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Collins v. City of Pine Lawn

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

March 31, 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 (ECF No. 89) of Defendant City of Pine Lawn, Missouri (“Pine Lawn”) to dismiss the claims of Plaintiff Rickey Collins asserted against it in the Second Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff asserts 11 claims against Pine Lawn, arising out of his termination as the Chief of Police for Pine Lawn.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

         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 against Pine Lawn in the Complaint[2] (ECF No. 64).

         Plaintiff served in his capacity as Chief of Police for Pine Lawn since May 2007. Defendant Sylvester Caldwell is the former mayor of Pine Lawn, and Defendant Donnell Smith was the City Attorney for Pine Lawn. Plaintiff alleges that as Chief of Police, he learned about illegal activities conducted by Caldwell, and informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) about such activities. 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 he also reported Caldwell's activities to elected officials, and reported that Caldwell had fired Pine Lawn police officers without cause. Plaintiff alleges that “Pine Lawn officials were informed that Collins would be reporting the Mayor to the authorities, ” and that his reports of the Mayor's illegal activity resulted in a hostile work environment that culminated in his termination. ECF No. 64 at 6.

         With respect to his termination, Plaintiff claims that the Board of Aldermen for Pine Lawn suspended and later terminated him without an adequate hearing in a meeting that was not in compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010, 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.

         Counts I through XI of the Complaint are brought against Pine Lawn. Counts I through IV are state-law claims for common law “whistleblower” liability (Count I), “common law retaliation - violation of state constitution” (Count II), “common law retaliation - acting as a witness” (Count III), and violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law (Count IV). With respect to each of these claims, Plaintiff alleges that “Pine Lawn has procured liability insurance that would provide coverage for” the claim. ECF No. 64 at 8-12. Counts V through X are federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of Plaintiff's constitutional right to free speech (Count V), free association (Count VI), equal protection / protection from discrimination (Count VII and X), [3] due process with respect to liberty interests (Count VIII), and due process with respect to property interests (Count IX). Count XI is a federal claim alleging violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

         ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES

         Pine Lawn argues that Plaintiff's state-law claims are barred by sovereign immunity. According to Pine Lawn, Plaintiff's allegations regarding insurance coverage for the claims at issue-which seek to invoke a statutory exception to Missouri's sovereign immunity statutes-are conclusory and should be disregarded. Alternatively, Pine Lawn has attached a copy of its insurance policy and argues that it conclusively shows that the claims are not covered. Pine Lawn argues that Count IV, alleging violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law, is not only barred by sovereign immunity but also fails because, even assuming that Plaintiff has adequately alleged facts demonstrating that the board meeting at issue violated the Sunshine Law (which Pine Lawn states that it does not concede), Plaintiff's claim is barred by the Sunshine Law's one-year statute of limitations.

         With respect to Plaintiff's federal claims, Pine Lawn incorporates the arguments raised by Smith in his motion to dismiss, including that Plaintiff failed to state a due process or equal protection claim.

         Pine Lawn further argues that Plaintiff fails to adequately allege municipal liability under § 1983 because his claims lack any factual allegations of an unconstitutional policy or custom as the moving force behind the alleged deprivation of rights. Pine Lawn argues that “the final policymaker in a fourth class city [like Pine Lawn] is the collective of the mayor and the board of alderm[e]n” pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 79.110. ECF No. 90 at 5. Pine Lawn argues more specifically that, under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 79.240 (2013), the Mayor could not have removed an appointive officer without the majority approval of the Board of Aldermen, and that Plaintiff's allegations regarding the Board of Aldermen's purported wrongful termination of Plaintiff are either conclusory or fail to state a claim as a matter of law.

         Finally, Pine Lawn argues that Plaintiff fails to state a § 1981 claim because he has not alleged any facts in support of such a claim.

         In response to Pine Lawn's motion, Plaintiff argues that sovereign immunity does not apply to his state-law claims for retaliatory discharge because those claims allege intentional actions and involve proprietary functions not subject to sovereign immunity. Plaintiff also argues that sovereign immunity does not apply to his Sunshine Law claim because that claim alleges a statutory violation, rather than a tort claim. Plaintiff does not address or make any argument with respect to the insurance policy attached to Pine Lawn's motion. Nor does Plaintiff respond to Pine Lawn's assertion that his Sunshine Law claim is barred by the statute of limitations.

         With respect to his federal claims, Plaintiff argues that he has adequately stated claims for municipal liability for constitutional violations under § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that he has pled sufficient facts to establish that “persons with policy making authority were involved with the deprivation of rights” alleged here. ECF No. 93 at 11.

         Plaintiff also argues that he has pled sufficient facts to establish the underlying constitutional violations. With respect to his First Amendment claims, he argues that he has adequately pled that his speech on matters of public concern, namely, his reporting of illegal activities to internal supervisors and to the FBI and press, and his “association with the FBI and press” in this regard, were motivating factors in Pine Lawn's decision to terminate him. With respect to his equal protection and discrimination claims, Plaintiff simply argues that he has “pled sufficient facts” to make out a violation. Regarding his due process claims, Plaintiff points to Chapter 84 of the Missouri Revised Statutes to argue that he had a constitutionally protected interest in continued employment. Plaintiff also argues that he has adequately pled a deprivation of his liberty interest ...


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