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Wilson v. Jefferson County

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

October 2, 2019

COURTNEY J. WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CHARLES A. SHAW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint filed by defendant Jefferson County and defendants Oliver Boyer, Brock Bridges, and Tenesa Cash in their individual capacities.[1] Plaintiff Courtney J. Wilson opposes the motion and it is fully briefed. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's federal claims in Counts I, II, III, and IV will be granted. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims in Count V and VI and will dismiss those claims without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Courtney J. Wilson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Missouri law to recover damages arising from events concerning her arrest, detention, and incarceration after Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brock Bridges responded to a domestic violence call at her house.

         The Third Amended Complaint (“complaint”) (Doc. 49) and the police report attached thereto and “incorporated [t]herein as if fully referenced” (Id. at 4, ¶ 16) (emphasis original) allege that on April 5, 2016, plaintiff returned to her home in Fenton, Missouri after having dinner with her mother and was physically assaulted by her then-husband, Charles DeGregorio, during a domestic dispute. Plaintiff sustained injuries in the assault including a concussion, bruising to her face and body, and a black eye. Plaintiff alleges her concussion, bruising, and black eye were visible. Despite plaintiff being the victim and having visible injuries, DeGregorio called 911 and claimed plaintiff attacked him and that she was intoxicated and belligerent.

         Defendant Bridges responded to the 911 call and spoke with DeGregorio first. Bridges later drafted the police report attached to the complaint. The report states that DeGregorio told Bridges plaintiff came home intoxicated and states in pertinent part as follows:

Charles stated they had a verbal disagreement when she came home, based on taking out the trash. Charles stated they began to exchange harsh words and he decided he was going to leave the residence for the night. Charles stated after he made the statement based on leaving, Courtney began to push him. Charles stated he felt threatened due to her becoming physical. Charles stated he left the residence and went to Walmart. Charles stated when he was at Walmart, Courtney called him to discuss what happened. Charles stated he returned home with the intent to go to bed, but stated he went downstairs to talk to Courtney. Charles stated they began to exchange harsh words again. Charles stated Courtney began to follow him upstairs into their room, where he was beginning to gather clothes to leave for the night. Charles stated Courtney grabbed his bag as he was beginning to exit the room. Charles stated Courtney would not let go, as he pulled the bag with her holding on, into the hallway. Charles stated he went back into the bedroom to get his keys and Courtney tackled him onto the bed. Charles stated he held her down and began to verbally yell stop. Charles stated when he began to let go, Courtney grabbed his face and began to kick him in the chest. Charles stated he verbally yelled “Get off of me” multiple times, meaning for her to stop trying to hurt him. Charles stated when Courtney grabbed his face again, he hit her in her face with his elbow. Charles stated he continued to hold Courtney down until she stopped trying to hurt him.
I observed redness in both cheeks to Charles's face.
I made contact to Courtney, who was laying down on the bed in the bedroom. I observed the bedroom to be in disarray. I also observed Courtney to be in a confused state at the time and stating she wasn't feeling very good. Courtney stated around 1900-1930 hours, she went to dinner with her mother. Courtney stated at dinner, she drank 2 glasses of wine. Courtney stated around 2000-2030 hours she arrived home and began to have a verbal argument with her husband. Courtney stated she didn't remember what the argument was about or what happened. Courtney stated she only recalls arguing, fighting in the bedroom, and Charles hitting her in the face.
I observed a bruising below Courtney's left eye.

Complaint, Ex. 1 (Doc. 49-1). DeGregorio voluntarily wrote a Domestic Violence Report containing his version of the events. Id.

         The complaint alleges DeGregorio had no injuries to substantiate his claim that he was a victim of domestic violence, only redness in both cheeks as noted in the police report. Bridges did not administer a field sobriety test or make any other assessment of plaintiff's sobriety to substantiate DeGregorio's allegation that she was intoxicated but checked the “alcohol” box for plaintiff in the police report under “Conditions Observed.” In addition, the Sheriff's Office Event Chronology log, which is incorporated by reference into the complaint, reflects that an officer notified the dispatcher that DeGregorio had hit plaintiff in the face. Despite these facts, Bridges arrested plaintiff for third-degree domestic assault, handcuffed her, and transported her to the Jefferson County Jail for a twelve-hour hold. Plaintiff alleges that by arresting her, Bridges violated her constitutional rights and Jefferson County Sheriff's Office custom and practice that calls for arresting both parties to a domestic violence incident or neither.

         The complaint alleges that Bridges observed plaintiff's disorientation, confusion, and black eye, and the seriousness of her injuries should have been apparent to a trained peace officer. Plaintiff repeatedly requested medical assistance from Bridges during the half-hour trip from plaintiff's home to the jail, but Bridges did not transport her to a medical facility for treatment and obtain a release signed by competent medical authority as required by Sheriff's Office policy No. 100.126.2 (complaint, Ex. 3). In addition, Bridges improperly applied handcuffs to plaintiff's wrists causing bruising and tissue damage and did not check the handcuffs for fit after placing them on her, resulting in further pain and bruising to plaintiff's wrists.

         During booking and inmate intake processing at the Jefferson County jail, plaintiff repeatedly requested medical assistance from defendant corrections officer Tenesa Cash. Under Sheriff's Office policy No. 100.126.1 (complaint, Ex. 4), “[n]o prisoner shall be booked into the holding facility or otherwise held for interrogation or other purposes that has injuries or illnesses that require hospitalization or attention of a health care professional.” (Id. § 4.a.) The arresting deputy or sworn supervisor is responsible for transporting the prisoner to a medical care facility before placing them in holdover or detention if it is unclear whether the prisoner is fit for confinement. (Id. § 4.b.) Defendant Cash was responsible for directing Bridges to obtain medical attention for plaintiff before booking and processing but she failed to do so.

