Cheeks v. Belmar, 4:18-cv-2091-SEP

Decision Date17 September 2020
Docket NumberNo. 4:18-cv-2091-SEP,4:18-cv-2091-SEP
PartiesCLARA CHEEKS, Plaintiff, v. JON BELMAR, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri

This matter is before the Court on separate motions to dismiss Plaintiff Clara Cheeks' Second Amended Complaint filed by Defendants Jon Belmar and St. Louis County, Missouri (collectively, the "County Defendants") (Doc. [148]); Alex Maloy and Mark Jakob in their individual capacities (individually, "Maloy" or "Jakob" and collectively, the "Police Officer Defendants")1 (Doc. [144]); and Mike Broniec, Paul Kempke, and Brock Teague in their individual capacities (collectively, the "MSHP Defendants") (Doc. [146]). The MSHP Defendants also filed an alternative, supplemental motion to dismiss. The motions are fully briefed and ready for disposition.

For the reasons outlined below, the Court will stay Plaintiff's state law wrongful death claims in Counts VIII and IX; deny the County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss; grant in part anddeny in part the Police Officer Defendants' Motion to Dismiss; grant the MSHP Defendants' Motion to Dismiss; and deny as moot the MSHP Defendants' Supplemental Motion to Dismiss. In addition, on the Court's own motion, some of Plaintiff's claims against the County Defendants will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff is the mother of Mikel Neil ("Decedent"), a deceased adult. The Second Amended Complaint ("complaint") alleges that Decedent died as a result of injuries he sustained on August 10, 2018, in a motor vehicle accident caused by Defendants Alex Maloy and Mark Jakob, former St. Louis County, Missouri police officers, while acting within the scope of their employment. The complaint alleges Decedent was driving on Airport Road in a residential area of the City of Berkeley, Missouri, when he allegedly ran a red light. Maloy and Jacob activated their police vehicle's emergency lights and engaged in a pursuit of Decedent's vehicle at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. Maloy and Jakob intentionally performed a PIT maneuver on Decedent's vehicle that caused it to crash into a tree near the road at the intersection of Airport Road and Tyndall Drive.2 Maloy and Jakob knew of the crash but left the scene without providing any medical treatment to the vehicle's occupants or notifying 911 or other appropriate authorities. Both occupants of the vehicle were alive and breathing immediately following the crash.

Maloy and Jakob did not return to the crash scene until approximately 45 minutes later, by which time both Decedent and his passenger were dead. Maloy and Jakob intentionally and falsely reported the crash as a single-car accident caused by driver error. Without conducting a meaningful investigation, the St. Louis County Police Department falsely claimed its officers werenot involved in a pursuit; failed or refused to listen to eyewitness accounts of a police chase involving a PIT maneuver; and obtained video footage of the pursuit from security cameras but failed and refused to acknowledge that it revealed a high-speed pursuit involving its officers.

Defendants Broniec, Kempke, and Teague are certified law enforcement officers employed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol who conducted an independent investigation of the crash. Broniec and "other MSHP Command Rank Personnel" came to Plaintiff's home for a meeting to provide a report of the crash investigation and said that Defendant Belmar "made various unsolicited contacts and communications with MSHP, regarding the MSHP independent investigation." Doc. [142] ¶ 76. With respect to these communications, the complaint also vaguely alleges:

St. Louis County, and other Missouri Police Officials, directly communicated with the other Defendants and investigators of the matter, regarding the incident described herein. These communications were designed to assist in the efforts of averting full liability for the conduct engaged in by law enforcement and to deny Plaintiff full access to the Court, which is a constitutionally protected right.

Id. ¶ 74.

The complaint alleges that new and different accident reconstruction software was "inexplicably" purchased to investigate the crash. The electronic accident reconstruction report created by the "Defendants" relied mostly on user input by "MSHP personnel conducting the investigation," although they were not personally on the scene and did not witness the accident. Id. ¶ 77. At the meeting at Plaintiff's home, "MSHP personnel" stated the pursuing officers would have seen the crash, which contradicts the reports of "St. Louis County [and] official statements regarding the high-speed pursuit and wrongful death scenario." Id.3

On November 26, 2018, two of Decedent's surviving daughters filed a wrongful death petition for damages in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri, claiming damages arising out of their father's death in the vehicle accident that occurred on August 10, 2018. See Neil v. St. Louis County, Mo., No. 18SL-CC04457 (21st Jud. Cir., State of Missouri) (the "state court wrongful death action").4 The named defendants in that case are St. Louis County, Mark Jakob, and Alex Maloy. The five-count wrongful death Petition asserts claims of negligence, recklessness, and negligence per se against Maloy; failure to render aid against Maloy and Jakob; and respondeat superior against St. Louis County. Doc. [153-1]. On January 25, 2019, four other children of the Decedent moved to intervene as of right in the state court wrongful death action, and the motion to intervene was granted January 29, 2019.

Meanwhile, Plaintiff filed the instant action on December 17, 2018, asserting federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and supplemental state law wrongful death claims under Missouri law against Defendants Belmar, St. Louis County, Jakob, Maloy, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol ("MSHP"). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the MSHP on the basis of Eleventh Amendment immunity and ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint. Docs. [38], [39]. Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint that, among other things, added Defendants Broniec, Kempke, and Teague. Doc. [40]. The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Maloy and Jakob in their official capacities as duplicative of the claims against St. Louis County. Docs. [102], [103]. The Court quashed service of process on Defendants Broniec and Kempke for insufficiency of process and insufficiency of service of process under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(4) and 12(b)(5). Doc. [107]. Several Defendants filed motions to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff moved for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, and Defendant Teague moved to strike Plaintiff's motion for leave. The Court denied the motion to strike, granted Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint, and denied the motions to dismiss without prejudice. Doc. [140]. Plaintiff filed the current complaint on October 15, 2019, and Defendants filed the instant motions to dismiss in response.

Plaintiff moved to intervene as of right in the state court wrongful death action on September 12, 2019, and the state court granted the motion on October 23, 2019. Plaintiff filed a "Proposed Wrongful Death Petition for Damages" in the wrongful death action on November 22, 2019. The state court record indicates significant discovery has taken place in the action.

II. Legal Standard

"To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the complaint must show the plaintiff 'is entitled to relief,' Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), by alleging 'sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" In re Pre-Filled PropaneTank Antitrust Litig., 860 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts all factual allegations as true and construes all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Usenko v. MEMC LLC, 926 F.3d 468, 472 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 607 (2019). The Court need not accept as true a plaintiff's conclusory allegations or legal conclusions drawn from the facts. Waters v. Madson, 921 F.3d 725, 734 (8th Cir. 2019). The complaint "must allege more than '[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements'" and instead must "allege sufficient facts that, taken as true, 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" K.T. v. Culver-Stockton Coll., 865 F.3d 1054, 1057 (8th Cir. 2017) (alteration in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (internal quotation marks omitted). A facially plausible claim is one "that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Wilson v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 850 F.3d 368, 371 (8th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). This "standard asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, or more than a mere possibility of misconduct." Id. (cleaned up).5

Courts generally consider only the complaint's allegations in determining whether to grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, but may also consider "matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, items appearing in therecord of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint whose authenticity is unquestioned" without converting a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab, Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 & n.3 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)).

III. Motions to Dismiss Based on Abstention and Claim Splitting...

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