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Laney v. City of Saint Louis

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

June 10, 2019

DEREK LANEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Derek Laney claims that during peaceful protest activity following the September 15, 2017, verdict in State of Missouri v. Stockley, defendant Scott Boyher, a lieutenant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD), [1] sprayed him in the face with pepper spray without warning and with no attempt to arrest him. Laney brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Boyher alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights, [2] and against the City of St. Louis alleging municipal liability for Boyher's unlawful actions. Laney also brings supplemental state-law claims against Boyher and the City, alleging assault, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and battery. The City and Boyher move to dismiss Laney's claims. Alternatively, they seek to strike certain allegations from Laney's complaint. For the reasons that follow, I will dismiss the failure to train claim and the claims for punitive damages on the state-law counts, but I will otherwise deny the motion.

         Background[3]

         On September 15, 2017, the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis issued its findings and verdict in Stockley, prompting some members of the public to engage in protest activity around the St. Louis metropolitan area, including within the City of St. Louis. The protests concerned not only the verdict itself but broader issues, including racism and the use of force by police officers. The participants often expressed views critical of police.

         Plaintiff Laney, a resident of the City of St. Louis, joined the protest activity on September 15 in downtown St. Louis. Laney observed a group of female protesters lock arms with each other and stand in front of a bus being used by the police department. When Laney observed City police officers use bicycles to hit the female protestors, he complained to an officer about the treatment. This officer used his bicycle to push Laney backward, in response to which Laney raised his hands in the air and slowly backed away from the officer.[4] Defendant Boyher then came from behind Laney and sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, using a one-foot long “big defogger.” (ECF 18 at ¶ 46.) Boyher did not give Laney any warning or make any attempt to arrest Laney. Boyher left the area after he sprayed Laney. For twenty-four hours after being sprayed with pepper spray, Laney experienced pain, burning eyes, mucus running from his nose, and labored breathing.

         Laney claims that he was not engaged in any unlawful behavior that required the use of pepper spray. He also claims that no life or property was in danger when Boyher sprayed him.

         Laney filed this action on September 17, 2018, and filed a seven-count amended complaint on January 9, 2019, asserting the following claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: that Boyher violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press (Count 1); that Boyher violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from excessive use of force (Count 6); and that the City is liable under Monell[5] because the violations of his civil rights were caused by a policy, practice, or custom of the City and by its failure to train, discipline, and supervise its police officers (Count 2). Laney brings supplemental state-law claims against both Boyher and the City, alleging that the use of pepper spray in the circumstances here constituted assault (Count 3) and battery (Count 7); and that the use of pepper spray in the circumstances constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 4) or, alternatively, negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count 5). As relief, Laney seeks compensatory damages, attorney's fees, expenses, and costs on his § 1983 claims; and punitive damages on his state-law claims.

         Both defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety for failure to comply with the “short and plain statement” requirement of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Boyher also moves to dismiss Laney's § 1983 claims against him under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that they fail to allege that he personally participated in the alleged unconstitutional conduct. As to the state-law claims, Boyher argues that they should be dismissed under Missouri's official immunity doctrine. The City moves to dismiss Count 2 under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that it fails to allege sufficient facts to establish municipal liability under Monell. The City also argues that the state-law claims against it are likewise subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) on the basis of sovereign immunity. Alternatively, both the City and Boyher move to strike certain paragraphs of the amended complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) as immaterial or impertinent.

         Legal Standard

          The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, I must assume the factual allegations of the complaint to be true and construe them in favor of the plaintiff. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). I am not bound to accept as true, however, a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         Rule 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” In Twombly, the Supreme Court clarified that Rule 8(a)(2) requires complaints to contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” 550 U.S. at 555; accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Specifically, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain enough factual allegations, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief “that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Drawing on my “judicial experience and common sense, ” I must consider the plausibility of 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). The factual allegations must be sufficient to “‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Parkhurst v. Tabor, 569 F.3d 861, 865 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Rule 10(b) provides that “[a] party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” “[A]ny redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter” may be stricken from the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Although courts enjoy “broad discretion” in determining whether to strike a party's pleadings, such an action is “an extreme measure.” Stanbury Law Firm, P.A. v. IRS, 221 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2000). Accordingly, motions to strike are “viewed with disfavor and are infrequently granted.” Id.

