terminated from his employment.

         ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES

         In Count XV, Plaintiff alleges that Smith violated RICO, 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq. Plaintiff asserts that Smith “was part of the organization involved in RICO and was involved in the obstruction of a witness and informant and tampering with evidence.” (Doc. No. 64 at 28.) Plaintiff further claims that these actions affected his employment with Pine Lawn and “caused [Plaintiff] to be terminated from his employment.” Id. Plaintiff also asserts that there is insurance coverage for this claim.

         In his motion to dismiss Count XV, Smith argues that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring a claim under RICO. More specifically, Smith contends that Plaintiff “has failed to plead any predicate for finding that his loss of wages or emotional distress constitute a damage ‘to business or property' under RICO.” (Doc. No. 23 at 2.)[3] Smith further argues that Plaintiff has failed to plead the causation element of a RICO claim. To that end, Smith contends that Plaintiff's allegations in his Complaint are conclusory, and are not entitled to “an assumption of truth” in the context of a motion to dismiss. Id. at 3.

         In response, Plaintiff states that the racketeering activities themselves caused his injury. Plaintiff further argues that the instant motion to dismiss fails to address allegations of other statutory violations by Smith, such as the violation of the Victims and Witness Protection Act, contained in paragraphs 46 through 50, which are part of Count XII of the Complaint, incorporated into Count XV by reference. (Doc. No. 84.) In reply, Smith reiterates his argument that Plaintiff lacks standing. (Doc. No. 87 at 2.)

         In Count XVI, Plaintiff brings a claim of tortious interference with a contract or business expectancy, claiming that “Smith, in his individual and unofficial capacity, intentionally and wrongfully interfered with Plaintiff's economic relationship and expectancy of continued employment, without justification or excuse, which he had through his employment with City of Pine Lawn Police Department by causing Plaintiff to be wrongfully terminated.” (Doc. No. 64 at 29.)

         Smith moves to dismiss Count XVI, claiming that as an official of Pine Lawn, he is indistinct from the city, and cannot therefore tortiously interfere with Plaintiff's relationship with the city. Smith further claims that the complaint contains no allegations that Smith “induced or caused” any breach of a contractual relationship. (Doc. No. 72 at 2.) In response, Plaintiff asserts that a co-employee can be liable for tortious inference if he acts in his own self-interest and outside the scope of his employment. Moreover, Plaintiff states that the complaint is sufficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. In reply, Smith argues that the authority cited by Plaintiff in his opposition brief does not defeat the requirement that a tortious interference claim be brought by a third party.

         In Count XIX, Plaintiff brings various claims against Smith under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff alleges he was exercising his right to free speech when he talked to the FBI and the press, and that the resulting termination was retaliatory and a violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff also claims that he was exercising his freedom of association in carrying out these actions, as provided by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He further asserts that, since he had an expectancy of continued employment and had a liberty and/or property interest in the same, Smith violated Plaintiff's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when Plaintiff was terminated without process or notice. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that Smith violated his rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, as his termination damaged his reputation and ability to obtain future employment.

         Smith moves to dismiss Count XIX, claiming that he is shielded from liability on Plaintiff's claims, under the doctrine of qualified immunity. More specifically, Smith asserts that Plaintiff has not pleaded the deprivation of a protected right, and offers the following arguments in support. First, Plaintiff has not pleaded a retaliation claim under the First Amendment, as he has not alleged Smith terminated his employment or had the authority to do so. Second, Plaintiff has not pleaded a due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment because he has no property interest in future employment. Third, Plaintiff has not pleaded an equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment because the allegations in the complaint were conclusory.

         In response, Plaintiff contends that the entire complaint is sufficient under the federal pleading standards set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Plaintiff further contends that “the ultimate issue turns on whether the alleged infringement is fairly attributable to the state (or governmental entity).” (Doc. No. 84 at 10.) Plaintiff also states that Smith was a willing participant in the actions leading to the denial of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. In reply, Smith argues that Plaintiff's response “detours into an inapposite discussion on Rule 8 and capacity” and “fails to address Smith's qualified immunity[] and . . . various other failings of the Complaint to invoke relief for a denial of any constitutional right.” (Doc. No. 87 at 6.)

         DISCUSSION

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's allegations 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)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (emphasis added). The reviewing court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and construe them in the plaintiff's favor, but it is not required to accept the legal conclusions the plaintiff draws from the facts alleged. Id.; Retro Television Network, Inc. v. Luken Commc'ns, LLC, 696 F.3d 766, 768-69 (8th Cir. 2012).

         COUNT ...


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