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Ball-Bey v. Chandler

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

November 14, 2019

DENNIS BALL-BEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
KYLE CHANDLER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN R. CLARK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant City of St. Louis and D. Samuel Dotson's Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, IV and IV [25]. The Court grants the motion.

         I.BACKGROUND

         On January 3, 2019, Plaintiff Dennis Ball-Bey[1] filed an amended complaint in this Court alleging Defendants Kyle Chandler and Ronald Vaughn, police officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, used excessive force against Mansur Ball-Bey in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; Ball-Bey alleges Chandler and Vaughn shot and killed Mansur[2] when Mansur ran away from the officers. Ball-Bey asserts the following claims: (1) use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chandler and Vaughn; (2) wrongful death/assault and battery pursuant to Missouri Revised Statute §§ 537.080(1) and 516.120 against Chandler and Vaughn; (3) failure to train, supervise, and control in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Dotson and the City; (4) failure to train, supervise, and control against Dotson in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (5) municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City and Dotson.

         Ball-Bey asserts that the City has two policies and a custom that are the “moving force” behind the alleged unconstitutional conduct. He first alleges the two policies: (1) the “Normal” policy pursuant to which the City “normally” charges suspects on whom excessive force is used with resisting arrest in municipal court (rather than state court); and (2) the “Rec” policy under which municipal prosecutors will plea bargain and “recommend” dismissal of municipal-court-resisting-arrest-charges only if a defendant will sign a liability waiver releasing the City from any civil lawsuits. Doc. 21, ¶¶ 26, 51. Ball-Bey then alleges St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (“SLMPD”) has a “custom” of “using unjustified force or illegally seizing and searching a citizen and claiming in written reports the accused victim, ‘resisted arrest'.” Doc. 21, ¶ 59. Ball-Bey describes the “custom” as “excessive force when the accused victim runs, pulls away, or protests . . . ” (“YRYP”).[3] Doc. 21, ¶ 61.

         In their Motion to Dismiss, the City and Dotson, in his official capacity only (collectively, “Municipal Defendants”), seek to dismiss the claims against them for failure to state a claim, and, for redundancy. Specifically, Municipal Defendants assert Ball-Bey fails to state a claim for municipal liability because Ball-Bey fails to plausibly allege Chandler and Vaughn used excessive force against Mansur because of Municipal Defendants' alleged policies, that Municipal Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a widespread pattern of unconstitutional misconduct, or that Municipal Defendants failed to train, supervise, or control its police officers. Municipal Defendants also argue Ball-Bey's official capacity claim against Dotson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is redundant of the claims against the City.

         II. STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The notice pleading standard of FRCP 8(a)(2) requires a plaintiff to give “a short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To meet this standard and to survive a FRCP 12(b)(6) 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) (internal quotations and citation omitted). This requirement of facial plausibility means the factual content of the plaintiff's allegations must “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Park Irmat Drug Corp. v. Express Scripts Holding Co., 911 F.3d 505, 512 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The Court must grant all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Lustgraaf v. Behrens, 619 F.3d 867, 872-73 (8th Cir. 2010).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must liberally construe a complaint in favor of the plaintiff. Huggins v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 592 F.3d 853, 862 (8th Cir. 2010). However, if a claim fails to allege one of the elements necessary to recovery on a legal theory, the Court must dismiss that claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Crest Constr. II, Inc. v. Doe, 660 F.3d 346, 355 (8th Cir. 2011). Threadbare recitals of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rule 8 does not “unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. At 678-79. “A pleading that merely pleads labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, or naked assertions devoid of factual enhancement will not suffice.” Hamilton v. Palm, 621 F.3d 816, 817 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted). Although courts must accept all factual allegations as true, they are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations and citation omitted); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-78.

         Only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Therefore, a court must determine if the well-pleaded factual allegations “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. This “context-specific” task requires the court to “draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679, 682. In determining the plausibility of a plaintiff's claim, Iqbal and Twombly instruct the Court to consider whether “obvious alternative explanations” exist for the allegedly unconstitutional conduct. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567. The Court must then determine whether the Plaintiff plausibly alleges a violation of the law. Id. The well-pleaded facts must permit more than the “mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. “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.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         III. ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT

         Under Iqbal, the Court must parse out the factual allegations that it must accept as true and the conclusory allegations it can disregard. Here, the Court first summarizes all of Ball-Bey's allegations, factual and conclusory, to provide context to the Court's analysis below.

         Ball-Bey alleges that on August 19, 2015, Chandler and Vaughn, along with other police officers, went to a residence located at 1241 Walton Avenue in St. Louis to execute a search warrant. Chandler and Vaughn, along with an ATF agent, were assigned to cover the backyard of the residence. Mansur and a 14-year old (whom the Amended Complaint does not otherwise identify), were walking in an alleyway behind 1241 Walton when they first made visual contact with Chandler and Vaughn. Ball-Bey alleges Chandler and Vaughn drew their guns and chased Mansur and the 14-year old. The 14-year old stopped running and hid behind an abandoned car while Mansur kept running southbound in the alleyway.

