Submitted: November 15, 2018
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
COLLOTON, SHEPHERD, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
SHEPHERD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
2016, Charles Waters refused to allow Menards home supply
store employees, pursuant to posted store policy, to search
the trunk of his vehicle as he exited a Menards lumberyard in
Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Mr. Waters eventually called the
police, who responded to the scene. Based on this encounter,
Mr. Waters and his wife Anita filed a 19-count Amended
Complaint in federal district court, alleging violations of both
federal and state law against the City of Coon Rapids,
various Coon Rapids police officers, and Menard, Inc. The
defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), which the district court
granted. Mr. and Mrs. Waters now appeal. Having jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.
March 27, 2016, Appellants visited a Menards store in Coon
Rapids, Minnesota, to exchange a saw Mr. Waters had
previously purchased for a new saw he had purchased online.
Mr. Waters video-recorded their visit through a sunglass
camera clipped to his shirt. (He later posted excerpts of this
video on his YouTube channel. See Dist. Ct. Dkt. 16-1.) An
employee inside the store directed Appellants to the online
pickup location inside the Menards lumberyard. Mr. Waters
drove into the lumberyard with Mrs. Waters in the passenger
seat. While it is undisputed that Menards had posted signs at
the yard's entrance and exit stating that vehicles
leaving the lumberyard were subject to inspection, Appellants
claim they did not see any such signs upon entry.
Appellants arrived in the lumberyard, a Menards employee
loaded the saw into their vehicle's trunk. Appellants
then proceeded to the lumberyard exit, where a Menards
employee requested that they open their vehicle's trunk
for inspection as per the signs. Mr. Waters refused, stating
that he had no legal obligation to do so. When the gate
employee refused to open the exit gate and called for a
manager, Mr. Waters called the police.
Rapids police officers Alyssa Smith and Emily Kirchner arrived
in response to Mr. Waters's call. After being told by the
Menards manager that posted store policy required Menards to
verify Mr. Waters's purchase before Appellants could
leave the lumberyard and that Mr. Waters believed he was
being unlawfully detained, Officer Smith approached
Appellants' vehicle and told Mr. Waters to allow the
Menards employees to verify his purchase. When Mr. Waters
refused, Officer Smith asked Mr. Waters for identification,
which he refused to provide, stating that he was "not
currently driving" and did not have to "provide ID
until there [was] a reasonable suspicion of a crime."
Officer Smith informed Mr. Waters that she had reasonable
suspicion he had committed a crime because he would not open
Smith then asked Mr. Waters to step out of his vehicle, and
Officer Kirchner explained that, because Mr. Waters was
noncompliant with Menards policy, the officers reasonably
suspected he had something in his vehicle's trunk that he
was not supposed to have. The officers again told Mr. Waters
to step out of his vehicle. Mr. Waters, still
video-recording, stated, "I'm being ordered out of
my vehicle. I'm being placed under arrest," to which
Officer Smith calmly responded, "I didn't say you
were under arrest; I said you need to step out of the
vehicle." When Mr. Waters asked if he was free to go,
Officer Smith stated, "You are not free to go." Mr.
Waters replied, "Then I'm being detained. Under what
reasonable suspicion of what crime?" The officers again
told Mr. Waters to get out of his car and he repeated his
question, then repeatedly asked the officers for their names
and badge numbers. Officer Kirchner told Mr. Waters yet again
to step out of his car and, when he failed to comply, told
him he could go to jail.
Waters eventually complied with orders to step out of his
car. Officer Kirchner searched him for weapons and told him
that the officers had "reasonable suspicion that [he]
ha[d] something in the trunk," stating, "You came
into a shipment yard which has a policy that you are not
supposed to leave without showing the product that you have
picked up, and you are not willing to do that." Officer
Kirchner then handcuffed Mr. Waters, who is significantly
taller than either of the female officers, and placed him in
the back seat of a squad car. Officer Smith spoke to the
nearby Menards employees and asked them if they had ever
dealt with sovereign citizens, mentioning that Mr.
Waters's behavior resembled that exhibited by sovereign
Smith then returned to Appellants' vehicle. When Officer
Smith asked if Mr. Waters was a sovereign citizen, Mrs.
Waters replied that her husband "takes it all very
seriously." Officer Smith then told Mrs. Waters that Mr.
Waters was creating more problems for himself. Mrs. Waters
responded, "I know." Officer Smith asked Mrs.
Waters to identify her husband, and Mrs. Waters did so.
Officer Smith was speaking with Mrs. Waters, Coon Rapids
Police Sergeant Brady Madson arrived on scene. Officer Smith
conferred with Sergeant Madson. Officer
Kirchner then approached Mrs. Waters and asked,
"Would you be willing to open the trunk for these
gentlemen? Because that's the only thing that's
holding us up here." When Mrs. Waters explained that
Appellants had come into the lumberyard to pick up a saw,
which a Menards employee placed in the trunk for them,
Officer Kirchner stated, "It'd be doing us a huge
favor if you could just bring that invoice and step out with
these guys and pop the trunk for us. We'll chalk it up to
[Mr. Waters] having a bad day." Mrs. Waters did as
Officer Kirchner requested. A Menards employee and one of the
officers looked into the trunk and verified the purchase. The
officers then released Mr. Waters, issuing a trespass warning
that prevented him from reentering the Coon Rapids Menards
for a year.
receiving the trespass warning but before leaving the
lumberyard, Mr. Waters requested the officers' names and
badge numbers. He approached Sergeant Madson to read the name
and badge number off the sergeant's uniform. When Mr.
