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Lombardo v. Saint Louis City

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

June 16, 2017

JODY LOMBARDO and BRYAN GILBERT, Plaintiffs,
v.
SAINT LOUIS CITY, RONALD BERGMANN, JOE STUCKEY, PAUL WACTOR, MICHAEL COGNASSO, KYLE MACK, ERICH VONNIDA, BRYAN LEMONS, ZACHARY OPAL, JASON KING, and RONALD DEGREGORIO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NOELLE C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Saint Louis City's (“the City”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) and Defendants Ronald Bergmann, Michael Cognasso, Ronald Degregorio, Jason King, Bryan Lemons, Kyle Mack, Zachary Opal, Joe Stuckey, Erich Vonnida, and Paul Wactor's (collectively “Police Officer Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9). The Motions are fully briefed and ready for disposition. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1) (Doc. 12). For the following reasons, the City's Motion will be GRANTED, in part and DENIED, in part, and the Police Officer Defendants' Motion will be DENIED.

         I. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for a motion to dismiss based on the “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a motion to dismiss a complaint must show “ ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to defeat a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The pleading standard of Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). All reasonable inferences from the complaint must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 1999).

         II. Background

         On October 20, 2016, Plaintiffs Jody Lombardo and Bryan Gilbert (“Plaintiffs”) filed this twenty-count action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Missouri state law against the City and Police Officer Defendants. The Police Officer Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. On December 8, 2015, Plaintiffs' son, Nicholas Gilbert (“Mr. Gilbert”), died while in the custody of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Plaintiffs contend that Mr. Gilbert's death was the direct result of the use of excessive force (Counts V, VII, IX, XII, XIII, XV, XVI, XVII, and XVIII), a deliberate indifference to his need for medical care (Counts VI, VIII, X, XIV, and XIX), and negligence by Defendants (Count XX). Plaintiffs further allege that the City is liable for the death of Mr. Gilbert because its policies, customs, and practices caused the deprivation of Mr. Gilbert's constitutional rights and thus his death (Counts I-IV).

         The facts, in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, are as follows. On December 8, 2015, at approximately 1:35 P.M., Mr. Gilbert was arrested by St. Louis City Police Officers for trespassing (Doc. 1 at ¶18). After transport from the scene, while Mr. Gilbert was handcuffed to a bench during his booking, the booking clerk noted that Mr. Gilbert was acting odd, biting at something and fidgeting in an unusual manner (Id. at ¶¶19-20). Later that day, at about 6:00 P.M., Mr. Gilbert began to act out in his holding cell, allegedly removing his sweat pants and tying them to the cell door in an attempt to hang himself (Id. at ¶¶21-22). An employee of the City alerted police officers that Mr. Gilbert appeared to be attempting to injure himself (Id. at ¶23). Defendants Officer Joe Stuckey, Officer Ronald DeGregorio, and Sergeant Ronald Bergmann responded to the clerk's call and made their way to Mr. Gilbert's holding cell (Id. at ¶25). They all noted that Mr. Gilbert appeared to be demonstrating Organic Brain Syndrome (“OBS”), which is a technical term to describe a person appearing to be emotionally disturbed (Id. at ¶26). Officer Stuckey, Officer DeGregorio, and Sergeant Bergmann entered the holding cell and forced Mr. Gilbert to the ground in an attempt to place his arms in handcuffs (Id. at ¶30). In the process of physically restraining Mr. Gilbert, Officer Stuckey, Officer DeGregorio, and Sergeant Bergmann caused Mr. Gilbert's head to strike the concrete bench inside the holding cell such that Mr. Gilbert sustained a laceration above his eye and immediately began bleeding (Id. at ¶¶31-32). While one officer placed handcuffs on Mr. Gilbert's left hand, two officers placed his right hand in handcuffs and Sergeant Bergmann called for leg shackles and more officers for assistance (Id. at ¶33). Defendants Officer Kyle Mack and Officer Michael Cognasso entered the holding to cell to further restrain Mr. Gilbert (Id. at ¶34). Defendants Officer Erich VonNida, Officer Bryan Lemons, Officer Zachary Opal, and Officer Jason King followed, entering the holding cell and further restraining Mr. Gilbert by holding him down and placing leg shackles on Mr. Gilbert's legs (Id. at ¶35). Five to six officers were utilizing handcuffs, shackles, and their own body weight to restrain Mr. Gilbert (Id. at ¶36). At some point during the encounter, Police Officer Defendants realized Mr. Gilbert was not breathing and contacted the Saint Louis City Fire Department to request an ambulance (Id. at ¶38). Mr. Gilbert was pronounced dead at 7:32 P.M. on December 8, 2015, by the St. Louis Fire Department (Id. at ¶39).

