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T.S.H. v. Northwest Missouri State University

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

September 23, 2019

T.S.H., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NORTHWEST MISSOURI STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Defendants Northwest Missouri State University (“NWMSU”), Clarence Green, and Anthony Williams’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Doc. #18. For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         In June 2016, Plaintiffs T.S.H. and H.R.J., who were juveniles at the time, participated in a high school football camp held on NWMSU’s campus. Doc. #12, ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiffs paid a fee to NWMSU to participate in the camp. Id. ¶ 11. NWMSU’s football coaching staff conducted the camp and provided instruction to participants. Id. ¶ 12. NWMSU furnished housing for participants in one of its dormitories. Id. ¶ 13.

         At the same time the high school football camp was held, NWMSU hosted a high school cheerleading camp. Id. ¶ 14. NWMSU provided housing to the cheerleading camp participants in another dormitory. Id. ¶ 15. On June 19, 2016, a twenty-five-year-old female cheerleading coach (“complainant”), who was not an NWMSU employee or student, reported an incident that occurred the previous evening to NWMSU’s residence assistants. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Because her dormitory room did not have window coverings, the complainant changed her clothes near the wall between the windows where she thought no one could see her. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. While undressing, the complainant saw several individuals looking at her from windows in another dormitory. Id. ¶¶ 21-23. She thought she saw a phone, but it is unclear if she saw anyone take a photo. Id. ¶ 24.

         The NWMSU residence assistants provided the information to Defendant Anthony Williams, an NWMSU police officer, who, in turn, gave the information to Defendant Clarence Green, NWMSU police chief. Id. ¶¶ 5, 29-30. Williams met with the complainant, who said she did not want to prosecute. Id. ¶ 31. Williams filled out an Offense Report, indicating the incident was a “juvenile offense” and a “possible Title IX incident.” Id. ¶¶ 35-36. Green and Williams began an investigation into the incident. Id. ¶ 38. Williams theorized the alleged offenders occupied two possible dormitory rooms, and he and/or Green obtained the names of the seven juveniles assigned to the rooms. Id. ¶¶ 43, 44.

         According to Plaintiffs, Williams directed the juveniles’ high school football coach to gather the players in one room and question them until someone confessed to photographing the complainant. Id. ¶¶ 44-45, 52-53. The coach assembled the players, including Plaintiffs, in one room and told them that they were being investigated by NWMSU police for the commission of an alleged crime. Id. ¶¶ 54-56. Plaintiffs and the other juveniles were asked to reveal photographs stored on their cell phones; they complied. Id. ¶¶ 57-58. The juveniles were questioned for hours, and were told if someone confessed, the teammates could remain at the camp. Id. ¶¶ 56, 59, 61. No. one confessed, and the juveniles were expelled from the camp. Id. ¶ 63. In the Offense Report, Williams indicated that, based on the investigation, no one was facing criminal charges. Id. ¶ 64. The Offense Report listed the juveniles’ names and was made publicly available. Id. ¶ 65.

         In March 2019, Plaintiffs T.S.H. and M.J., as next friend of minor H.R.J., filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Nodaway County against NWMSU, Green, and Williams. Doc. #1-1, at 3-13.[2] In May 2019, Defendants removed the matter to this Court. Doc. #1. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, and Plaintiffs amended their complaint. Docs. #3, 12. Plaintiffs allege claims against Green and Williams in their individual capacities for violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I), claims against Green and Williams for civil rights conspiracy (Count II), a claim against NWMSU for violating 42 U.S.C. §1983 (Count III), and a breach of contract claim against NWMSU (Count IV). Defendants move to dismiss all claims.

         II. STANDARDS

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Defendants move to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing Plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the… claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Court "must accept as true…the complaint's factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff[].” Stodghill v. Wellston Sch. Dist., 512 F.3d 472, 476 (8th Cir. 2008).

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. 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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679. A claim is facially plausible if it allows a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged conduct. See Horras v. Am. Capital Strategies, Ltd., 729 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2013).

         B. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Regarding Count III, Defendants argue NWMSU is entitled to immunity from suit. Doc. #19, at 10-11. Sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional, threshold matter properly addressed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Lors v. Dean, 746 F.3d 857, 861 (8th Cir. 2014); Whitmire v. Kan. City, Mo. Bd. of Police Comm’rs, No. 16-1020-FJG, 2018 WL 4134696, at *2 (W.D. Mo. Aug. 29, 2018) (citations omitted). When considering a facial challenge to jurisdiction, the Court “restricts itself to the face of the pleadings, and the non-moving party receives the same protections as it would defending against a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6).” Carlsen v. GameStop, Inc., 833 F.3d 903, 908 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). A complaint should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter ...


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