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Brown v. City of Saint Louis

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

August 6, 2019

CRYSTAL BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN M. BODENHAUSEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Crystal Brown alleges that she was pepper-sprayed during a peaceful protest. She brings this civil-rights action against the City of St. Louis, Missouri (City), John Hayden, and William Olsten. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint, pursuant to Rule 8(a) and Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P. In the alternative, defendants move to strike specific allegations, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(f). Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         Background[1]

         On September 15, 2017, the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis issued the verdict in State of Missouri v. Stockley, acquitting a police officer of first-degree murder in the shooting death of an African-American man. For several days following the verdict, members of the public engaged in protests around the metropolitan St. Louis area, targeting both the verdict and the use of force by police officers more broadly. This case is one of several lawsuits that challenge the use of pepper spray by SLMPD officers during the Stockley protests[2] and directly parallels the case Aldridge v. City of St. Louis, Missouri et al., 4:18-CV-1677 (CAS), 2019 WL 1695982 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 17, 2019), which involves the same incident plaintiff proceeds on here.

         On the evening of September 29, 2017, plaintiff was present at a protest near Busch Stadium, where a game was in progress. The SLMPD presence initially consisted of uniformed and bicycle officers who were later joined by SLMPD's Civil Disobedience Team. The members of this team wore “military-like tactical dress” and helmets and carried “long wooden batons and full-body riot shields.” Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 39-43 [Doc. # 17]. Around 9:00 p.m., protestors began converging toward Busch Stadium. According to plaintiff, a video shows that protestors peacefully entered the intersection at Broadway and Walnut. Without warning, an SLMPD officer “violently threw Reverend Darryl Gray to the ground, breaking [his] glasses.” Id. at ¶¶ 45-47. Several people - including protestors, elected officials, members of the media, and people who had attended the ball game - began to voice concern. Around the same time, two officers began to chase protestor Calvin Kennedy. While one officer grabbed Mr. Kennedy by the shirt, the other deployed a Taser against him. Protestors again spoke out in protest. Id. at ¶¶ 49-54.

         According to plaintiff, defendant Olsten can be heard antagonizing the protestors, yelling at one, “Come and fuck me up then.” Two police officers tried to move defendant Olsten away from the crowd and calm him down. Id. at ¶ 56. Video shows that defendant Hayden was standing within five feet of defendant Olsten who was becoming “more and more agitated.” Id. at ¶¶ 57-58. Without giving a warning or dispersal order, defendant Olsten deployed pepper spray from a large cannister, hitting four people, including plaintiff, an elected official, [3] and a person in a wheelchair. After pepper spraying these people, Olsten walked away without arresting them. Id. at ¶¶ 60-63. Plaintiff was not offered medical care or the opportunity to wash the chemical agent out of her eyes or off her body and clothes. Id. at ¶ 71. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Olsten's conduct violated the terms of a settlement agreement in Templeton v. Dotson, 4:14-CV-2019 (CEJ), under which the City agreed not to use chemical agents against “individuals engaged in non-criminal activity” without first issuing warnings or as a punitive response to the exercise of constitutional rights. Id. at ¶¶ 31, 36.

         On November 15, 2017, the Court entered a preliminary injunction in Ahmad v. St. Louis, 4:17-CV-2455 (CDP), in which plaintiffs challenged the use of chemical agents by SLMPD officers against protestors on September 15, 2017. Id. at ¶¶ 72-75. The Court found that the Ahmad plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits of their claims that their First Amendment rights were violated by the City's customs or policies regarding the use of hand-held chemical agents. The Court further found that the use of such agents against nonviolent protestors circumvented the protections of the Templeton settlement agreement. In addition, the Court found that the plaintiffs' evidence showed that officers exercised their authority in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protestors. Id. at ¶ 75.

         Plaintiff here asserts claims under § 1983 against defendants Olsten and Hayden for violations of her rights to the freedom of association and freedom of speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Count I), against all three defendants for conspiracy to deprive plaintiff of her civil rights (Count II), against the City for a custom of conducting unreasonable searches and seizures and using excessive force and for failure to train, discipline, and supervise (Count III), and against defendant Olsten for excessive force (Count VII). She also asserts state law claims against all defendants for assault (Count IV), intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Counts V and VI), and battery (Count VIII). Plaintiff has attached as exhibits to her complaint the September 15, 2017, verdict in Stockley, the temporary restraining order and settlement agreement in Templeton, and the transcript and preliminary injunction order in Ahmad.

         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint in its entirety for failure to comply with the “short and plain statement” requirement of Rule 8(a). The City moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that plaintiff fails to allege facts necessary to support her § 1983 claims of civil conspiracy and municipal liability claims and that it is entitled to sovereign immunity in her state tort claims. Defendant Hayden moves to dismiss plaintiff's § 1983 claims, arguing that plaintiff fails to allege that he personally participated in the alleged violations of her constitutional rights. Defendants Hayden and Olsten argue that plaintiff's state-law claims against them are barred by the official immunity doctrine. Finally, defendants move to strike some allegations under Rule 12(f). Defendant Olsten has not moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims in Counts I and VII.

