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Smith v. Finch

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

July 2, 2018

MATTHEW S. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
DEAN FINCH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Darren Garrison, Circuit Clerk of Wayne County, Missouri (“Defendant Garrison”) and Laura Yount, employee of the Office of the Circuit Clerk of Wayne County, Missouri (“Defendant Yount”) (collectively, “Defendants”).[1] (Doc. 62). The motion has been fully briefed, and the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. (Doc. 73).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In September 2015, an officer from the Missouri Highway Patrol provided, under oath, a probable cause statement seeking the arrest of a Matthew Smith who was born in 1985 and had an address in Perryville, Missouri (“1985 Smith”). (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) The statement provided that the Matthew Smith sought was 30 years of age, and it contained the 1985 Smith's Social Security Number. (Id.) Pursuant to the probable cause statement, an information was filed in the Circuit Court of Wayne County. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         Defendant Garrison is the Circuit Clerk of Wayne County, Missouri. (Id. at ¶ 5). Defendant Yount is an employee of the Office of the Circuit Clerk of Wayne County, Missouri. (Id. at ¶ 6). On September 8, 2015, Defendant Garrison, Defendant Yount, or another one of Defendant Garrison's employees completed a warrant or warrant application for the arrest of a Matthew Smith. (Id. at ¶ 11-12.) Defendant Garrison's duty and his employees' duty was simply to type the information from the probable cause statement and information into the arrest warrant. (Id. at ¶ 17). However, when completing the warrant application, instead of using the information in the probable cause statement and the information identifying the 1985 Smith, Defendant Yount or Defendant Garrison inserted the birth date and age of Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 13-14.) Plaintiff's birthdate is in 1961, his address at that time was in St. Charles, Missouri, and his age was 54. (Id. at ¶ 15.) An arrest warrant was issued, and the 1985 Smith was arrested and posted bond. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

         On October 23, 2015, another arrest warrant for the 1985 Smith was authorized in the same proceeding. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Instead of issuing an arrest warrant for the 1985 Smith as listed in the probable cause statement and information, Defendant Yount, Defendant Garrison, or someone from Defendant Garrison's office issued a second warrant application seeking the arrest and jailing of Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Defendant Garrison signed the warrant containing the erroneous information without reviewing its accuracy. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Defendant Garrison did not provide any training to his employees regarding the proper method of entering data from an information or probable cause statement into a warrant application. (Id. at ¶ 30.) The warrant application was presented to the Circuit Court of Wayne County without notice that the data in it had been changed and was different from the data in the information and probable cause statement. (Id. at ¶ 28). The warrant was issued based upon the erroneous data. (Id. at ¶ 29).

         An employee of the Office of the Sherriff for Wayne County entered the warrant for the arrest of Plaintiff into MULES and other police-used communications that seek the arrest and detention of individuals. (Id. at ¶ 33). Defendant Dean Finch is the Sheriff of Wayne County. (Id. at ¶ 2). There is no custom or practice in Defendant Finch's office to review or provide for the accuracy of information in arrest warrants when the information is entered into MULES. (Id. at ¶ 34).

         In October of 2015, Plaintiff was travelling internationally. (Id. at ¶ 35.) On October 30, 2015, Plaintiff returned from Hong Kong, arriving at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Because of the arrest warrant, the United States Customs Service detained Plaintiff as he was going through customs and turned him over to the Chicago Police Department (“Chicago PD”). (Id. at ¶¶ 37-38.) Chicago PD representatives and the attorney then representing Plaintiff contacted the Wayne County Sherriff's Department that afternoon to request confirmation that the warrant seeking Plaintiff's arrest was valid. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Defendant Stacey Sikes was on duty at the Wayne County Sherriff's Department. (Id.) She did not undertake any review of the warrant but advised the Chicago PD that Plaintiff should be held without bail. (Id.) The Chicago PD placed Plaintiff in the Cook County Jail until a court hearing could be held. (Id. at ¶ 40.) The next afternoon, on October 31, 2015, Plaintiff's attorney, officials from the Cook County Prosecutor's Office, and/or representatives of the Chicago PD contacted the Wayne County Sherriff's Department a second time to request confirmation that the arrest warrant for Plaintiff was valid. (Id. at ¶ 42.) This time, the representative undertook a review of the warrant and informed the Chicago PD that it was erroneous. (Id.) Plaintiff was subsequently released. (Id. at ¶ 44.)

         Plaintiff was never charged with possession of illegal drugs, was never on bail, and had no charges pending against him in Wayne County or any other jurisdiction. (Id. at ¶ 46.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' acts were outrageous and done with malice, or in the alternative were willful and wanton and done with a conscious disregard for Plaintiff's rights. (Id. at ¶ 48).