         During plaintiff's incarceration at the Jefferson County jail she was suffering from headaches, vertigo, nausea, and disorientation from the concussion caused by DeGregorio. No jail staff member called for the facility nurse or took other steps to provide plaintiff with medical assistance despite her repeated requests. Plaintiff repeatedly asked for medical care by using the in-cell intercom to request medical assistance from jail staff. After several attempts by plaintiff to use the in-cell intercom, defendant Cash responded to one of plaintiff's calls. Plaintiff requested medical attention and told Cash that “she may have a concussion” from DeGregorio hitting her. Cash responded, “Can you even afford to see a doctor?” and failed or refused to answer any more of plaintiff's intercom calls.

         Plaintiff was released from the Jefferson County jail the next morning at approximately 11:00 a.m. and went to the St. Clare Health Center Emergency Department. Medical staff examined her and determined that plaintiff had suffered from an assault resulting in a concussion, facial contusions, and body contusions. After plaintiff was discharged from the Emergency Room, she went to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office to submit a statement relating to the alleged domestic assault complaint filed by DeGregorio, as Bridges did not take plaintiff's statement during the initial encounter. The Sheriff's Office advised plaintiff that because DeGregorio had filed a criminal complaint against her, she was ineligible to submit her own complaint or attach her own statement to the previously filed report.

         Plaintiff alleges she lost her employment as a result of the unlawful arrest and, as a result of Bridges and Cash's failure to obtain medical care for her, she suffered long-term brain damage including post-concussion syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety disorder, panic attacks, worsened major depressive disorder, increased trouble sleeping because of PTSD, short-term memory loss, and after the incident was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Plaintiff also developed a crippling fear and mistrust of law enforcement as a result of the incident.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office under the leadership of defendant former Sheriff Oliver Boyer has a history and custom of wrongfully arresting victims of domestic violence, allowing perpetrator to walk free and causing criminal prosecution of battered women on behalf of their abusers, citing Paula Strahan v. Jefferson County, No. 4:97-cv-00307.

         The complaint asserts 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Bridges, Boyer, Cash, and Jefferson County. Count I asserts a Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claim against Bridges for unreasonable seizure/arrest and use of excess force; Counts II and III assert Fourteenth Amendment claims against Bridges and Cash, respectively, for failure to obtain medical assistance; Count IV asserts a Monell municipal liability claim against Jefferson County for failure to train, discipline, and supervise its deputies and for a custom of conducting unreasonable seizures and using excessive force; Count V asserts a supplemental state law claim against Bridges for false arrest; and Count VI asserts a state law false imprisonment claim against all defendants.

         II. Legal Standard

         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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim for relief is plausible on its face where “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” id., and “raise[s] a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.[2] A complaint must offer more than “‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, even if it appears that “actual proof of those facts is improbable, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, and reviews the complaint to determine whether its allegations show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 555-56; Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The principle that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions, however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (stating “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice”). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework for a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. Id.

         While courts primarily consider the allegations in the complaint in determining whether to grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, they may also consider exhibits and documents attached to a complaint. See Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 373 (8th Cir. 2016); Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab, Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 & n.3 (8th Cir. 2012). Here, the Court considers the complaint's exhibits, which plaintiff expressly incorporated into the complaint.

         III. Discussion

         A. Count I - Unreasonable Seizure/Arrest - Defendant Bridges

         1. The Parties' Arguments

         Defendant Bridges moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims against him in Count I based on qualified immunity. Bridges argues that a reasonable police officer would have concluded probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff for third-degree domestic assault under § 565.074.1(1), Missouri Revised Statutes, under the totality of the circumstances. Under the statute, a person commits third-degree domestic assault if “[t]he person attempts to cause or recklessly causes physical injury to [a] family or household member . . . .” “Physical injury” in turn is defined as “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition . . . . “ § 556.061(2), Mo. Rev. Stat. Bridges asserts that as long as the perpetrator attempts to cause physical pain of some kind to the victim, sufficient evidence exists to convict for third-degree domestic assault. Here, Bridges states that DeGregorio informed him plaintiff “grabbed his face and began to kick him in the chest” (Doc. 49-1 at 4) and that DeGregorio desired that plaintiff “stop trying to hurt him.” (Id.) Bridges argues that by “trying to hurt” DeGregorio by kicking him, plaintiff attempted to cause DeGregorio physical pain, and thus comes within §565.074.1(1)'s definition of third-degree domestic assault.

         Plaintiff responds that the motion to dismiss must be denied because Bridges fails to accept as true the facts as alleged in the complaint, and instead relies primarily on the police report which does not include plaintiff's statement. Plaintiff further responds that based on Bridges' own observations made in the police report, he found plaintiff in her bedroom, disoriented, confused, and significantly bruised on her face. Plaintiff asserts that by Bridges' own account and description, she was suffering from a concussion as later confirmed by the St. Clare Health Center Emergency Department. Plaintiff argues no reasonable probable cause existed to arrest her-as opposed to DeGregorio, who admitted that he physically struck plaintiff-when she was in the condition Bridges observed and when she told Bridges “she only recalls arguing, fighting in the bedroom, and [DeGregorio] hitting her in the face.”[3] Plaintiff contends that a reasonable officer would have easily ...


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