United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Turner and Elder Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Johnston Paint and
Decorating moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended
Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). Doc. 51. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges eight
counts, including five counts against Johnston Paint for
Conspiracy, Tortious Interference with Parental Relationship,
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligent
Supervision, and Defamation. Doc. 50. Plaintiffs' claims
arise out of an alleged conspiracy between the Defendants to
interfere with the parental relationship between Maria Brown
and her son, P.A.T., a minor. For the reasons set forth
below, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
allege that Defendant Johnston Paint failed to properly
supervise Defendant Joshua Turner, P.A.T.'s father, and
that Turner used Johnston Paint's business resources
“to influence or otherwise alter investigations and/or
reports concerning abuse of Plaintiff P.A.T. to ward custody
of the child.” Doc. 50 (Second Amended Complaint),
¶¶ 7, 38.g. (alleging use of business resources
including phones to discuss Social Services investigation),
44 (alleging use of time, money, and resources). Plaintiffs
further allege that Johnston Paint “either did not
know, properly supervise, and/or wanted the abuse allegations
of their employee Defendant Joshua Turner deflected to avoid
public scrutiny, harm to their business and/or family
reputation.” Doc. 50, ¶ 44.c. The complaint also
asserted that Johnston Paint “knowingly or unknowingly
aided other Defendants with their materials and/or resources
in their effort to alter the [Social Services] report . . .
to refute Plaintiff P.A.T.'s allegations of abuse for
their employee Defendant Turner, ” Doc. 44.e., and that
as a result of this assistance, there was interference with
Plaintiffs' parent-child relationship. Id.
also allege that Johnston Paint “in coordination,
and/or by and through Defendants Turner and Detmer used their
professional capacity and connections to create a conflict of
interest by obtaining personal services of law enforcement
who willing[ly] colluded with Defendant Johnston Paint to
circumvent the custody court order for their employee,
Defendant Joshua Turner.” Doc. 50, ¶ 46. Lastly,
Plaintiffs allege that Johnston Paint “knowingly,
unknowingly, and/or recklessly inflicted severe emotional
distress and knew or should have known that such distress
would result from their conduct.” Doc. 50, ¶ 48.
survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint “must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Zink v. Lombardi, 783 F.3d 1089, 1098 (8th Cir.
2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009)). A claim has facial plausibility when its allegations
rise above the “speculative” or
“conceivable, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007), and where
“the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. Such a complaint will be liberally construed in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Eckert v.
Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008).
However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true
all of the allegations contained in a complaint is
inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678.
Count I - Conspiracy
Johnston Paint argues that Plaintiffs did not sufficiently
plead the elements required to prove a claim of conspiracy.
In order to state a claim for civil conspiracy under Missouri
law a plaintiff must plead that there were “(1) two or
more persons, (2) an object to be accomplished, (3) a meeting
of the minds on the object or course of action, (4) one or
more unlawful overt acts, and (5) resulting damages.”
Aguilar v. PNC Bank, N.A., 853 F.3d 390, 402- 03
(8th Cir. 2017) (citing Mackey v. Mackey, 914 S.W.2d
48, 50 (Mo.Ct.App. 1996)).
pleadings assert that there were multiple individuals working
towards the joint goal of interfering with Social Services
investigations to affect the custody determinations which
resulted in the claimed harm to Brown's parental
relationship with her child. Absent in the pleadings,
however, are facts that could establish that there was a
meeting of the minds between Johnston Paint and any other
alleged conspirators. To show that this element exists,
Plaintiffs must show that the alleged conspirators had
“a unity of purpose or a common design and
understanding.” Rosemann v. St. Louis Bank,
858 F.3d 488, 500 (8th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). As to
Johnston Paint, Plaintiffs' complaint asserts only that
they may or may not have known that its resources were being
used to interfere with Plaintiffs' parental relationship.
See, e.g., Doc. 50, ¶ 44.e. (“Johnston
Paint . . . knowingly or unknowingly aided other Defendants .
. . ”). That a business's resources were used
without its knowledge is evidence of passive involvement and
not of active participation done with a unity of purpose,
common design, or understanding.
other allegations against Johnston Paint stated that they
acted “in coordination, and/or by and through
Defendants Turner and Detmer” to create a conflict of
interest by obtaining the services of law enforcement who
willingly “colluded with Defendant Johnston Paint to
circumvent the custody order for . . . Joshua Turner.”
Id., at ¶ 46 (emphasis added). Though
Plaintiffs allege that Johnston Paint may have colluded with
Turner and Detmer, Plaintiffs did not specifically plead that
there was coordination between the Defendants, nor are there
facts that would show there was coordination between these
parties. Additionally, the allegations of collusion with law
enforcement would relate to a potential separate conspiracy
between Johnston Paint and those providing the law
enforcement services, a claim that Plaintiffs have not
Plaintiffs were to succeed in establishing that there was a
meeting of the minds, Plaintiffs have not alleged facts which
could support a finding that the alleged actions taken by
Johnston Paint were unlawful. Plaintiffs' pleadings do
not state how the alleged creation of a “conflict of
interest” rises to the level of being an unlawful act,
nor do they state what this conflict was and how it relates
to this case. Further, the pleadings' conclusory
statement that Johnston Paint may have colluded with law
enforcement to “circumvent the custody court
order” does not state what activity was taken, how this
action circumvented the court order, and whether that
activity was unlawful in any way. Without some factual
context, the claim is not plausible.
not pleaded the facts necessary to show that Johnston Paint
was aware of the conspiracy to interfere with Plaintiffs'
parental relationship, Plaintiff cannot prove ...