         Discussion

         A. Motion to dismiss under Rule 8(a)

         Defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint under Rule 8(a), arguing that the complaint is “replete with tendentious and immaterial allegations attacking the integrity of the Missouri courts, injecting spurious 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.” [Doc. # 25 at 2]. Defendants further object that the complaint includes “inflammatory rhetoric ill-suited for a complaint” and “imposes an unnecessary burden on defendants in seeking to understand the claims actually asserted.” In addition, defendants argue, the paragraphs dealing with the alleged violation of the settlement agreement in Templeton are improper under Rule 408, Fed.R.Evid. Finally, defendants object to plaintiff's “inclusion of voluminous exhibits.”

         Rule 8(a)(2) requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” while Rule 12(b)(6) provides for a motion to dismiss based on the “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A complaint states a plausible claim for relief if its ‘factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to defeat a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). As noted by other judges addressing the same challenge in the related cases, as a result of the plausibility requirements set forth in Twombly and Iqbal, “complaints naturally tend to include more factual detail and be longer.” Aldridge, 2019 WL 1695982, at *4; Laney, 2019 WL 2423308, at *3; 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).

         The complaint here is 25 pages long, contains numbered paragraphs, identifies each defendant by name, makes specific allegations as to each defendant's conduct, and sets forth separate counts that identify each claim and the defendants against whom it is asserted. Cf. Michaelis v. Nebraska State Bar Ass'n, 717 F.2d 437, 439 (8th Cir. 1983) (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., 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, 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”). The allegations are actually quite straightforward and the Court believes that defendants will have no difficulty framing a response to the complaint. The Court also joins the judges in Aldridge, Laney, and Laird in finding that the complaint's factual allegations and the supporting exhibits to which defendants object are relevant to plaintiff's municipal liability claims. Finally, the Court rejects defendants' argument that allegations regarding the Templeton settlement agreement violate Rule 408(a), Fed.R.Evid. See Aldridge, 2019 WL 1695982, at *4 (evidence rules govern admission of evidence, not pleading standards); Laney, 2019 WL 2423308, at *3 (same).

         The Court will deny defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Rule 8(a).

         B. Motion to strike under Rule 12(f)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) provides that a court may strike from a pleading “any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Although courts have liberal discretion to strike pleadings under Rule 12(f), striking a party's pleading is an extreme measure that is viewed with disfavor and infrequently granted. Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Cent. Mo. Elec. Co-op, Inc., 278 F.3d 742, 748 (8th Cir. 2001); Stanbury Law Firm, P.A. v. IRS, 221 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2000). “In ruling on a motion to strike, the Court views the pleadings in the light most favorable to the pleader.” Shirrell v. St. Francis Med. Ctr., No. 1:13-CV-42 SNLJ, 2013 WL 3457010, at *1 (E.D. Mo. July 9, 2013) (citation omitted). “To prevail on a motion to strike, the movant must clearly show that the challenged matter has no bearing on the subject matter of the litigation and that its inclusion will prejudice the defendants.” Aldridge, 2019 WL 1695982, at *15 (citing 2 James W. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 12.37[3] (3rd ed. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         As an alternative to their motion to dismiss, defendants ask the Court strike as immaterial and impertinent paragraphs containing allegations regarding the Stockley verdict, Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 14-18, public reaction, id. at ¶¶ 20-21, and the Templeton consent decree, id. at ¶¶ 30-31, 33-35. “Immaterial claims are those lacking essential or important relationships to the claim for relief. Impertinent claims are those that do not pertain to the issues in question.” Simms v. Chase Student Loan Servicing, LLC, 2009 WL 943552, at *2, n.3 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 6, 2009) (citations omitted). As discussed above, the paragraphs that defendants move to strike are relevant to plaintiff's claims and the issues in this case and are neither immaterial nor impertinent. Defendants fail to meet their burden and the alternative motion to strike will be denied. Aldridge, 2019 WL 1695982, at *15; see also Laird, 2019 WL 2647273, at *4; Laney, 2019 WL 2423308, at *8.

         In paragraph 69, plaintiff alleges that SLMPD officers and City of St. Louis Correctional staff failed to provide appropriate medical attention for the protestors after they were pepper-sprayed or hurt by zip-cuffs. In paragraph 68, plaintiff quotes policies she attributes to the City and SLMPD regarding medical attention and health screenings for prisoners. In paragraph 70, plaintiff alleges that defendants' decision to ignore these policies “show[s] a deliberate indifference . . . to the rights of Plaintiff and other injured detainees.” Defendants move to strike these paragraphs, noting that the policies for prisoners are immaterial because plaintiff does not allege that she was arrested. The Court cannot say that these allegations have “no bearing on the subject matter of the litigation” or that their “inclusion will prejudice the defendants” and so declines to strike them.

         Defendants' alternative motion to strike under Rule 12(f) will be denied.

         C. Motion to Dismiss ...


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