Gardner v. City of St. Louis, Case No. 4:20-CV-00060 JAR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
PartiesKIMBERLY M. GARDNER, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 4:20-CV-00060 JAR
Decision Date30 September 2020

CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 4:20-CV-00060 JAR


September 30, 2020


Plaintiff Kimberly Gardner ("Gardner"), the first African American woman elected Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis (the "City"), brings this action against the City, the local police union, a special prosecutor, and a private taxpayer, alleging a "racially motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities" by interfering with her efforts to crack down on police misconduct and institute changes in the City's criminal justice system. Gardner further alleges Defendants violated her Fourth Amendment rights and abused the criminal process to effectively engineer her removal from office. Her 32-page complaint can best be described as a conglomeration of unrelated claims and conclusory statements supported by very few facts, which do not plead any recognizable cause of action. For the reasons stated herein, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.

I. Alleged facts

The following facts are taken from Gardner's amended complaint. (Amended Complaint ("AC"), Doc. No. 42). Additional specific facts will be discussed as necessary to address the parties' arguments. In November 2016, Gardner was elected Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis. She ran on a promise to redress historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system

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among communities of color. In her complaint, Gardner sets out statistical evidence of racial inequality in St. Louis policing and notes resistance from the SLPOA Defendants to her reform efforts. She describes the City Counselor's criminal investigation of former FBI agent William Don Tisaby - whom she hired to assist in her investigation of former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens - and the appointment of Gerard Carmody - who she alleges is a close friend and former law partner of the head of Greitens's legal defense team, Ed Dowd - as Special Prosecutor, as attempts to intimidate, silence, and sideline her. Gardner alleges the Carmodys abused their authority by conducting an unconstitutional search and seizure of electronic communications and files of the Circuit Attorney's Office and by "coopting" the Grand Jury Process, all in an effort to engineer her removal from office or curtail her ability to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system. As for Lane, a retired St. Louis Police Department Officer, Gardner alleges he filed a taxpayer lawsuit against her "to prevent her from performing the contracts she entered into to compensate the attorneys representing her with respect to Carmody's investigation." Gardner contends the City Counselor has sided with Lane against her, despite the fact that she followed the protocols of the prior Circuit Attorney.

Count I of Gardner's complaint is directed against all Defendants and alleges a racist conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2)-(3) to thwart her reform efforts. Count II of the complaint is directed against Gerard Carmody, Patrick Carmody, and Ryann Carmody (collectively, "the Carmodys") and alleges an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Count III, Gardner alleges that the Carmodys and the City, by instituting a baseless criminal investigation of her, groundlessly seeking and obtaining the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, and searching and seizing the files of the Circuit Attorney

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without probable cause, abused the legal process in violation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Now before the Court are the following motions: Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff Charles A. Lane's ("Lane") Motion to Dismiss Count I of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 43) and Motion to Strike Pursuant to Rule 12(f) (Doc. No. 45); the Carmodys' Motion to Dismiss All Counts (Doc. No. 48); the City's Motion to Dismiss All Counts (Doc. No. 50); and Defendants St. Louis Police Officers' Association and its Executive Director, Jeffrey Roorda's (collectively, the "SLPOA Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Count I of the First Amended Complaint Pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) and Motion to Strike (Doc. No. 54).1 Gardner filed a consolidated memorandum in opposition to Defendants' motions to dismiss and motions to strike (Doc. No. 65) and Defendants replied (Doc. Nos. 74, 76, 78, 79). With leave of Court, Gardner filed a sur-reply in further opposition to the City and the Carmodys' motions to dismiss. (Doc. No. 83). The motions are, therefore, fully briefed and ready for disposition.

II. Legal standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The pleading standard of Rule 8 "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must show that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. Id.

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Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) provides for a motion to dismiss based on the failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) 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.' " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In the complaint, a plaintiff must include sufficient factual information to provide the grounds on which his claims rest, and to raise a right to relief above a speculative level. Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 & n.3). This obligation requires a plaintiff to plead "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory. Id. at 562. This standard "simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim or element]." Id. at 556.

In reviewing the pleadings under this standard, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draw all inferences in the plaintiff's favor, but the Court is not required to accept the legal conclusions the plaintiff draws from the facts alleged. See Wiles v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 280 F.3d 868, 870 (8th Cir. 2002) (The Court is "free to ignore legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations."); Retro Television Network, Inc. v. Luken Commc'ns, LLC, 696 F.3d 766, 768-69 (8th Cir. 2012). The Court may also properly consider public records, including court records, on a motion to dismiss. Levy v. Ohl, 477 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 2007).

III. Standing

As a threshold matter, Lane and the SLPOA Defendants argue that Gardner lacks standing to sue under § 1985 because she is not seeking to redress a violation of her own civil rights, but

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rather the right of "all persons within the City of St. Louis to the equal protection of the laws." (AC at ¶¶ 108, 109). Gardner responds that § 1985 plainly authorizes private actions by officials whose job it is to secure equal justice for others, citing Brewer v. Hoxie Sch. Dist. No. 46 of Lawrence Cty., Ark., 238 F.2d 91 (8th Cir. 1956).

In Brewer, the directors and superintendent of an Arkansas school district sought a declaratory judgment and injunction under § 1985(2)-(3) against interference with the operation of its schools on a desegregated basis following the Supreme Court's decisions in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) and 349 U.S. 294 (1955). The Eighth Circuit found the plaintiffs had a federal right in their personal capacity to be free from interference in upholding their oaths of office and constitutional duty to accord equal protection of the laws to all persons in their operation of the Hoxie schools. The Brewer court also held that plaintiffs could assert the rights of the school children under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court said:

The school board having the duty to afford the children the equal protection of the law has the correlative right, as has been pointed out, to protection in performance of its function. Its right is thus intimately identified with the right of the children themselves. The right does not arise solely from the interest of the parties concerned, but from the necessity of the government itself. Though, generally speaking, the right to equal protection is a personal right of individuals, this is only a rule of practice, which will not be followed where the identity of interest between the party asserting the right and the party in whose favor the right directly exists is sufficiently close.

Brewer, 238 F.2d at 104 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Like the plaintiffs in Brewer, Gardner is under a state oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Missouri. See RS MO. 56.550. "It follows as a necessary corollary that [she] has a federal right to be free from direct and deliberate interference with the performance of the constitutionally imposed duty." Brewer, 238 F.2d at 99

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(emphasis in the original). Since Gardner has alleged that a conspiracy whose object was to "deny the civil rights of racial minorities" injured her while she was seeking to vindicate those rights, the Court finds she has adequately alleged standing for her § 1985 claim. Thus, Lane and the SLPOA's motions to dismiss will be denied on...

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