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Brown v. Great Circle

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

December 10, 2019

GREAT CIRCLE, ET AL., Defendants.



         Defendant Melissa Detmer moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Doc. 53. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges eight counts, including seven counts against Detmer for 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.

         I. Alleged Facts

         Plaintiffs state that Defendant Melissa Detmer is Defendant Joshua Turner's sister, an employee of Defendant Great Circle, and a former employee of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children's Division. Doc. 50 (Second Amended Complaint), at ¶¶ 5, 27. Plaintiffs allege that Detmer both individually and in her professional capacity conspired against Plaintiffs to interfere with Plaintiffs' parental relationship, Id., at ¶ 67.a., and to do so, Detmer used her current and former contacts to influence the Children's Division's investigations surrounding Plaintiff P.A.T. and to paint Plaintiff Maria Brown in a negative light. Id., at ¶¶ 26, 32, 85. Plaintiffs assert that Detmer and Tuner's goal were 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.

         Plaintiffs' complaint specifically 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. These allegations include assertions that Detmer, “in her capacity as an employee of Defendant Great Circle, has interfered with the parental relationship between Plaintiff Maria Brown and her child, ” Id., at ¶ 31; that Detmer has “interfered with reports by Children's Division Worker, Defendant Latoya Gatewood and Dr. John Wilson of CoMO Cubs Pediatrics, ” Id., at ¶ 33; that “the actions of Defendants Turner and Detmer (helped by Defendant Johnston Paint's resources) directly interfered with Court ordered custody and Plaintiffs' Constitutional Rights to a parent-child relationship, ” Id., at 44.e.; 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.

         Plaintiffs additionally alleged that Detmer may have been involved in covering-up information potentially relevant to the Children's Division's investigation, Id., at ¶ 40; may have filed false hotline reports, Id., at ¶ 44.d.; and attempted to change a physician diagnosis of anxiety to remove the child's medication, Id., at ¶ 52. Further, Plaintiffs also alleged that “Defendants Melissa Detmer and Joshua Turner 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. The complaint added to the list of allegations, 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.

         As evidence of their allegations, Plaintiffs allege that hundreds of text messages illustrate that Detmer interfered with Plaintiffs' parental rights, that she coached Defendant Turner how to address the Children's Division, and that she covered-up her alleged interference with the investigations. Id., at ¶¶ 31, 37, 38.a., 40.

         II. Standard

         To 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.

         III. Discussion

         A. Count I - Conspiracy

         Defendant Detmer 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)).

         Plaintiffs' 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 Detmer 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 Detmer 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.

         Even if 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 Detmer were unlawful. Plaintiffs complaint offered only conclusory statements as to the unlawfulness of the actions allegedly committed by Detmer as part of the conspiracy. These claimed actions include Detmer's interference with Social Services' investigation, her interference with Plaintiffs' parental relationship, and use of her professional capacity and connections to obtain information regarding the Social Service's investigation to relay to Defendant Turner, but in each instance there were no allegations as to what specific actions Detmer took and ...

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