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Smith v. Sachse

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

June 28, 2018

TILLMAN SMITH, et al., Plaintiffs [1]
JENNIFER SACHSE, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants (Doc. 17). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. (Doc. 45). For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


         Kevin Hammerschmidt, Plaintiff in this prisoner civil rights action, is currently incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) and confined in Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (“MECC”). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have retaliated against him for using the prison grievance processes and for pursuing legal action to protect his constitutional rights. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have intimidated, obstructed, threatened, and harassed him as well as other prisoners who file grievances, meet with attorneys, or otherwise exercise their rights. He also alleges that Defendants have failed to provide confidential and private spaces for inmates to have legal telephone calls or visits with their attorneys. He brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants Jennifer Sachse, the Warden at MECC, and Alana Boyles, the Division Director of the Division of Adult Institutions, in their official capacities only, and against Joseph Mundwiller, Courtney Diener f/k/a/ Estes, Atif K. Rajput, and Jeff D. Pierce in their official and individual capacities. Defendants are employees of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Defendant Boyles is responsible for the management of Missouri's twenty-one state prisons, including MECC, and is responsible for making rules, regulations, and orders necessary for the management of those facilities, and allegedly is responsible for ensuring that inmates at those facilities are provided with confidential spaces where they may speak with legal counsel. Defendant Sachse, as Warden of MECC, is responsible for the general welfare of individuals incarcerated at MECC, and allegedly is responsible for ensuring inmates at MECC are provided confidential spaces to speak with legal counsel. Defendant Mundwiller is a Functional Unit Manager at MECC, and is responsible for managing, supervising and training the staff in his unit. Defendants Diener and Rajput are case managers at MECC, and in that capacity are responsible for, among other things, making recommendations concerning disciplinary actions, and acting as grievance officers. Defendant Pierce is a Corrections Officer at MECC, and is responsible for, among other things, searching incarcerated individuals, buildings, and grounds for contraband.

         In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts in Count I a retaliation claim in violation of the First and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and in Count II a retaliation claim in violation of Article I, Section 8, of the Missouri Constitution. (Doc. 16). As relief, Plaintiff requests an injunction barring Defendants from retaliating against him for the exercise of his First Amendment rights; an order commanding Defendants to make confidential spaces available for telephone calls and visits with legal counsel; an award of nominal and punitive damages against Defendants Mundwiller, Diener, Rajput, and Pierce; and an award of costs of this suit, attorneys' fees, and litigation expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 17). Defendants also raise the defenses of sovereign and qualified immunity, and assert that Plaintiff's claims under the Missouri Constitution are not legally cognizable.

         Facts as Alleged

         Plaintiff is known to be an active advocate for himself and other prisoners in the MDOC system. He is a member of the advisory board of Missouri CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants), a criminal justice reform organization. He is also enrolled in the Washington University Prison Education Project, and has been described by the directors of that program as having “a flawless behavioral history, ” and being the “soul of the program.” (Doc. 16-3). The principal incident that forms the basis of Plaintiff's claims occurred on September 19, 2016. On that day, Plaintiff consulted with his attorney by telephone concerning the conditions of confinement at MECC. The facility had been without hot water in the kitchen and certain housing units for several months, and Plaintiff was concerned about the unsanitary conditions resulting from the lack of hot water. Because MECC does not provide a private area for attorney-client visits or telephone calls, multiple correctional officers were in the vicinity during the call, and could have overheard the contents of the conversation. Defendant Mundwiller was standing near Plaintiff during the call and overheard Mr. Hammerschmidt mention his name to counsel. After the call ended, Plaintiff expressed concerns about the confidentiality of the attorney-client telephone call to Defendants Mundwiller, Diener, and Rajput. Mere minutes after the call concluded, Defendant Pierce, at the direction of Defendants Sachse, Mundwiller, Diener, and Rajput, ransacked Plaintiff's cell in a purported search for contraband. Plaintiff had never before been accused of bringing contraband into MECC, and no contraband was discovered during the search that day. Plaintiff asserts that the search was conducted in retaliation against him for “being a squeaky wheel, ” due to his efforts to assert his constitutional rights. (Doc. 16 at 14). Plaintiff alleges that he has experienced similar harassment and retaliation on an ongoing basis since the incident in September 2016, and that shortly after filing this complaint his cell was again ransacked without justification.

         Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         I. Legal Standard

         A pleading is deficient and may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) if a plaintiff fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6) is read in conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's allegations must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). 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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “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.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Thus, as a practical matter, a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) should be granted “only in the unusual case in which a plaintiff includes allegations that show, on the face of the complaint, that there is some insuperable bar to relief.” Strand v. Diversified Collection Serv., Inc. 380 F.3d 316, 317 (8th Cir. 2004). The issue on a motion to dismiss is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of his or her claim. See Schuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1976) (a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears “that a recovery is very remote and unlikely”).

         In civil rights actions, a complaint should be liberally construed when determining whether it has stated a cause of action sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. See Frey v. City of Herculaneum, 44 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 1995). Moreover, the reviewing court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and construe them in the plaintiff's favor, though it is not required to accept the legal conclusions the plaintiff draws from the facts alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Retro Television Network, Inc. v. Luken Commc'ns, LLC, 696 F.3d 766, 768-69 (8th Cir. 2012). A court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense, ” and consider the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual allegation. Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n.4 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679); see also Braden v. Walmart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (noting “the complaint should be read as a whole, not parsed piece by piece to determine whether each allegation, in isolation, is plausible”). A motion to dismiss should not be granted merely because a complaint does not state with precision every element of the offense necessary for recovery. Roberts v. Walmart Stores, Inc., 736 F.Supp. 1527, 1528 (E.D.Mo. 1990). “A complaint is sufficient if it contains allegations from which an inference can be drawn that evidence on these material points will be introduced at trial.” Id.

         II. Retaliation Claim

         To state a First Amendment claim of retaliation, a plaintiff must allege that (1) he exercised a constitutionally protected right, (2) a governmental official took adverse action against him, and (3) the adverse action was motivated at least in part by the exercise of the constitutional right. Santiago v. Blair, 707 F.3d 984, 991 (8th Cir. 2013). The First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances protects not only an inmate's right of access to the courts, but also the right to seek redress under established prison grievance procedures. Sprouse v. Babcock, 870 F.2d 450, 452 (8th Cir. 1994). Retaliation against a prisoner for utilizing the prison grievance system or ...

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