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Chestnut v. Wallace

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

March 14, 2017

DAWAIN WALLACE, et al, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss the amended complaint and supporting memorandum filed by Defendants City of St. Louis and Officers Wallace and Burns (collectively, “Movants”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[1] (ECF Nos. 16 & 17). The motion to dismiss is denied.

         I. Background

         The facts, as alleged in the amended complaint, are as follows: At approximately 6:00 p.m. on February 6, 2015, Plaintiff was jogging on a trail that loops in and around Tower Grove Park, when he observed a traffic stop conducted by City of St. Louis police officers. (ECF No. 14). According to the amended complaint, Plaintiff, who was wearing “a nylon jogging suit, a bright yellow t-shirt for visibility, a colored sweatband around his head, and gloves” and carrying on his person only a house key, “stopped to observe the traffic stop from a distance of approximately 30 feet, across Arsenal Street, while standing on or near the perimeter jogging trail within Tower Grove Park.” (Id. at 3-4). Plaintiff stated that he remained silent and did not interfere with the traffic stop. (Id. at 4). While observing the stop, Plaintiff was illuminated by the stopped vehicles' headlamps. (Id.).

         Plaintiff alleged that, at approximately 6:05 p.m., Officers Wallace and Burns approached Plaintiff, and Officer Wallace accused Plaintiff of behaving suspiciously. (Id.). Officer Wallace asked Plaintiff for his name and address and frisked him. (Id.). After Plaintiff identified himself, Officer Wallace ordered Officers Burns and Ludwig to handcuff Plaintiff, and “Defendant Police Officers handcuffed [Plaintiff].” (Id.). Plaintiff remained in handcuffs until approximately 6:25 p.m., when a sergeant appeared on the scene and ordered Plaintiff released. (Id.).

         Plaintiff stated that he filed a complaint with the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on February 20, 2015. (Id. at 5). On October 27, 2015, IAD Commander Lt. Adam Koeln telephoned Plaintiff and advised him that, “pursuant to St. Louis Police policy, people who merely stop to watch police action are engaging in suspicious behavior that subjects them to stop, frisk, and arrest.” (Id.). In a letter dated March 1, 2016, Lt. Koeln informed Plaintiff that “an allegation of misconduct could not be sustained against any of the officers involved in this incident.” (Id. at 6). Lt. Koeln sent Plaintiff a second letter on March 15, 2016 advising Plaintiff that IAD had completed and closed the investigation. (Id.).

         Plaintiff filed a two-count petition under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. In Count I, Plaintiff alleged unlawful detention and arrest against Officers Wallace and Burns in their individual capacities. (ECF No. 14 at 7-8). In Count II, which Plaintiff brought against the City of St. Louis only, he claimed “unlawful detention and arrest caused by unconstitutional municipal policy.” (Id. at 9-10). In both counts, Plaintiff requested damages “for psychological and emotional injury, humiliation, embarrassment, costs and expenses, and for attorney's fees as provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1988.”[2] (Id. at 8, 10).

         Movants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 16). Officers Wallace and Burns further claim that they are protected by qualified immunity. (Id.).

         II. Legal standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). A viable complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When considering a motion to dismiss, the reviewing court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and construe them in the plaintiff's favor. Id.

         III. Discussion

         A. Count I - Section 1983 claim against Officers Wallace and Burns

         Officers Wallace and Burns move to dismiss Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against them in their individual capacities on the basis of qualified immunity. More specifically, they argue that Plaintiff did not establish a violation of a constitutional right because “the stop alleged by Plaintiff meets the Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness as a matter of law.” (ECF No. 17 at 4). In response, Plaintiff asserts that Officers Wallace and Burns are not entitled to qualified immunity because a “suspicionless stop, frisk, and arrest for watching police conduct a traffic stop violates well-established Fourth Amendment rights.”[3] (ECF No. 18 at 6).

         “Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from money damages unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “Requiring the alleged violation of law to be ‘clearly established' balances . . . the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2067 (2014) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). To prevail on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity, ...

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