McDowell et al v. Blankenship et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 164 MOTION to Dismiss :Plaintiffs as Improper Parties and to Require Plaintiffs to Join the Real Party in Interest filed by Defendant Mark Wynn, Defendant Michael Manley, Defendant Donald Blankenship, Defendant Aaron Pinson motion is DENIED. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 2/11/13. (MRS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
REGINA MCDOWELL, et al.,
DONALD BLANKENSHIP, et al.,
Case No. 4:08-CV-602 SNLJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs as Improper Parties
and to Require Plaintiffs to Join the Real Party at Interest (#164). Plaintiffs Regina McDowell
and S.F. Doe (through her next friend, Katherine Jones) brought this lawsuit against the Phelps
County sheriff, Donald Blankenship, and his deputies Aaron Pinson, Michael Manley, and Mark
Wynn. Plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the deputies violated Jimmy Farris’s
Constitutional rights when they illegally detained him after pulling him over for running a red
traffic signal, when they illegally searched him, and when they used unnecessary force against
him. They filed this action against the deputies involved in the altercation and against the
Sheriff of Phelps County, Donald Blankenship. At the time of Summary Judgment, three counts
remained against the defendants: Count I, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Deprivation of Constitutional Rights
by Deputies; Count III, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Deprivation of Constitutional Rights by Sheriff
Blankenship; and Count IV, Wrongful Death.
This Court granted summary judgment on Count III and Count IV. Only Count I, the
Section 1983 claim against the deputies, remains, and defendants now contend that plaintiffs —
the mother and minor daughter of the decedent — are improper parties to bring the Section 1983
As the Eighth Circuit has observed,
Under § 1983, state actors who infringe the constitutional rights of an individual
are liable “to the party injured.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994 & Supp. IV 1998). The
appropriate plaintiff is obvious when a party survives his injuries, but the
language of § 1983 makes no mention of permissible plaintiffs when the injured
party dies. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(a) (1994), in this situation we look to state law
to determine who is a proper plaintiff, as long as state law is not inconsistent with
the Constitution or federal law. See Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584,
588–90, 98 S.Ct. 1991, 56 L.Ed.2d 554 (1978). Generally, state survival statutes
govern survival of personal injury actions.
Andrews v. Neer, 253 F.3d 1052, 1056-57 (8th Cir. 2001). The Missouri survival statute,
§ 537.020 R.S.Mo., requires that all suits for personal injury be brought by the personal
representative of the decedent’s estate. The Andrews court held, however, “that under
Missouri law the Missouri survival statute is inapplicable” where a claim is brought under
Section 1983 for injuries that cause death: “the survivorship statute apples when the
injury alleged did not cause death, and the wrongful death statute applies when the injury
did cause death.” 253 F.3d at 1057 (quoting Wollen v. DePaul Health Ctr., 828 S.W.2d
681, 685 (Mo. 1992)).
Here, plaintiffs contend they have standing to sue because the Missouri wrongful
death statute, § 537.080 R.S.Mo., gives the decedent’s mother and daughter standing to
bring their claims where the wrongful acts complained of caused the death of the
decedent. Defendants, however, argue that because the Court has dismissed the
plaintiffs’ wrongful death claim, the Missouri wrongful death statute no longer applies to
provide the plaintiffs standing for the Section 1983 claim. This Court disagrees.
According to the Eighth Circuit, the federal courts invoke the Missouri wrongful death
statute in order to determine standing for a Section 1983 claim where the injuries caused
the death of the decedent, and that statute applies for the purpose of determining standing
regardless of whether or not a separate claim could be brought by the plaintiff for
wrongful death. See 253 F.3d at 1056-57. Indeed, the very terms of the Missouri survival
statute (upon which defendants purport to rely) limit its reach to “causes of action for
personal injuries, other than those resulting in death.” § 537.020(1) R.S.Mo. (emphasis
added). Defendants’ argument is therefore without merit.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs as
Improper Parties and to Require Plaintiffs to Join the Real Party at Interest (#164) is
Dated this 11th day of February, 2013.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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