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Reed v. Smart

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

January 8, 2020

STEVEN L. REED, Plaintiff,
v.
CLIFF SMART, Missouri State University President, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING MSU DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          BETH PHILLIPS, CHIEF JUDGE

         In this case, pro se Plaintiff Steven L. Reed alleges that his freedom of speech and other civil rights were violated in front of the library at Missouri State University (“MSU”). Now pending is Defendant Missouri State University President Clif Smart (“Smart”) (misnamed Cliff Smart in the Complaint), Missouri State University Board of Governors (“MSU Board of Governors”), Vice Presidents of Missouri State University (“Vice Presidents of MSU”), and Missouri State University Security Guard's (“MSU Security Guard”) (collectively, the “MSU Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 12.) The motion argues that the Complaint is barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity and fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. As explained below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against the MSU Defendants. The motion, (Doc. 12), is therefore GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Complaint is 62 pages long. (Doc. 7.) A significant portion of the Complaint is confusing and redundant. Highly summarized, the Complaint alleges the following facts, which are liberally construed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff. Plaintiff is a resident of Springfield, Missouri. (Id., p. 8, ¶ 3.)[1] For the last 28 years, he has engaged in various volunteer and political activities, including voter registration drives. (Id., p. 8, ¶ 3; p. 19, ¶ 25.) On or about October 29, 2016, Plaintiff was gathering signatures for a petition at the entrance of the library at MSU. (Id., pp. 3-4, ¶ 11; p. 20, ¶¶ 27, 32-34.) Plaintiff alleges he had a “right to be at the library entrance at MSU.” (Id., p. 20, ¶ 31.) This right allegedly arises from the fact that Plaintiff was “in front of a ‘state-owned' building which allows ‘freedom of speech, '” and because a “new state law . . . allows petitioning.” (Id., p. 20, ¶¶ 26, 33; p. 40, ¶ 106.) Plaintiff also alleges there were no signs in the area that suggested he could not be at that location. (Id., p. 34, ¶ 85.)

         While Plaintiff was gathering signatures, Defendant MSU Security Guard approached Plaintiff, threatened to call the police, and told him to leave the area. (Id., p. 20, ¶¶ 27, 31-33.) The MSU Security Guard told Plaintiff that he “would need to go to a public street like Grand Street.” (Id., p. 43, ¶ 116.) Attached to the Complaint are several exhibits, including a video of this alleged encounter. The Complaint contends this event was caused by an unconstitutional policy or custom, that Smart, MSU's Vice Presidents, and MSU's Board of Governors failed to properly train and supervise the MSU Security Guard, and/or that the MSU Defendants conspired with each other and the Springfield Police to deprive him of his civil rights. (Id., p. 6, D.; p. 18, ¶¶ 17-18.) Citing events that began in 2000, the Complaint alleges that the MSU Defendants have a history of bullying, harassing, and intimidating Plaintiff. (Id., p. 11; p. 19, ¶ 24.)

         The Complaint asserts 32 causes of action under federal and state law, including a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985, and a claim for violation of Missouri's Campus Free Expression Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 173.1550. (Id., pp. 17-18, Count 4; pp. 35-36, Count 18; pp. 43, 48.)[2] Plaintiff seeks $10, 000, 000 in actual and punitive damages against the MSU Defendants. (Id., p. 1; Doc. 7-1.) The Complaint also requests that the Court consider “whether federal funds should be cut” from MSU, a remedy to prevent “future violations, ” and “declaratory relief.” (Doc. 7, pp. 18, 29, 33.)

         On October 25, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis against the MSU Defendants, the City of Springfield, Missouri and Chief of Police, and John and Jane Does because the Complaint arguably stated a claim under § 1983 for the incident on October 29, 2016. (Doc. 6, p. 4.) However, the Court denied Plaintiff's request to reopen his prior cases that had been dismissed, and denied Plaintiff leave to relitigate any claim that had been previously adjudicated. (Id., p. 5.)

         The MSU Defendants now move to dismiss all claims against them. They argue that Plaintiff's claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and are barred by qualified immunity.[3] Plaintiff opposes the motion. He primarily argues that the Complaint states a claim, that his claims will be bolstered through discovery, and that a jury should decide whether he is entitled to relief. The MSU Defendants did not file a reply brief. These issues are addressed below.

         II. DISCUSSION

         When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court “must accept as true all of the complaint's factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff[].” Stodghill v. Wellston Sch. Dist., 512 F.3d 472, 476 (8th Cir. 2008); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court explained that:

To survive a 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. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. 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 (quotations and citations omitted). In addition, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. A pro se complaint is construed “liberally, but the complaint must still allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced.” Sandknop v. Missouri Dep't of Corr., 932 F.3d 739, 741 (8th Cir. 2019).

         A. The MSU Defendants Have Failed to Show that the Complaint is Barred by The Eleventh Amendment

         The MSU Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims arise under § 1983 and are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. (Doc. 13, pp. 3, 7-8); T.S.H. v. Northwest Mo. State Univ., 2019 WL 4647263, at * 2 (W.D. Mo. Sept. 23, 2019) (“Sovereign immunity is a jurisdictional, threshold matter[.]”).[4] The Eleventh Amendment provides that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI; see also Lors v. Dean, 746 F.3d 857, 862 (8th Cir. 2014). As relevant here, “Section 1983 does not override Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Hadley v. N. Ark. Cmty. Technical Coll., 76 F.3d 1437, 1438 (8th Cir. 1996).

         If applicable, the Eleventh Amendment bars suit against a state and state agencies “for any kind of relief, not merely monetary damages.” Monroe v. Ark. State Univ., 495 F.3d 591, 594 (8th Cir. 2007).[5] The Eleventh Amendment does not bar a suit against state officials in their official capacity for prospective, non-monetary relief. Id. To determine whether a state university is immune, a court must examine “whether the suit is in reality a suit against the state.” Sherman v. Curators of Univ. of Mo., 16 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 1994). This requires “factual findings” on “whether any judgment rendered against the entity would ultimately come out of state funds” and the university's “overall degree of autonomy from the State of Missouri.” Id. at 863-64; see also Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429-30 (considering facts such as “the nature of the entity created by state law”). Similarly, a state “official may ...


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