Stockley v. Joyce

Decision Date14 February 2019
Docket NumberNo. 4:18-CV-873 CAS,4:18-CV-873 CAS
PartiesJASON STOCKLEY, Plaintiff, v. JENNIFER MARIE JOYCE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri

This matter is before the Court on separate motions to dismiss filed by defendants Jennifer Marie Joyce in her individual capacity, Kirk Deeken in his individual capacity, and the City of St. Louis ("City").1 Plaintiff Jason Stockley opposes the motions and they are fully briefed. For the following reasons, the defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff Jason Stockley, a former police officer for the City, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Missouri law to recover damages arising from events concerning his prosecution for the alleged first-degree murder of Anthony Smith that ended in plaintiff's acquittal.

In his First Amended Complaint ("complaint"), plaintiff asserts multiple claims under § 1983 against Joyce, Deeken, and the City (Count I); § 1983 Monell claims against the City and Joyce in her official capacity (Count II)2; a state law defamation claim against Joyce in her individual andofficial capacities (Count III); and a state law malicious prosecution claim against Deeken in his individual and official capacities (Count IV).

The Court has both federal question and diversity of citizenship jurisdiction over this matter, as plaintiff asserts federal claims, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the parties are citizens of different States and more than $75,000 is in controversy, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).3

II. Legal Standard

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.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim for relief is plausible on its face where "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged," id., and "raise[s] a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint must offer more than "'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'" to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, even if it appears that "actual proof of those facts is improbable," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, and reviews the complaint to determine whether its allegations show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 555-56; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The principle that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions, however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (stating "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supportedby mere conclusory statements, do not suffice"). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework for a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. Id.

While courts primarily consider the allegations in the complaint in determining whether to grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, they may also consider exhibits and documents attached to a complaint. See Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 373 (8th Cir. 2016); Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab, Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 & n.3 (8th Cir. 2012). Here, the Court will consider the state court criminal complaint and probable cause statement attached as exhibits to the complaint.

Defendant Joyce also moves to dismiss certain of plaintiff's claims on the basis of absolute prosecutorial immunity. The Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry is distinct from the question of absolute immunity. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 274 n.5 (1993) (noting the court below incorrectly "conflate[d] the question whether a § 1983 plaintiff has stated a cause of action with the question whether the defendant is entitled to absolute immunity for [her] actions.").

III. Discussion
A. Defendant Joyce in her Individual Capacity's Motion to Dismiss

Defendant Joyce moves to dismiss all of plaintiff's claims against her for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and to dismiss plaintiff's claims related to her pursuit of plaintiff's criminal prosecution on the basis of absolute prosecutorial immunity.

1. Section 1983 Claims - Count I
a. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff's complaint recites facts relating to the events of December 20, 2011, when plaintiff was on duty as a St. Louis City police officer. Plaintiff alleges that he and his partner were in a police vehicle when they observed what they believed to be a hand-to-hand drug transactionoccurring outside of a fast-food restaurant. Plaintiff's partner attempted to block the vehicle of one of the suspected participants in the transaction, later determined to be Anthony Smith, and plaintiff and his partner exited their police vehicle. Mr. Smith began to maneuver his car out of its space by moving it backward and forward, striking the police vehicle and another car in the process. Plaintiff's partner broke the driver's side window of Mr. Smith's car with his weapon, saw a handgun inside the vehicle and yelled, "Gun!" Mr. Smith was able to extricate his car from its parking space, and the passenger side of Mr. Smith's car struck plaintiff as Mr. Smith accelerated off of the parking lot. Plaintiff alleges he saw Mr. Smith holding a silver handgun near the front passenger seat. Mr. Smith drove at high speeds in city traffic with plaintiff and his partner in pursuit. Mr. Smith eventually crashed his car and plaintiff directed his partner to drive the police vehicle into the rear of Mr. Smith's car. Plaintiff alleges that after the crash, he and his partner got out of their vehicle and plaintiff approached the driver's door. Plaintiff alleges that for fifteen seconds he gave commands directing Mr. Smith to show his hands and get out of the car, but Mr. Smith did not comply and eventually leaned toward the right side of the car, whereupon plaintiff shot Mr. Smith five times, killing him. Complaint, ¶¶ 8-13.

Plaintiff alleges that St. Louis Police Department homicide detectives and other police officials conducted an investigation into Mr. Smith's death during 2011 and 2012, and found no basis to criminally prosecute him. Defendant Joyce was the City's elected Circuit Attorney and chief prosecutor at the time and declined to prosecute plaintiff after reviewing the evidence. The United States Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also conducted investigations into Mr. Smith's death, and reviewed all of the available evidence including laboratory reports. This evidence included a laboratory determination that plaintiff's DNA was present on the gun removed from Mr. Smith's car, but Mr. Smith's DNA was not on the gun. The United States Attorneydeclined to prosecute plaintiff. Mr. Smith's death was also investigated by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which found no basis for prosecution. Defendant Joyce reviewed the evidence gathered by federal investigators and declined to prosecute plaintiff. Complaint, ¶¶14-15. Plaintiff alleges that no new evidence appeared after these investigations to indicate he committed a crime in connection with Mr. Smith's death. Id. ¶ 16.

Plaintiff alleges that a subsequent police shooting in October 2014 that killed Vonderrit Myers was investigated by the Circuit Attorney's Office and the St. Louis Police Department's Force Investigation Unit ("FIU"), which had been recently created to investigate shootings by police officers. In May 2015, Joyce issued a written report based on the FIU's analysis and recommendation concerning the Myers shooting, and relying on the FIU investigation declined to prosecute the officer. Subsequently, activists demonstrated at Joyce's home in May 2015 protesting her decision not to prosecute the officer in the Myers shooting, putting her in great fear. Activists demonstrated at City Hall in April 2016 protesting Joyce's decision not to prosecute plaintiff for Mr. Smith's death. Plaintiff alleges these protests alarmed and intimidated Joyce, who met with protest leaders in May 2016 and informed them she would be charging plaintiff with first degree murder in the immediate future. Complaint, ¶¶ 17-20.

Plaintiff's lengthy and detailed complaint is not a model of pleading clarity. It asserts detailed facts concerning numerous allegedly improper actions by Joyce, including the misrepresentation and withholding of evidence in the probable cause statement submitted to the state court seeking a warrant for plaintiff's arrest, id. ¶¶ 25-29; and intentionally misrepresenting multiple pieces of evidence to the grand jury to secure plaintiff's indictment, id. ¶¶ 30-61. Plaintiff affirmatively states, however, that Joyce is "absolutely immune from civil liability for certain actions and omissions attributed" to her therein, but further states that he pleads the acts and omissions forwhich she is immune to "show the intent and consequences of conduct and omissions for which Ms. Joyce . . . do[es] not enjoy absolute immunity[.]" Id. ¶ 87.4

In his opposition memorandum, plaintiff clarifies that his § 1983 claim against Joyce asserts substantive due process violations based on two actions: (1) Joyce's effective termination of the new investigation into Mr. Smith's death by the St. Louis Police Department FIU, and (2) Joyce's public comments in 2016 that there was "new evidence" plaintiff committed a crime in connection with Mr. Smith's death. (Doc. 49 at 1, 3-4.) The Court therefore limits its discussion and analysis to these two claims.

With respect to these claims, the complaint alleges that Joyce "elected to bypass investigation of Mr. Smith's death by the [FIU] . . . and charge [plaintiff] with first degree murder and armed...

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