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Bailey v. Barrett

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

May 2, 2018

JONATHAN D. BAILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL BARRETT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          BETH PHILLIPS, JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this suit in state court, alleging that (1) his rights under the United States and Missouri Constitutions were violated when his employment was terminated because of statements that he made on matters of public concern, and (2) he is entitled to the return of personal property that was in his office. Defendants removed the case to federal court, and then filed a Motion to Dismiss. As discussed below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not stated a legally viable claim based on the Missouri Constitution, so the Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. 10), is granted to that extent. Defendants' motion is denied in all other respects.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the Petition filed in state court (which the Court hereafter refers to as the Complaint), Plaintiff was a trial attorney for the Missouri State Public Defender System, (“MSPD”). He worked for District 16, which covers Jackson County, from February 26, 2013 until he was fired on June 28, 2017. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 17-18, ¶¶ 3, 13.)[1] At the time of Plaintiff's termination, Defendant Michael Barrett was the Director of MSPD, and Defendant Ellen Blau was the Trial Division Director for MSPD; their offices were in Columbia and St. Louis, respectively. (Doc. 1-1, p. 17, ¶ 4.) Both Defendants “were responsible for employment decisions within the Trial Division.” (Doc. 1-1, p. 18, ¶ 9.)

         On approximately June 26, 2017, Plaintiff learned that Barret “had received an award for being the most outstanding Public Defender. In response, [Plaintiff] posted the following on Facebook.

What a joke. The outstanding public defender of the year is our director. . . . I'm still waiting for ANY CHANGE TO ACTUALLY BE INITIATED BY THE SYSTEM INSTEAD OF RIDICULOUS GO NOWHERE PUBLICITY STUNTS!! Here's an idea - give an award to an actual attorney that fights for clients, instead of glad handing and going no where [sic] in Jeff City and not having balls to decline cases, go to non-vertical representation, or a million other practical things that would actually help our system.”

(Doc. 1-1, p. 19, ¶ 14 (capitalization in original).)

         The next day, Plaintiff met with Leon Munday, the Deputy Trial Division Director, and Joseph Meggerman, the Assistant District Defender for District 16. During the meeting Plaintiff discussed his concerns about MSPD policies and practices and proposed reforms. The Complaint's description of this meeting does not indicate that there was any disruption, disharmony, or other effect from Plaintiff's Facebook post. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 19-20, ¶¶ 15-16.) The day after Plaintiff's meeting with Munday and Meggerman, both Defendants “travelled to the Kansas City trial office, where [Plaintiff] was working, ” and Blau met with Plaintiff. (Doc. 1-1, p. 16, ¶ 18.) “Blau told [Plaintiff] his employment was terminated as a result of his speech, calling it ‘insubordination.'” (Doc. 1-1, p. 16, ¶ 18.)

         The Complaint contains two counts. Count I alleges that Plaintiff's termination violated his rights under “the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and similar provisions in the Constitution of Missouri.” (Doc. 1-1, p. 24, ¶ 28.) Count II seeks the return of “personal, professional-related material on the MSPD computer system, ” including “form pleadings, motions, research, resumes, and CLE presentation material.” (Doc. 1-1, p. 10, ¶ 33.) Defendants contend that all of the claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim, and the claim under the United States Constitution should also be dismissed based on qualified immunity. Plaintiff has not addressed Defendants' arguments about the Missouri Constitution, but opposes dismissal of his other claims. The Court resolves these issues below.

         II. DISCUSSION

         When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept as true all of the complaint's factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff[ ].” Stodghill v. Wellston School Dist., 512 F.3d 472, 476 (8th Cir. 2008).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations and citations omitted). A claim is facially plausible if it allows the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged. E.g., Horras v. American Capital Strategies, Ltd., 729 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2013).

         Dismissal based on an affirmative defense - such as qualified immunity - is permissible if the Complaint establishes that the defense exists. E.g., C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Lobrano,695 F.3d 758, 763-64 (8th Cir. 2012). “Qualified immunity involves the following two-step inquiry: (1) whether the facts shown by the plaintiff make out a violation of a constitutional or statutory right, and (2) whether that right was clearly ...


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