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Watson v. City of Maplewood

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

October 20, 2017

ROSETTA WATSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MAPLEWOOD, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JEAN C. HAMILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the City of Maplewood Missouri's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for Failure to State a Claim, filed June 19, 2017. (ECF No. 21). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         Defendants in this case are the City of Maplewood (“Maplewood” or “the City”), Maplewood City Manager Martin Corcoran (“Corcoran”), Maplewood Chief of Police Stephen Kruse (“Kruse”), and Maplewood Director of Public Works and Assistant City Manager Anthony Traxler (“Traxler”). (Compl., ¶ 2). Defendants enacted laws including Chapter 12, Article II of the Maplewood Code of Ordinances, § 12-25, which requires every resident to obtain and maintain an occupancy permit from the City, and Chapter 34, Article VIII of the Maplewood Code of Ordinances, §§ 34-240 et seq., which defines nuisances and authorizes officials to revoke a resident's occupancy permit if the nuisance is not abated. (Id., ¶¶ 2, 3). Hereinafter, these two sections collectively will be referred to as the “Nuisance Policy.”

         As relevant here, the Nuisance Policy defines “nuisance” as follows:

In addition to any other act declared to be a nuisance by this Code or other ordinances of the city, nuisances are hereby defined and declared to be as follows:….
(17) Any premises upon which any of the following acts or conditions have occurred or continue to occur, whether by the owner, occupants or persons frequenting or congregating about the property:
Commission of acts which are prohibited by federal law or state statute committed within the premises, or on the property thereof, or within the immediate vicinity of the property, and which have resulted in arrests that are classified as felonies occurring two or more times within a period of 90 days which acts affect the safety, convenience and tranquility of persons residing, making use or conducting business within the adjacent area;….
More than two instances within a 180-day period of commission of acts which are prohibited by state statute or city ordinance committed within the premises, or on the property thereof, or within the immediate vicinity of the property and which have resulted in arrests which acts affect the safety, convenience and tranquility of persons residing, making use or conducting business within the adjacent area;….
More than two instances within a 180-day period of incidents of peace disturbance or domestic violence resulting in calls to [] the police.

(ECF No. 1-1, PP. 9-11). The Nuisance Policy further provides the following with respect to abatement:

In all other cases [other than those in which an immediate threat to the public health, welfare or safety is apparent], the city manager or his designee shall hold a hearing [to] determine whether a nuisance exists and whether and how it should be abated.
(a) At least five days' notice shall be given of such hearing to the owner and occupant of the premises upon which the alleged nuisance exists, or to such person's agent, and to the person causing or maintaining the alleged nuisance if other than the owner or occupant and if such person can be found. Such notices shall be given in writing and delivered in person to the party's residence or place of business.
(b) All interested parties may appear at the hearing and testify and present evidence concerning the alleged nuisance.
(c) In determining whether the activity or conditions constitute a nuisance, the city manager or his designee shall consider the following factors:
1. The magnitude of the harm caused by the alleged detrimental activity or conditions;
2. The length of time that the alleged detrimental activity or conditions have existed;
3. The effect of the activity or conditions at the property on the value of adjacent properties and those in the surrounding area;
4. The number of times that public safety officers have been dispatched to the property; and
5. The extent of efforts by the owner or person having charge of the property to remedy the alleged detrimental activity or conditions.
(d) If, after the hearing, it is found that a nuisance exists and that it must be abated, the city manager or his designee may order the owner or occupant of the premises on which the nuisance exists or the person other than the owner or occupant who caused or maintains the nuisance, to abate the nuisance within a prescribed period of time, or abate it by other means.
(e) The city manager or his designee shall effect the abatement of the nuisance by any measures necessary to cause its cessation and the prevention of its recurrence, including the ordering of revocation of occupancy permits for the persons residing at the dwelling or place of business where the nuisance has occurred and the denial of occupancy permits within the city to those persons for a period not to exceed six months, or the closure of the premise where the nuisance has occurred for a period not to exceed six months.

(Id., P. 12).

         From June, 2010, until approximately June, 2012, Plaintiff Rosetta Watson (“Watson”) lived at 2507 Bellevue Avenue, Apt. 9, Maplewood, Missouri (hereinafter “the Property”). (Compl., ¶ 16). Watson's rent at the Property was subsidized by a Section 8 voucher issued by the Housing Authority of St. Louis County. (Id., ¶ 41).

         During the relevant time period, Watson was the victim of repeated domestic violence attacks perpetrated by her former boyfriend, Robert Hennings (“Hennings”). (Compl., ¶ 42). Watson describes the incidents as follows:

45. On September 24, 2011, Hennings visited Ms. Watson at the Property, where he began drinking and verbally abusing her. After she asked him to leave, she closed the front door of the Property and latched the chain. Later, Hennings returned to the Property and began knocking on the front door. Ms. Watson, who was in bed asleep at the time, told Hennings that he was not allowed inside. Hennings kicked open the front door and entered Ms. Watson's bedroom. Hennings told Ms. Watson that he was “no longer on papers” and was going to “kick [her] ass.” He struck her in her face with a closed fist.
46. Fearing more physical abuse, Ms. Watson fled the Property and called the police. Police arrived and arrested Hennings for assault in the third degree. They also photographed lacerations on Ms. Watson's lip and the damage to her front door.
47. On November 8, 2011, Ms. Watson again sought police assistance when Hennings shoved her in her home. When police arrived, Hennings admitted he had shoved her. Police arrested Hennings for domestic assault in the third degree.
48. On January 7, 2012, Ms. Watson contacted the police because she became fearful during an argument with Hennings and wanted him to leave her home. When police arrived, Hennings agreed to return to his residence.
49. On February 22, 2012, Ms. Watson returned after a trip and found Hennings at the Property. She wanted him to leave, but he refused. Hennings struck Ms. Watson's breast and began to choke her, and Ms. Watson physically defended herself. She called the police, and Hennings fled the Property.
50. The police apprehended Hennings away from the Property and arrested him for domestic assault in the third degree. Ms. Watson was issued a summons for domestic assault in the third degree based on injury to ...

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