Waters reached well within arm's length of Sergeant
Madson, the sergeant physically turned Mr. Waters away from
him and pushed him toward Appellants' vehicle. Appellants
then drove out of the lumberyard. The entire encounter with
the officers lasted less than twenty minutes.
the incident, Mr. Waters emailed the Coon Rapids Police
Department, seeking to file a formal complaint against the
officers involved. Captain Thomas Hawley initially refused to
accept a written complaint through email, stating that Mr.
Waters or his representative needed to communicate with the
police department by telephone or in person. Although the
record does not indicate that Mr. Waters, personally or
through a representative, further communicated with the
department other than by email, Coon Rapids Chief of Police
Brad Wise reviewed Mr. Waters's complaint, determined the
officers had acted lawfully, and formally closed the
filed a 19-claim Amended Complaint in the United States
District Court for the District of Minnesota, alleging
violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments,
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, § 504
of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Minnesota Human
Rights Act, as well as common-law claims for false
imprisonment, battery, defamation, trespass, invasion of
privacy, and negligence. They named Sergeant Madson, Officers
Smith and Kirchner, and Captain Hawley, in their individual
capacities; the City of Coon Rapids; and Menard, Inc. as
filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), alleging that Menards is not a state
actor and that Appellants consented to the search of their
vehicle's trunk when they entered the lumberyard. The
officers and the City also filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss, arguing that Appellants failed to plausibly allege
their claims and raising the affirmative defenses of
qualified, official, and absolute immunity. All defendants
moved in the alternative for summary judgment.
district court found that, with the exception of their Fourth
Amendment claim for unlawful search, Appellants failed to
plausibly allege any violation of their clearly-established
constitutional rights, and that the officers were therefore
entitled to qualified immunity on all but one of
Appellants' constitutional claims. While the district
court determined that Appellants plausibly alleged a
violation of their clearly-established constitutional right
to be free from unlawful searches, it also determined that
they failed to allege, as required for a damages claim under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the violation caused any
compensable injury. The district court further found that
Appellants failed to identify a City policy or custom that
caused the alleged constitutional violations, that Appellants
failed to plausibly allege their state law claims, and that
Menards was not a state actor subject to § 1983 claims.
The district court therefore granted the defendants'
motions and dismissed all of Appellants' claims with
subsequently settled their claims against Menard, Inc. They
now appeal the district court's dismissal of their claims
against the officers and the City for interference and
retaliation under the First Amendment; unlawful arrest,
excessive force, unlawful search, and unlawful seizure under
the Fourth Amendment; and false imprisonment, battery, and
defamation under Minnesota common law; and their claim
against the City under Monell v. Department of Social
Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
review de novo a grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), accepting as true
all factual allegations in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Aten v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 511
F.3d 818, 820 (8th Cir. 2008). The complaint "must
allege more than '[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements
of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements[;]' . . . [it must] allege sufficient facts
that, taken as true, 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" K.T. v. Culver-Stockton
Coll., 865 F.3d 1054, 1057 (8th Cir. 2017) (first
alteration in original) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
We need not accept as true a plaintiff's conclusory
allegations or legal conclusions drawn from the facts.
Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d
799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999); Westcott v. City of Omaha,
901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990). Nor need we adopt the
plaintiff's version of the facts if they are
"blatantly contradict[ed]" by video evidence.
Boude v. City of Raymore, 855 F.3d 930, 933 (8th
Cir. 2017). "We will not affirm a dismissal of a
complaint for failure to state a claim unless the plaintiff
can prove no set of facts that would demonstrate an
entitlement to relief." Hanten, 183 F.3d at
brought a multitude of constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Section 1983 provides a mechanism by which
aggrieved plaintiffs may sue a state actor for violation of
their constitutional rights. See Foster v. Wyrick,
823 F.2d 218, 221 (8th Cir. 1987). However, state actors,
such as police officers, are protected from § 1983 suits
by the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. See
Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 340 (1986); Gomez v.
Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980) (explaining that
qualified immunity is an affirmative defense). Qualified
immunity shields police officers from lawsuits based on
official conduct if reasonable officers in the same position
could have believed their conduct was "lawful, in light
of clearly established law and the information the . . .
officers possessed" at the time. Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641 (1987).
qualified immunity protects officers from suit, not merely
from liability, courts should "resolv[e] immunity
questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation."
Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per
curiam). To overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must
allege (1) a violation of his statutory or constitutional
rights, and (2) that "the right at issue was
'clearly established' at the time of [the]
defendant's alleged misconduct." Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). "Qualified
immunity is appropriate only if no reasonable factfinder
could answer yes to both of these questions." Hess
v. Ables, 714 F.3d 1048, 1051 (8th Cir. 2013) (citation
omitted). Courts may analyze either of the qualified immunity
prongs first. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236.
district court dismissed all of Appellants'
constitutional claims on qualified immunity grounds except
the unlawful search claim, which it dismissed for failure to
state a claim. Similarly, on each of Appellants'
constitutional claims, we will first determine whether
qualified immunity is applicable and, if not, whether
Appellants stated sufficient facts to survive a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss.
also brought a number of tort claims under Minnesota common
Police officers in Minnesota may avoid state tort actions
through the application of another affirmative
defense-official immunity. Elwood v. Rice County,
423 N.W.2d 671, 677 (Minn. 1988) (en banc). "The
official immunity doctrine provides that 'a public
official charged by law with duties which call for the
exercise of his judgment or discretion is not personally
liable to an individual for damages unless he is guilty of a
willful or malicious wrong.'" IcL (quoting Susla
v. State, 247 N.W.2d 907, 912 (Minn. 1976) (en banc)).
While the officers in this case asserted official immunity,
the district court did not analyze whether immunity barred
Appellants' state tort claims. Rather, it dismissed those
claims for failure to ...