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Payne v. Saint Louis City of Missouri

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

January 29, 2018




         This matter, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Missouri common law for false imprisonment, is before the Court on the motion of eight of thirteen Defendants in this case, [1] to dismiss Plaintiff Destiny Payne's amended complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, and on the basis of qualified or absolute immunity. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


         Plaintiff's claims arise out of her 15-day detention at the St. Louis City Medium Security Institution (“MSI”) after criminal charges against her were dismissed, and out of the unsanitary conditions of her confinement, which lasted for seven months in total.

         Plaintiff names as Defendants the City of St. Louis (the “City”) and the following individuals, solely in their individual capacities: Vernon Betts, the Sheriff of the City; Charlene Deeken, the Director of the City's Department of Public Safety; Dale Glass, the Commissioner of the City's Division of Corrections; Kimberly Gardner, the City's Circuit Attorney; Aaron Levinson, the City's Assistant Circuit Attorney; Thomas Kloeppinger, the Clerk of the City's circuit court; and Lyda Krewson, the City's mayor (collectively, “Movants”). Plaintiff also named the following “unknown” Defendants, in their individual capacities: Unknown Fields, a supervisor of corrections officers at MSI; Unknown Kratky, an employee of the City's Sheriff's office; Unknown Supervisor, the supervisor of MSI; Unknown Manager, the manager of inmate releases at MSI.[2]

         Plaintiff alleges that she was arrested on October 26, 2016, after being questioned by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police about a robbery. Plaintiff was detained at MSI. On January 5, 2017, Plaintiff was indicted on criminal charges[3] in the City's circuit court. The court set Plaintiff's bond at $40, 000, with 10% cash. Because Plaintiff could not afford to post bond, she continued to be detained at MSI.

         On May 11, 2017, Assistant Circuit Attorney Levinson filed a Memorandum of Nolle Prosequi, which the state court accepted and which dismissed the charges against Plaintiff. By that time, Plaintiff had spent 196 days in detention at MSI. After May 11, 2017, Plaintiff remained in MSI for an additional 15 days.

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 24, 2017, Mayor Krewson visited MSI, and spoke to two staff members “about the operation of the jail.” Am. Compl., ECF No. 9 ¶ 36. On May 25, 2017, “a supervisor at [MSI] saw Plaintiff still in detention and asked her, ‘You're still here?'.” Id. ¶ 38. At that time, Plaintiff had not been told that she was being unlawfully detained. Id. ¶ 39. The same day, May 25, 2017, “Kratky was informed that Plaintiff should have been released from custody when the charges against Plaintiff had been dropped, ” and upon hearing that information, Kratky stated, “Not this again.” Id. ¶¶ 40-41. The two staff members who had spoken with Krewson the day before also came to Plaintiffs cell on May 25, 2017. These staff members “did not speak to Plaintiff, and they left when corrections officers ordered Plaintiff to leave her cell.” Id. ¶ 42. Plaintiff was transferred to the St. Louis City Justice Center on May 25, 2017, and released from custody around 3:00 a.m. on May 26, 2017.

         Plaintiff alleges that for the duration of her seven-month stay at MSI, including the 15 days after charges against her were dismissed, she was subjected to the following conditions of confinement, which she alleges all Defendants knew about: she was verbally abused by MSI staff; did not receive proper medical treatment for a dental condition; was forced to sleep in a mold-infested facility and a facility with a bug infestation, “with many of the bugs larger than cockroaches”; and was subjected to quarantines due to the unsanitary state of the jail, including a quarantine for a lice outbreak during her last several days of detention. Id. ¶¶ 46-51, 67.

         Plaintiff alleges that Betts, Deeken, Fields, Glass, Kratky, and certain of the unknown Defendants have a responsibility to determine when people are supposed to be released from the custody of Defendant City of St. Louis and to provide for their immediate release, and that Gardner, Levinson, and Kloeppinger have a responsibility to communicate the dismissal of criminal charges to those with direct custody over people incarcerated by the City to ensure the immediate release of innocent citizens. Id. ¶¶ 53-55. She further alleges that Deeken, Fields, Glass, Krewson, and certain of the unknown Defendants have or had a responsibility to maintain safe conditions for people detained at MSI. Id. ¶ 52.