         On December 21, 2016, Defendants filed their Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 7, 9). In its Motion to Dismiss, the City asserts that (1) the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against the City in Counts I, II, III, and IV because Plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts to establish an official policy or unofficial custom for municipal liability under section 1983; (2) the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' claim against the City in Count XX because it is barred by sovereign immunity under Missouri law; and (3) the Court should dismiss the official capacity claims against the ten individually-named police officers because those claims are redundant to the claims against the City (Doc. 7).

         In their Motion to Dismiss, the Police Officer Defendants assert that (1) the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against the Police Officer Defendants in their individual capacities in Counts V, VII, IX, XII, XIII, XV, XVI, XVII, and XVIII based on qualified immunity because Plaintiffs failed to plead sufficient facts demonstrating the Police Officer Defendants used force that was not objectively reasonable under the circumstances; (2) the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against the Police Officer Defendants in their individual capacities in Counts VI, VIII, X, XIV, and XIX based on qualified immunity because Plaintiffs failed to plead sufficient facts demonstrating that the Police Officer Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a medical need; and (3) the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' state-law claims against the Police Officer Defendants in Count XX because they are barred by official immunity (Doc. 9).

         III. Analysis

         A. The City's Motion to Dismiss

         1. Monell Liability

         First, the City asserts that the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against the City in Counts I, II, III, and IV because Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to establish an official policy or unofficial custom for municipal liability under section 1983 (Doc. 7 at 1-2). In Monell v. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), the United States Supreme Court held that municipalities may be sued under Section 1983 where “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated” by the municipality. 436 U.S. at 690. Although Plaintiffs need not identify the specific unconstitutional policy to survive a motion to dismiss, they must, at the very least, allege facts that would support the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom. See Crumpley-Patterson v. Trinity Lutheran Hosp., 388 F.3d 588, 591 (8th Cir. 2004).

         The Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged facts which would support the existence of an unconstitutional official policy or unofficial custom to establish municipal liability under section 1983. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that the City “maintained policies, procedures, customs and/or practices for proper restraining procedures to be used on emotionally disturbed arrestees and detainees, including Mr. Gilbert” (Doc. 1 at ¶51). Plaintiffs further allege that the Police Officer Defendants acted in accordance with these policies, procedures, customs, and/or practices when they used excessive and unreasonable force to restrain Mr. Gilbert (Id. at ¶53). Plaintiffs also allege that (1) it was evident that Mr. Gilbert was in need of medical attention due to his exhibiting clear signs of OBS, (2) Police Officer Defendants knew or should have known that Mr. Gilbert was injured, emotionally disturbed, and required medical attention, and (3) the failure to provide immediate medical care for Mr. Gilbert deprived him of his constitutional and statutory rights and caused his untimely death (Id. at ¶¶97-99). Plaintiffs further assert that Police Officer Defendants acted in accordance with unidentified policies, procedures, customs, and/or practices when they were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Gilbert's serious medical needs (Id. at ¶101). Although fairly threadbare, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a claim for municipal liability under Monell. See, e.g., Holloway v. Ameristar Casino St. Charles, Inc., No. 4:07 CV 218 DDN, 2008 WL 762086, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 19, 2008) (finding Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged facts that could plausibly support the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom, in large part, because Plaintiff alleged that (1) the entity willfully participated with the officer to deprive her of her constitutional rights, and (2) the entity created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred). Accordingly, the Court must deny this point.

         2. ...


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