United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joshua Turner moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended
Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). Doc. 59. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges eight
counts, including five counts against Turner for Conspiracy,
Tortious Interference with Parental Relationship, Negligent
Infliction of Emotional Distress, Defamation, and Malicious
Prosecution. 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 Plaintiff Maria Brown and Defendant Joshua Turner
are the parents of Plaintiff P.A.T., a ten-year-old child.
Doc. 50, at ¶ 1, 17. Plaintiffs and Turner have
litigated the custody of their child in state court, and have
been subject to multiple investigations by the Children's
Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services.
Id., at ¶ 1. Plaintiffs allege that Turner
repeatedly and consistently interfered with Plaintiffs'
parent-child relationship, that he has influenced the
investigations by the Children's Division, and that
Plaintiffs have been investigated or subject to the services
of the Children's Division as a result of Turner's
“incorrect, false, and/or malicious complaints.”
Id., at ¶¶ 28.i. (interference with
parent-child relationship), 7 (interference with
investigations), 2 (undue investigations or services).
Plaintiffs specifically allege that Turner has made false
allegations in Court documents against Brown, has
manufactured evidence, and has conspired with others against
Plaintiffs. Id., at ¶¶ 28.d., 44.i., 60.
assert that Turner worked in coordination with Detmer with
the goal to “cover up Defendant Turner's nefarious
conduct, destroy his son's mother . . . and thereby save
money on litigation and child support.” Id.,
at ¶ 51. The complaint asserted that “[a]ny and/or
all of the Turner-Detmer family have . . . knowingly and/or
unknowingly acted with reckless regard for Plaintiffs'
rights, making false reports, manipulating the legal system
(both judicial and administrative process, and related
entities), and inter alia acting with malice toward Plaintiff
Brown.” Id., at ¶ 26.
the pleadings allege that Turner and Detmer “instituted
one or more legal proceeding(s) against Plaintiff in which
complaints were made, by Defendant without probable cause and
with malice.” Id., at ¶ 84; that Turner
has used Defendant Detmer's “past and current
connections to influence the Children's Division's
investigation, ” Id., at ¶ 28.h; that
Turner and Detmer “directly interfered with Court
ordered custody and Plaintiffs' Constitutional Rights to
a parent-child relationship, ” Id., at 44.e.;
that “Turner and/or Detmer made one or more false
hotline reports, ” Id., at ¶ 44.k.;
“and 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.”
Id., at ¶ 38.f.; see also id., at
¶¶ 60.b., d., 66. As evidence of their allegations,
Plaintiffs additionally assert that hundreds of text messages
exist which illustrate that Detmer coached Defendant Turner
how to address the Children's Division investigation.
Id., at ¶¶ 37, 38.a.
additionally assert 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.” Id., at
¶¶ 7, 38.g. (alleging use of business resources
including phones to discuss Social Services investigation),
44 (alleging use of time, money, and resources). The
complaint added to Turner's involvement with Johnston
Paint, stating that “Defendant 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 whom willing colluded with Defendant
Johnston Paint to circumvent the custody court order for
their employee, Defendant Joshua Turner.” Id.,
at ¶ 46.
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
Turner argues 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 specific actions Turner 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 Turner may have colluded with the
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 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 Turner were unlawful. Plaintiffs complaint
offered only conclusory statements as to the unlawfulness of
the actions allegedly committed by Turner as part of the
conspiracy. These claimed actions include Turner's being
coached by Detmer on how to handle the Children's
Division investigation, use of Detmer's contacts to
affect the investigation, and use of Johnston Paint resources
to affect the investigation. But conclusory statements that
these actions were unlawful or resulted in interference with
Plaintiffs' parent-child relationship are insufficient to
successfully plead that an unlawful act occurred. Without
specific facts stating what actions were taken and why these
acts are unlawful, Plaintiffs have not alleged that Turner or
the other Defendants took any action that was forbidden to
them. To the extent that Plaintiffs do allege actions that
could be presumed to be unlawful, such as where Plaintiffs
allege that Turner made false statements in court documents
and that Turner manufactured evidence, these conclusory
assertions still fail to plead a claim against Turner.
Plaintiffs have not identified what the alleged false
statements where or what they were regarding, nor have they
asserted any details about what the alleged manufactured