         Next, Plaintiff alleges that, aside from her, other people residing in corrections institutions in St. Louis City were unlawfully detained after charges had been dropped against them, including clients of the Missouri State Public Defender System, and that all Defendants knew this was the case. Id. ¶¶ 57-58. Plaintiff further alleges that all Defendants have or had the responsibility to set policies, direct staff training, and establish patterns or practices of the City with respect to the incarceration and release of individuals entitled to release, and with respect to maintaining safe and sanitary conditions at MSI, and that Defendants knowingly failed in these responsibilities, thus causing Plaintiff to be wrongfully incarcerated and wrongfully punished. Id. ¶¶ 56-76. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions caused her physical harm and severe emotional distress.

         Plaintiff's amended complaint contains 10 counts: Fourth Amendment, due process, and state-law false imprisonment claims, arising out of her 15-day wrongful incarceration and asserted against Betts, Deeken, Fields, Glass, Gardner, Levinson, Kloeppinger, and certain of the unknown Defendants (Counts I, II, and IV); a due process claim arising out of her conditions of confinement and asserted against Deeken, Fields, Glass, Krewson, and certain of the unknown Defendants (Count III); and supervisory claims asserted against all Defendants for failure to establish policies, failure to properly train staff, and establishing a pattern or practice with respect to wrongful incarceration of citizens (Counts V, VI, and VII) and with respect to safe and sanitary conditions of confinement for pretrial detainees (Counts VIII, IX, and X). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         In Counts I, II, and IV, Plaintiff alleges that the named Defendants “knew or should have known that Plaintiff was wrongfully imprisoned” and that these Defendants were “directly responsible for depriving Plaintiff of her freedom.” Id. ¶¶ 81, 83, 93, 95, 125. Plaintiff likewise alleges in Count III that the named Defendants subjected Plaintiff to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions and were “directly responsible” for those conditions. Id. ¶¶ 104, 115.


         Movants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against the City because she has failed to plausibly allege that her injuries were caused by any unconstitutional policy, pattern, or practice of the City. Movants argue that a single instance of improperly prolonged incarceration is insufficient to establish an unconstitutional custom, and Movants contend that Plaintiff has not adequately identified any other persons who were unlawfully detained by the City after charges against them were dropped. Movants further argue that Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that her conditions of confinement were so extreme as to deprive her of the minimal civilized measures of life's necessities, which Movants contend is required to state a constitutional violation.

         Next, Movants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against the individual Movants named in each count because Plaintiff has failed to allege that any of them was personally involved in violating Plaintiff's rights. Movants further argue that Plaintiff's federal claims against the individual Movants are barred by qualified immunity, and that prosecutors Gardner and Levinson and court clerk Kloeppinger are also entitled to absolute immunity for all claims. Finally, Movants argue that the public duty doctrine bars Plaintiff's false imprisonment claims because any duties Movants owed with respect to the false imprisonment were owed to the general public, not Plaintiff individually.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that she has adequately stated a claim against the City by pleading that there is a pattern and practice in the City of wrongful incarceration in circumstances similar to that suffered by Plaintiff, as evidenced by the “Not this again” statement by Kratky, and by pleading that several clients of the Missouri Public Defender were unlawfully detained by the City after charges had been dropped against them. Further, Plaintiff argues that she has sufficiently pled that the City failed to establish effective policies and failed to properly train staff with respect to the alleged violations of her constitutional rights, which is sufficient to state a claim for municipal liability under § 1983.

         Next, Plaintiff argues that she has sufficiently pled the personal involvement of the Movants named in each count, and that, at this pre-discovery stage, she has named “those officials she currently knows of who were responsible for depriving her of her rights.” Plaintiff argues that “[f]or detainees to be released as required under the law, orders must somehow be given to custodial authorities to release people, ” and that, as pled by Plaintiff, “Gardner, Levinson, and Kloeppinger were the responsible parties within the justice system to notify custodial authorities that Plaintiff should be released.” ECF No. 23 at 10. Plaintiff contends that the remaining Movants are the custodial authorities, employed by the Sheriff's Office and the Department of Public Safety, which includes the Division of Corrections, and which, according to the City's public website, has control over the custodial care of pretrial and sentenced inmates confined at MSI. ECF No. 23 at 11 (citing Plaintiff further argues that she has adequately pled a constitutional violation for her conditions of confinement, which occurred over a seven-month period.

         Next, Plaintiff contends that Movants are not entitled to qualified immunity because the rights cited in her complaint are all clearly established; and that Gardner, Levinson, and Kloeppinger are not entitled to absolute immunity because they acted beyond the scope of their positions. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the public duty doctrine does not apply to Plaintiff's ...

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