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Brooks v. City of St. Louis

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

June 28, 2017

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the motion of the St. Louis defendants to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition.

         On October 4, 2014, DeJuan Brison hanged himself in a cell at the Jennings Detention Center, just hours after he was transferred from the St. Louis City Justice Center. His mother, plaintiff Christina Brooks, filed suit in state court against (1) the City of Jennings, the Jennings Detention Center, Jennings Department of Corrections official Eugene Neal, and corrections officers Rick Crim, Demetrius Staples, Aykan Acikgoz, Kellye Still, Kyle Bashaw, Yvette Harris, and Kevin Stevener (the Jennings defendants); (2) the City of St. Louis, the St. Louis Justice Center, St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass, and corrections officers Joshua Hill, Carl Myers, Lynn Page, and Jermanda Adams (the St. Louis defendants);[1] and (3) St. Louis County police officer Kent Menning. She asserts claims of wrongful death under § 537.080 Mo.Rev.Stat. and civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Jennings defendants removed the case to this Court, invoking federal question jurisdiction pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The St. Louis defendants move to dismiss.

         I. Background

         On October 1, 2014, DeJuan Brison was arrested and booked into the St. Louis City Justice Center. Complaint [Doc. # 3 at ¶25]. The following day, he was placed on full suicide watch, where he remained throughout his detention at the St. Louis Justice Center. Id. at ¶ 26. The City of Jennings had an outstanding warrant for Brison and, on the morning of October 4, 2014, St. Louis County police officer Kent Menning picked Brison up at the St. Louis City Justice Center to take him to the Jennings Detention Center. Id. at ¶¶ 27, 30. The St. Louis defendants failed to inform defendant Menning that Brison had been on suicide watch and he failed to ask for Brison's medical information. Id. at ¶¶28-29. The Jennings defendants failed to identify Brison's medical concerns or have him medically evaluated. Id. at 33. Brison was placed in a one-person cell that was difficult to monitor and in which another inmate had previously hanged himself. Id. at ¶¶ 36-39. At 12:57 p.m., Brison fastened a blanket around his neck and tied it to the bars of his cell door. He was not discovered until 1:21 p.m. Id. at ¶¶ 41-43. Brison was transported to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and placed on life support. He died on October 21, 2014, without regaining consciousness.

         II. Legal Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The factual allegations of a complaint are assumed true and construed in favor of the plaintiff, “even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002)); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations.”); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (stating that a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears “that a recovery is very remote and unlikely”). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of his claim. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236. A viable complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see id. at 563 (stating that the “no set of facts” language in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), “has earned its retirement”); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-84 (2009) (holding that the pleading standard set forth in Twombly applies to all civil actions). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. Discussion

         A. Claims against City of St. Louis and Justice Center

         In Count II, plaintiff asserts a state-law negligence claim against the City of St. Louis. Defendants argue, and plaintiff concedes, that the City is entitled to sovereign immunity. See Folsom v. Morgan Cty., Mo., No. 2:10-CV-04128-NKL, 2011 WL 2417009, at *9 (W.D. Mo. June 13, 2011) (public entity afforded sovereign immunity from tort actions, unless injury arises from (1) operation of a motor vehicle by an agent of the entity; (2) a dangerous condition on the entity's property; or (3) the public entity has waived sovereign immunity by purchasing liability insurance); Mo.Rev.Stat. § 537.600. Count II will be dismissed. Similarly, sovereign immunity also bars plaintiff's negligence claims against the individual defendants in their official capacity. See Montin v. Moore, 846 F.3d 289, 292 (8th Cir. 2017) (sovereign immunity bars any suits against states and their employees in their official capacities).

         In Counts III and V, plaintiff brings state and federal claims against the St. Louis City Justice Center. She concedes that, as a municipal department, the Justice Center is not a suable entity. See Wallace v. St. Louis City Justice CTR, No. 4:12CV2291 JAR, 2013 WL 3773971, at *2 (E.D. Mo. July 17, 2013) (dismissing “frivolous” claim against St. Louis City Justice Center because the Justice Center is not a suable entity). Counts III and V will be dismissed.

         B. Claims Against Individual Defendants

         1. § 1983 Official Capacity Claims

         In Count VI, plaintiff asserts a § 1983 deliberate indifference claims against the individual defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Defendants seek dismissal of the official capacity claims as redundant of the § 1983 ...

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