         Ball-Bey alleges that Mansur turned in the backyard of 1233 Walton Avenue and began to run eastbound toward the front of the house. Chandler and Vaughn continued to chase him and fired multiple shots, striking Mansur once in the back. According to Ball-Bey, the gunshot wound severed Mansur's spinal chord causing him to fall face first in the front yard and die. Ball-Bey alleges Mansur was employed by UPS and was a youth leader at his church.

         Ball-Bey alleges Chandler and Vaughn were driven, motivated, and protected as a direct result of Dotson's “Rec & Normal” policies. According to Ball-Bey, under the direction, supervision, and authority of the City Counselor's office, the City incorporated and enforced a blanket release practice and policy referred to as the “Rec Policy.” Ball-Bey further alleges that SLMPD enacted the “Normal” policy in 2012, [4] when it updated a special order and trained officers to “normally” charge any resisting arrest charge in municipal court rather than state court when an offender does not use or threaten to use violence against the officer, i.e. the “Normal” policy.

         The written “Normal” policy states, in part:

Under normal circumstances, the defendant will be charged with a city ordinance violation of resisting arrest or interfering with an officer. The information application will be made at the City Counselor's Office.

         The written “Rec” policy states, in part:

Resisting arrest & Interfering [sic] with a Police Officer charges cannot be amended without first obtaining a signed release from the defendant (See Sample).

         Ball-Bey alleges as a “direct result of the Rec & Normal policies over the last two decades, the practices and policies of using excessive force and obfuscating or concealing the officer's conduct grew out of control.” Ball-Bey claims the Rec & Normal polices caused a “distinct and clear pattern [to develop] of using unjustified force or illegally seizing and searching a citizen and claiming in written reports the accused victim, ‘resisted arrest.'”

         According to Ball-Bey, the Rec Policy requires the releasor to enter into a contract under the threat of criminal prosecution. Ball-Bey alleges he has not found a single case where a release agreement was legally enforced against a plaintiff in federal court. The release was created for its “psychological and marketing effects that resulted and continue to result, in censorship and prior restraints on accused victims to petition the courts for redress of civil rights violations.” Ball-Bey claims the City has relied on these release agreements to act as legal immunity from civil rights claims without judicial oversight. Ball-Bey alleges prosecutors are motivated and base decisions to amend or dismiss charges solely on the Rec Policy. The City supervised, controlled, and trained the prosecutors on its blanket release policy, which has resulted in numerous, widely known and accepted practices of prosecutorial overreaching to obtain signatures on blank release forms or force falsely accused victims to trial, according to Ball-Bey.

         Ball-Bey alleges the Normal policy is designed to push claims of excessive force to the municipal court, where municipal prosecutors are waiting to obtain a release of all civil claims. After a SLMPD officer is involved in a resisting arrest incident, the watch commander and higher ranking SLMPD officers make the ultimate decision on what charges to pursue. As a direct result of the Normal policy, Ball-Bey alleges the use of excessive force continues to be undetected, concealed, and obfuscated. The Rec & Normal policies created a “brutal” culture where the SLMPD use unjustified force any time an alleged offender walks away, runs, protests his or her innocence, or records officers violating the civil rights of others.

         Ball-Bey alleges without the Rec policy, SLMPD's “tyrannical practices” could not and would not have been concealed. The policies concealed minor constitutional violations, and "over the course of decades the minor constitutional violations adapted into a method of intimidation and control[.]” Ball-Bey “defines SLMPD's widespread police misconduct as tyrannical practices” including the use of “excessive force when the accused victim runs, pulls away, or protests[, ]” and “unlawful arrests to search and destroy evidence.” The Complaint lists 14 examples of SLMPD “pattern cases” between 2013 through the present. Ball-Bey alleges the pattern and practices were so entrenched throughout the SLMPD that SLMPD officers beat an undercover officer “within an inch of his life” and claimed the officer resisted arrest. According to Ball-Bey, the common denominator in all of these cases is that the accused victim allegedly pulled away, ran, protested, or walked away, i.e., resisted arrest.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In the Motion to Dismiss, Municipal Defendants argue Ball-Bey's Complaint fails to state a claim for municipal liability. Specifically, Municipal Defendants claim Ball-Bey fails to plausibly allege that Chandler and Vaughn caused Mansur's death because of the release policy, that the City was deliberately indifferent to a widespread pattern of unconstitutional misconduct, or that the City failed to train, supervise, or control its officers on the use of excessive force. Because the claims against Dotson in his official capacity are essentially claims against the City, the City asks the Court to dismiss the claims against Dotson for the same reasons.

         A. Municipal Liability

         Section 1983 of Title 42 allows individuals to bring causes of action for violations of the ...


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