United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by
defendants City of St Louis, Adrian Barnes, Jeff Carson,
Charlene Deeken, Dale Glass, and Tonya Harry (#6). For the
reasons stated, the motion will be GRANTED IN PART
and DENIED IN PART. I. BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Melvin Diggs is a former captain at the St. Louis
Medium Security Institution (MSI). During his career,
plaintiff served on a number of special task assignments
including efforts to reduce jail violence and improve safety.
Plaintiff explains that, throughout his career, he
“regularly informed staff, supervisors, and others
about the poor conditions of the jail and the danger it posed
to the safety of inmates and corrections officers
alike.” For example, he would complain about broken
windows, lack of air conditioning, mold, rodent infestations,
and the inadequate number of corrections officers serving on
his shift. Plaintiff brought these complaints to his
“supervisors, ” which apparently include the
various defendants named in their individual capacities.
April 2017, plaintiff alleges he was warned by a co-worker
that his supervisors were “targeting him.” Around
that same time, plaintiff was involved in a
“use-of-force incident” that required him to
provide necessary paperwork to substantiate his use of force.
Plaintiff explains that he provided this paperwork, but that
he was nonetheless suspended for fifteen days for purportedly
“failing to properly submit a document related to the
use-of-force incident.” A grievance process followed in
May 2017, whereby plaintiff indicated he believed he was
being targeted due to his complaints about the poor
conditions at MSI. In June 2017, plaintiff was “again
cited … for a policy violation stemming from the 
use-o-force incident.” Under stress and having
allegedly been diagnosed with depression, plaintiff
“took some leave under the Family and Medical Leave
Act” but was “wrongfully docked pay” as a
result. On July 24, 2017, plaintiff returned from FMLA leave.
He was terminated two days later. Defendant Glass,
Commissioner of the Division of Corrections of the City of
St. Louis, purportedly told others that plaintiff
“threatened to shoot up the place” during a phone
call between them, which plaintiff believes is the reason he
was ultimately terminated under his employer's
zero-tolerance workplace violence policy.
has filed an eight-count complaint against defendants. Counts
I and II allege a retaliation-based adverse employment action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the First Amendment.
Count III alleges a retaliation-based claim under the FMLA.
Count IV alleges a failure-to-accommodate claim under the
Americans with Disabilities Act. Counts V through VIII allege
civil conspiracy based on the conduct underlying Counts I,
II, III, and IV. Defendants have moved to dismiss all eight
counts for differing reasons.
Counts I and II-Pleading Sufficiency of Plaintiff's
Retaliation-Based Section 1983 claims
establish a prima facie case of retaliation under
Section 1983, it must be proven that: (1) plaintiff engaged
in protected activity; (2) the employer took an adverse
employment action against plaintiff resulting in a material
change to the terms or conditions of employment; and (3)
employer's retaliatory motive played a part in the
adverse employment action. Hughes v. Stottlemyre,
454 F.3d 791, 796 (8th Cir. 2006).
Circuit precedent requires “a causal connection between
the protected activity and the adverse employment
action.” Jones v. Fitzgerald, 285 F.3d 705,
713 (8th Cir. 2002).
causality aspect is supported through satisfaction of the
third element, which uses a retaliatory motive to identify a
causal link between plaintiff's protected activity and
defendant's adverse employment action. Necessarily, then,
a defendant must have some basic knowledge of the protected
activity in order that he or she can develop a retaliatory
motive to take action against it. See Lyons v.
Vaught, 781 F.3d 958, 963 (8th Cir. 2015). That said, a
retaliatory motive need not be open and obvious-it is a rare
case that an employer openly says they are acting against
their employee due to protected activity. Rather,
“[e]vidence that gives rise to an inference of a
retaliatory motive on the part of the employer”-such as
a short lapse in time between protected act and adverse
employment action with little other justifying
reason-“is sufficient to prove a causal
connection.” Hughes, 454 F.3d at 797; see
also Pye v. Nu Aire, Inc., 641 F.3d 1011, 1022 (8th Cir.
2011) (discussing temporal proximity as a sign of retaliatory
seeking dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), defendants argue
plaintiff's complaint is simply too sparse in its
allegations regarding the unique knowledge and reactive
conduct of each defendant. They argue the complaint does not
explain what each defendant knew, if anything, about
plaintiff's protected conduct and, furthermore, does not
explain what, if any, actions were taken because of this
knowledge. In essence, they believe there are insufficient
facts to support the third element of plaintiff's claim,
stating “plaintiff fails to allege a causal connection
between [plaintiff] filing grievances about the conditions at
MSI and his termination[.]” This Court disagrees.
Hughes v. Stottlemyre, the Eighth Circuit explained
that “causation can be established by direct personal
participation in the deprivation or by participation setting
in motion a series of acts by others which the actor knows or
reasonably should know would cause others to inflict
constitutional injuries on third parties.” 454 F.3d
791, 798 (2006) (quoting Darnell v. Ford, 903 F.2d
556, 562 (8th Cir. 1990)). Hughes involved a
situation in which the plaintiff had offended his supervisors
by criticizing a workplace policy they supported. In
retaliation, the supervisors initiated four disciplinary
complaints against plaintiff. Id. at 794-795. This
ultimately resulted in the plaintiff being demoted and
transferred to another division. Id. It was
emphasized that “there is no evidence [plaintiff] would
have been demoted and transferred but for the four complaints
[his supervisors initiated against him].” Id.
at 799. Therefore, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiff had
stated a prima facie case against his supervisors by
alleging a “but for causation[al]” link between
their conduct (initiating complaints) and the eventual
adverse employment action taken against plaintiff (demotion
and termination). Id.
holding, the Eighth Circuit specifically relied on the fact
that evidence pointed to the supervisors initiating the
complaints because of their awareness and strong dislike for
plaintiff's protected activities-there, his protected
speech under the First Amendment to speak out against a
workplace policy that affected public safety. Id. at
796, 798-799. The Eighth Circuit also agreed that plaintiff
had stated a prima facie case against another
defendant who actually investigated the supervisors'
complaints, though apparently in an obstructive manner
designed to harm plaintiff. There was evidence suggesting
this person was “enlisted” by the supervisors to
further their “plan” against plaintiff.
Id. at 795, 799. However, the Eighth Circuit
dismissed the defendant who was actually responsible for
making the decision to demote and transfer the plaintiff. As
to this particular defendant, it was concluded that he had no
knowledge of plaintiff's protected activities but,
instead, relied purely on the unrelated disciplinary issues
investigated in the four complaints-in essence, despite
taking the ultimate action against plaintiff, he was an
unknowing pawn in the supervisors' plan and had no
retaliatory motive himself. Id. at 798.
demonstrates the important interaction between a
defendant's individual knowledge of a plaintiff's
protected activity and his or her own unique response to that
knowledge-conduct that either directly resulted in an adverse
employment action or that causally led to an adverse
employment action. Without knowledge of a protected activity,
there can be no retaliatory motive; and without an adverse
response based on that knowledge, there can be no but-for
causation-both are necessary components.
this rubric in mind, the Court finds the complaint fairly
comports with the specificity of allegations deemed
sufficient in Hughes. As such, the Court holds
plaintiff has sufficiently stated a prima facie case against
each defendant except for Deeken. Deeken is mentioned only
three times in the complaint and none of those references say
anything more than that she “did not address”
concerns raised by plaintiff, by letter, that he was being
“targeted” for his protected activities-this
vague reference does not satisfy that Deeken ...