         Discussion

         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 8(a)

         Defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to comply with the “short and plain” statement requirement of Rule 8(a), arguing that the complaint is “replete with tendentious, inflammatory, and immaterial allegations attacking the integrity of Missouri courts, injecting issues to which defendants cannot possibly frame a response, and including voluminous exhibits and references to other litigation without specifying wherein and how the exhibits reflect facts germane to plaintiff's claims.” (ECF 26 at p. 2). Defendants claim they are prejudiced because they are forced to “try to guess at how much of the scattershot allegations actually pertain to plaintiff's claims against defendants, as opposed to individuals or to plaintiff's objections to policing in general.” (Id.) Defendants also object to Laney's “inclusion of voluminous exhibits, such as the transcript of a preliminary injunction hearing in a parallel case, ” and assert that paragraphs of the complaint that allege a violation of a consent decree “fly in the face” of Rule 408(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. (Id. at p. 3.)

         Under Rule 8(a), a pleading that states a claim for relief must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim” showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Because Twombly and Iqbal require a plaintiff to show plausibility, complaints now “tend to include more factual detail and be longer than before[.]” Aldridge v. City of St. Louis, Mo., No. 4:18-CV-1677 CAS, 2019 WL 1695982, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 17, 2019). See also Runnion ex rel. Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago & Nw. Ind., 786 F.3d 510, 526 (7th Cir. 2015) (“plaintiff must include enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Hernandez v. TLC of the Bay Area, Inc., 263 F.Supp.3d 849, 853 (N.D. Cal. 2017) (“plaintiffs must include sufficient factual enhancement to cross the line between possibility and plausibility.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Here, Laney's amended complaint is twenty pages long, contains numbered paragraphs, separately identifies each defendant, makes specific factual allegations as to each defendant, and sets forth separate counts that identify each claim and the defendant(s) against whom it is asserted.

         The factual allegations and supporting exhibits to which defendants object - i.e., those concerning the Stockley verdict, the nature of public protests in response thereto, and prior orders of this court concerning SLMPD actions in response to public protests - are relevant to Laney's Monell claim against the City at minimum. Defendants' bald assertion that the amended complaint's reference to the consent decree entered in Templeton [6] violates Federal Rule of Evidence 408(a) is without merit, as the Rules of Evidence concern the admission of evidence, not pleading standards. Aldridge, 2019 WL 1695982, at *4.

         In contrast to cases where dismissal under Rule 8(a) is appropriate, Laney's amended complaint here is not so lengthy, disorganized, vague, or ambiguous as to be unintelligible. Cf. Michaelis v. Nebraska State Bar Ass'n, 717 F.2d 437, 439 (8th Cir. 1983) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal of a 98-page pro se complaint, the “style and prolixity” of which “would have made an orderly trial impossible.”); Smith v. Republic Servs., Inc., No. 4:17 CV 302 CDP, 2017 WL 4038143, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 13, 2017) (dismissing complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), noting it violated Rule 8(a) because it did not contain numbered paragraphs, was “overly wordy with an incomprehensible pattern of capitalized and not capitalized words, ” and failed to clearly identify each defendant by name and articulate specific facts about that defendant's wrongful conduct); Favaloro v. BJC Healthcare, No. 4:14-CV-284 CAS, 2015 WL 1603054, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 9, 2015) (denying leave to file amended complaint for failure to comply with Rule 8 in relatively simple employment action where complaint was “90 pages long, include[d] 959 paragraphs, multiple subparagraphs, sub-subparagraphs (i.e., ¶¶ 800.68.1, 800.68.2, 800.68.2, et seq.), and contain[ed] wholly irrelevant and scandalous material.”).

         Defendants' motion to dismiss Laney's amended complaint for failure to comply with Rule 8(a) will be denied.

         B. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         1. § 1983 Claims Against Boyher

         Boyher argues that Laney's § 1983 claims against him are based on respondeat superior liability and do not state a claim because they do not allege that Boyher was aware of his subordinates' alleged unlawful conduct or that he tacitly approved the conduct. Laney's claims, however, are not based on Boyher's supervisory capacity. Instead, Laney specifically claims that Boyher personally engaged in the alleged unconstitutional conduct of spraying pepper spray directly in his face without warning and without purpose of arrest. Although Boyher contends that Laney's statements regarding the unnamed, bicycle-wielding police officer attempts to place liability on Boyher as this officer's supervisor, reading these alleged facts against the ...


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