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Snelling v. City of ST. Louis

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

October 24, 2019

LONNIE D. SNELLING Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before me on defendants City of St. Louis (the “City”), Land Reutilization Authority (“LRA”), and Park Place Preservation, LP's motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. [ECF Nos. 17, 34, and 37]. The plaintiff, Lonnie Snelling, failed to meet his burden to state claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983, 42 U.S.C. §1985, or the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Accordingly, I will grant the Defendants' motions to dismiss as to these claims. Because these were the plaintiff's only federal claims, I decline to exercise jurisdiction over the Plaintiff's state law claims and will dismiss them pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1367(c)(3).

         BACKGROUND

         Snelling filed his complaint on June 7, 2019, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1986 alleging violations of his civil rights. He also alleged a number of state law claims. In total the complaint alleged twenty-two claims and named thirteen defendants. All of the claims stem from Snelling's real estate and property holdings in the City of St. Louis. Three motions to dismiss were filed for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and failure to comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Service to the remaining defendants was stayed pending the outcome of the City's motion to dismiss.

         STANDARD

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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, however, bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 555 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the 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.C. 662, 667, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (quoting Twombly, 555 U.S. at 570). Although “specific facts are not necessary, ” the plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “give fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         A plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitlement to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint “must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Id. at 562 (quoted case omitted). This standard “simply calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim or element].” Id. at 556. The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of his claim.” Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 556.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Snelling is a black citizen of St. Louis, who owns four parcels of real estate in predominantly black neighborhoods in the City. These properties are located at 5619-21 Maple Avenue, 5737 Cabanne Avenue, 3916 Lee Avenue, and 5039 Kensington Avenue. Snelling alleges that his interactions with the City, LRA, and Park Place Preservation, LP, regarding these properties resulted in violations of his civil rights. Based on Snelling's complaint and construed in the light most favorable to him, the following events occurred between 2014 and 2018.

         On October 3, 2014, one of the named defendants, Leon Reitz, broke into Snelling's property at 5619-21 Maple Avenue. Snelling immediately called the St. Louis City Police and several police officer arrived at the property a little while later. One of the officers did a sweep of the property that lasted approximately ten minutes. According to the officer, the property was clear. The police officers then left. Based on the officer's assurance that the property was clear, the plaintiff entered the building to continue some maintenance work he had started earlier. He found the property in disarray. Additionally, while he was working, he heard footsteps on the second floor. When he went to investigate, he found Rietz. He again called the St. Louis City Police, who returned and apprehended Rietz. Despite evidence of vandalism, Reitz was only charged with trespass. As part of this case, Snelling brings state law claims against Reitz and the officers who responded.

         From 2016 through 2018, Snelling had ongoing problems with the St. Louis City Police regarding his properties located at 5737 Cabanne Avenue and 3916 Lee Avenue. In 2016, Snelling installed an alarm system supplied by Simplisafe at 5737 Cabanne Avenue to prevent burglary. St. Louis City Ordinance #66264 required Simplisafe obtain a permit with the city. The permit costs twenty-five dollars, which Simplisafe billed to Snelling. The permit allowed the alarm company to notify the St. Louis City Police directly when there was a security breach. By November 2016, the property was having as many as three security breaches a month. When the police responded to these breaches, it took them on average thirty minutes to arrive to the scene. The police continued to respond to the alarm company's calls until December 2016 when Snelling was cited for two false alarms at the 5737 Cabanne Avenue property. Pursuant to City Ordinance #66264, the City suspended the property's alarm permit and stopped responding to alarms at the property. While the permit was suspended the property on Cabanne Avenue was burglarized. Snelling had a similar experience at his property on Lee Avenue. He purchased and permitted an alarm system at that property in late 2017 or early 2018. In 2018, the permit for the property on Lee Avenue was suspended and Snelling was fined for two false alarms. Snellings says he was not notified of the fine or suspension. The St. Louis City Police have refused to respond to alarms at that address since 2018.

         Snelling also had issues at his property at 5039 Kensington Avenue. In 2017, the property was damaged by a contractor working on a neighboring property, 5037 Kensington Avenue, which is owned by the LRA, an agency of the City of St. Louis. The LRA was established by statute by the State of Missouri to return non-revenue or -tax producing land to effective utilization in order to provide housing, new industry, and jobs for the City. The LRA hired Cheyenne Construction, which is owned by Willie C. Hemphill, to demolish buildings located at 5037 Kensington Avenue. During demolition, Cheyenne Contracting damaged Snellings property at 5039 Kensington Avenue. The building located at 5039 Kensington Avenue was struck by a bulldozer and partially collapsed. Snelling was then issued a citation for a violation of City Building Code, City Ordinance #66857 for damage Snelling claims was caused by Cheyenne Contracting and criminals.

         According to Snelling, another one of his properties had previously been damaged by one of Hemphill's companies. As a result, Snelling sued Hemphill and his company Apostle Wrecking and Excavating in Missouri state court, which resulted in a default judgment against Hemphill and his company. The default judgment, however, was for a nuisance claim. [ECF No. 2, Exhibit 16].

         Finally, Snelling had a conflict with several defendants surrounding personal property he purchased and gave to his ex-wife, who is now deceased. According to Snelling, he and his ex-wife entered into a verbal contract on May 8, 2016, granting him her interest in the property he purchased for her. The conversation was triggered by her diagnosis with terminal cancer. After his ex-wife passed away, Snelling tried to retrieve his property from her apartment. But her children, who are named defendants, refused to let him take the property and called the police. The police ...


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