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Jiang v. Porter

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

September 30, 2019

REV. XIU HUI “JOSEPH” JIANG, Plaintiff,
v.
TONYA LEVETTE PORTER and THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 10) and Defendant Porter’s motion for the assessment of costs under Rule 41(d) (ECF No. 9). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part, and Porter’s motion for costs will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a Chinese-born Catholic priest, originally filed a complaint against multiple defendants in an earlier case asserting that they had falsely accused him of and charged him with child sexual abuse. No. 4:15-CV-1008. Specifically, Plaintiff asserted that the child’s parents fabricated the allegations for monetary gain, that St. Louis police officers conducted an inadequate investigation and targeted Plaintiff for prosecution based on his religion and ethnicity, and that the non-profit organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and certain SNAP representatives led a public smear campaign against him. The criminal case against Plaintiff remained pending from April 2014 until June 2015 when it was dismissed shortly before trial.[1]Plaintiff filed his first complaint a week later asserting a total of 15 counts, including various civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as claims of conspiracy, malicious official acts, abuse of process, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff’s claims against the City of St. Louis were dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Jiang v. Porter, 156 F.Supp.3d 996, 1010 (E.D. Mo. 2015) (J. Jackson). Plaintiff’s claims against the other defendants survived, and discovery proceeded litigiously for nearly two years, ultimately resulting in sanctions against some defendants and finally settlement.[2] During that time, Plaintiff discovered information that he believed revived his claims against the City, namely that the defendant officers’ superior, Sergeant Davis, ordered Plaintiff’s arrest in violation of department practice and procedure. In light of this revelation, Plaintiff sought to either amend his complaint or dismiss and re-file the case in order to pursue his claims against the City. 4:15-CV-1008, ECF No. 259.

         Defendants objected to Plaintiff’s motion to amend but consented to Plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal without prejudice under Rule 41(a). 4:15-CV-1008, ECF No. 260. Defendants did not request fees or expenses at that time. The Court (J. Shaw) denied Plaintiff’s motion to amend but granted his motion for voluntary dismissal and closed the case on November 21, 2017. 4:15-CV-1008, ECF No. 262.

         On November 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed the new complaint now pending. As relevant to his remaining claims, Plaintiff’s new complaint is substantially similar to his 2015 complaint, with the additional allegation that Sergeant Davis was selling police records to local attorneys as leads to generate civil suits against priests. ECF No. 1, ¶ 52-54, 72. Upon receipt of summons, Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss, and Porter filed a motion for costs incurred in the first case.

         DISCUSSION

         Motion to Dismiss

         Defendants seek dismissal of the entirety of Plaintiff’s re-filed complaint as to both the City and Officer Porter. As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that neither side raises arguments with respect to preclusion as a bar to Plaintiff’s reassertion of claims against the City or Porter’s reassertion of qualified immunity, the merits of which were previously adjudicated on a motion to dismiss in the first case. While this Court has the authority to raise preclusion issues sua sponte[3]and questions the propriety of the parties’ reciprocal “second bite” in this action - on principles of collateral estoppel at a minimum[4] - the Court sees no reason to undertake the analysis insofar as the ultimate result is the same. Nonetheless, this Court need not repeat the entirety of Judge Jackson’s analysis but will simply summarize it and elaborate as warranted.

         Legal Standards

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, 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). The court must accept the complaint’s factual allegations as true and construe them in the plaintiff’s favor, but it is not required to accept the legal conclusions the complaint draws from the facts alleged. Id. at 678. “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.” Id.; see also McDonough v. Anoka Cty., 799 F.3d 931, 945 (8th Cir. 2015). Courts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, and factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Torti v. Hoag, 868 F.3d 666, 671 (8th Cir. 2017).

         Claims Against Officer Porter

         Plaintiff’s claims against Porter were and are the following (enumerated by counts): (I) religious discrimination; (II) selective enforcement based on religion; (III) selective prosecution based on religion; (IV) selective enforcement based on race and national origin; (V) selective prosecution based on race and national origin; (VI) violation of substantive due process – conduct shocking the conscience; (VII) conspiracy to violate civil rights; (VIII) malicious official acts; (XII) abuse of process; and (XIII) intentional infliction of emotional distress. Judge Jackson denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss in the first case as to all of these claims on the same grounds asserted here. Jiang, 156 F.Supp.3d at 1010.

         Specifically, as to Counts I through VI, Defendants sought and again seek dismissal of the claims against Porter on the basis of qualified immunity. “Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Id. at 1003 (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). Dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity is inappropriate unless it ...


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