         In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts seven claims: (I) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Finch and Sikes; (II) violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010 et seq., against Defendant Finch; (III) negligence against Defendants Finch and Sikes; (IV) false imprisonment against Defendants Finch and Sikes; (V) violation of § 1983 against Defendants Garrison and Yount; (VI) negligence against Defendants Garrison and Yount; (VII) false imprisonment against Defendants Garrison and Yount; and (VIII) ultra vires acts against Defendants Garrison and Yount.

         Defendants Garrison and Yount now move to dismiss Counts V, VI, VII, and VIII under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, but it need not accept legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “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.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim satisfies the plausibility standard “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).

         III. Discussion

         In the instant motion, Defendants argue that Counts V, VI, VII, and VIII should be dismissed for several reasons. First, Defendants argue that any official capacity claims against Defendant Yount are not cognizable under § 1983 and are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Second, Defendants argue that Count V (Plaintiff's § 1983 claim) is barred by absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Third, Defendant Garrison argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Defendant Garrison in Count V because an official cannot be held vicariously liable for the tortious conduct of his subordinates under § 1983, because Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to support a failure to train or supervise claim against Defendant Garrison, and because Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Garrison amount to, at most, negligence. Fourth, Defendants argue Count V is barred by qualified immunity. Fifth, Defendants argue that Count VI (negligence) and Count VII (false imprisonment) are barred by Missouri's judicial immunity doctrine. Sixth, Defendants argue that Count VI (negligence) is barred by the public duty doctrine. Seventh, Defendants argue that Count VII (false imprisonment) and Count VIII (ultra vires acts) should be dismissed because Plaintiff has alleged no more than negligence.

         A. To the Extent that Plaintiff Is Asserting Claims Against Defendant Yount in Her Official Capacity, Those Claims Are Dismissed

         In the caption of his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff states that he is bringing the action against “Laura Yount, individually and in her official capacity . . .” In their memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that any official capacity claims against Defendant Yount are not cognizable and are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and they provide case law to support that assertion. See Doc. 63, at 5-6. In his response to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff provides no opposition to Defendants' argument; instead, he states that he “does not seek relief from Defendants Garrison and Yount in their official capacities.” See Doc. 70, at 8, n.1. Plaintiff also states that to the extent that he needs to clarify the capacity in which he is suing Defendant Yount, he requests leave to amend his complaint to provide such clarification.

         In light of Plaintiff's acknowledgment that he does not seek relief from Defendant Yount in her official capacity, the Court finds that any official capacity claims against Defendant Yount in the Second Amended Complaint should be dismissed. The Court finds no need for Plaintiff to file yet another amended complaint to clarify this point.

         B. Count V Is Not Barred by Absolute Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         In Count V, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions with regard to his arrest warrant violated his constitutional rights under § 1983. As discussed above, Plaintiff brings this claim against Defendants in their individual capacities. Defendants argue that this claim should be dismissed because it is barred by absolute quasi-judicial immunity.

         “Absolute quasi-judicial immunity derives from absolute judicial immunity.” Martin v. Hendren, 127 F.3d 720, 721 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Roland v. Phillips, 19 F.3d 552, 555 (11th Cir. 1994)). Under the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity, it is well established that “[a] judge is entitled to absolute immunity for all judicial actions that are not ‘taken in a complete absence of all jurisdiction.'” Penn v. United States, 335 F.3d 786, 789 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991)). See also, e.g., Maness v. District Court of Logan County, 495 F.3d 943, 944 (8th Cir. 2007). Judicial immunity protects the finality of judgments, discourages inappropriate collateral attacks, and “protect[s] judicial independence by insulating judges from vexatious actions prosecuted by disgruntled litigants.” Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 225 (1988) (citing Bradley v. Fisher, 20 L.Ed. 646 (1872)).

         Through the doctrine of absolute quasi-judicial immunity, courts have extended the protections of judicial immunity to individuals other than judges under some limited circumstances. These circumstances fall into two general categories. First, absolute quasi-judicial immunity may apply to individuals who conduct adjudicative proceedings similar to those conducted by judges, such as members of state boards and commissions. See, e.g., Gilliam v. Hodges, 614 Fed.Appx. 346 (8th Cir. 2015) (collecting cases and finding that the members of the Arkansas State Claims Commission were entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity because their hearings “contain sufficient adversarial procedures to qualify as quasi-judicial proceedings”). Second, absolute quasi-judicial immunity may apply to court employees or other government employees when they perform acts closely related to the judicial function, such as carrying out a judge's order. See, e.g., Rogers v. Bruntrager, 841 F.2d 853, 856 (8th Cir. 1988) (“Clerks of court have absolute immunity from actions for damages ...


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