United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Latoya Gatewood, Jennifer Tidball, and David Kurt move to
dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, for failure
to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, and due to claims being barred
under the doctrines of official immunity and qualified
immunity. Doc. 55. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges eight
counts, including seven counts against Gatewood and three
counts against Tidball and Kurt. These claims include counts
of Conspiracy, Tortious Interference with Parental
Relationship, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress,
Defamation, Malicious Prosecution, and Violation of
Substantive and Procedural Due Process Rights under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. 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.
state that Defendant Latoya Gatewood is an employee of the
Missouri Department of Social Services Children's
Division who conducted an investigation as part of
Plaintiffs' child custody case. Doc. 50, at ¶¶
9, 28.h. Plaintiffs allege that “Defendants Turner
and/or Detmer worked in coordination with and/or leveraged,
threatened, and intimidated Defendant Gatewood into
conducting the investigation and making findings consistent
with what Defendants Turner and Detmer wanted in the results:
to harm, destroy, and/or interfere with Plaintiffs'
rights.” Id., at ¶ 38.f. Plaintiffs
question the validity of Gatewood's investigation,
alleging that her “investigation into the matter for
Children's Division has been shown to be untrue,
incorrect, and biased in favor of the Detmer-Turner
family” and that ultimately, she adopted “the
Turner family's strategy of simply labeling Plaintiff
Maria Brown as mentally unhealthy and unstable.”
Id., a t ¶ 3 9 . Plaintiffs further allege
that, as part of her improper investigation, Gatewood
“even went so far [as] to write and report a baseless
affidavit to the Boone County Juvenile Officer, and Defendant
Gatewood and consequently her employer and/or supervisors
ignored the statements of Plaintiff P.A.T., among other
matters.” Id., at ¶ 38.h.
also state that Defendant Jennifer Tidball is the Acting
Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services,
Id., at ¶ 10, and that Defendant David Kurt is
the Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services
Children's Division. Id., at ¶ 11.
Plaintiffs allege that the “policies and
practices” of Tidball and Kurt, “in their
official capacities, constitute a failure to meet the
affirmative duty to protect the Plaintiff and her child from
an unreasonable risk of harm.” Id., at ¶
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
Gatewood, Tidball, and Kurt argue that Plaintiffs have only
stated legal conclusions and have therefore not sufficiently
pleaded 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. What is not alleged in the
pleadings other than through conclusory legal statements,
however, is what actions Defendants actually took and whether
any of those actions were done in furtherance of a
conspiracy. To show that a meeting of the minds occurred,
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). Though
Plaintiffs allege that Gatewood, Tidball, and Kurt may have
colluded with the other Defendants for a common goal,
Plaintiffs did not specifically plead that there was
coordination between the Defendants, nor are there facts that
would show there was any coordination between these parties.
Plaintiffs were to succeed in establishing that there was a
meeting of the minds, Plaintiffs have not asserted facts
which could support a finding that the underlying alleged
actions taken by these Defendants were unlawful. Plaintiffs
complaint offered only conclusory statements as to the
unlawfulness of the actions allegedly committed by Defendants
as part of the conspiracy. These claimed actions include
Gatewood's biasing of her investigation and the filing of
a false affidavit against Plaintiff Brown, as well as harm
resulting from Tidball and Kurt's improper
“policies and practices, ”. In each instance,
these alleged actions are not followed with any specific
assertions which could show what specific actions each
Defendant took and why those actions were unlawful.
See Doc. 50, at ¶¶ 31, 32, 60.d. Without
any specific facts stating what actions Defendants took,
there is insufficient basis to infer that they took any
unlawful action. Without some factual context, the claim is
not pleaded the facts necessary to plead that Defendants
Gatewood, Tidball, and Kurt were aware of the conspiracy to
interfere with Plaintiffs' parental relationship,
Plaintiff cannot prove a claim of conspiracy. This claim must
therefore be dismissed.
Count II - Tortious Interference with ...