Fant et al v. Ferguson, Missouri, City of
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's corrected motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' first amended complaint, and motion for a hearing, are both DENIED. ECF Nos. 150 & 165 . IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the stay previously entered is lifted, and, no later than seven days from the date of this Memorandum and Order, the parties shall submit a joint proposed scheduling plan for the remainder of this litigation, which addresses the filing deadline and briefing schedule for any motion for class certification; the parties' positions concerning the referral of this action to mediation and when such a referral would be most productive; and any other appropriate deadlines and dates in the current Case Management Order, including a proposed trial date. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the current trial setting of April 9, 2018, is VACATED, to be reset as appropriate in accordance with the parties joint proposed scheduling plan. (Joint Scheduling Plan due by 2/20/2018.) Signed by District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig on February 13, 2018. (BRP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
KEILEE FANT, et al.,
THE CITY OF FERGUSON,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiffs in this putative class action claim that they have been jailed by Defendant,
the City of Ferguson (the “City”), on numerous occasions because they were unable to pay
cash bonds or other debts owed to the City resulting from their traffic and other minor
offenses. Plaintiffs allege that, in violation of the United States Constitution and as a
matter of the City’s policies and practices, they were not afforded counsel, any inquiry into
their ability to pay, or a neutral finding of probable cause in a prompt manner; and they
were held in jail indefinitely, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, until they or their
friends or family members could make a monetary payment sufficient to satisfy the City.
Plaintiffs’ amended complaint asserts seven claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, under the
Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
The City moves to dismiss, on sovereign immunity grounds, all claims in Plaintiffs’
first amended complaint except the claim relating to conditions of confinement (Count IV).
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the City’s motion.
To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff’s allegations
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)). This standard “simply calls for enough fact
to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The reviewing court must accept the plaintiff’s factual
allegations as true and construe them in plaintiff’s favor, but it is not required to accept the
legal conclusions the plaintiff draws from the facts alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Retro
Television Network, Inc. v. Luken Commc’ns, LLC, 696 F.3d 766, 768-69 (8th Cir. 2012).
A court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense,” and consider the
plausibility of the plaintiff’s claim as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual
allegation. Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n.4 (8th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
This is the third motion to dismiss filed by the City, and this motion asserts
arguments similar to the ones raised in a prior motion (ECF No. 57), but reframes them in
terms of sovereign immunity. In short, the City argues that Plaintiffs’ constitutional
challenges are directed to the conduct of the municipal court only, and that, therefore, their
claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment’s sovereign immunity doctrine because the
municipal court is an arm of the state under Missouri law. As the undersigned has held in
this case, and as other judges in this District have held with respect to nearly identical
complaints and motions to dismiss, the complaint here alleges that the challenged conduct
was and is driven by policies and practices implemented by the City for the purpose of
increasing revenue. In addition to conduct undertaken by the municipal court, the
complaint alleges that the City’s unlawful policies and practices are executed through its
clerk, police department, and city attorney, all of whom act under the authority of the city
council. Thus, the complaint sufficiently claims that Plaintiffs were subjected to unlawful
conduct carried out pursuant to the unconstitutional policies and practices of the City,
which is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment protection. See, e.g., ECF No. 79; Webb v.
City of Maplewood, Mo., No. 4:16-CV-1703 CDP, 2017 WL 2418011, at *6 (E.D. Mo.
June 5, 2017); Baker v. City of Florissant, No. 4:16-CV-1693 NAB, 2017 WL 6316736, at
*6 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 11, 2017).
The City’s argument that the doctrines of absolute judicial, prosecutorial, and
quasi-judicial immunity bar Plaintiffs’ municipal liability claims likewise fails. Although
the City attempts to limit potential liability to individual actors, such as the municipal
judge, court clerk, prosecutor, and police officers to whom these immunity doctrines may
apply, the amended complaint alleges that it was the City’s unconstitutional policies,
practices, and procedures that drove the unlawful conduct. Unlike government officials,
municipalities do not enjoy absolute or qualified immunity from constitutional claims
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Sample v. City of Woodbury, 836 F.3d 913, 917 (8th Cir.
2016) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507
U.S. 163 (1993); Owen v. City of Independence, Mo., 445 U.S. 622 (1980)).
Finally, the City correctly asserts that, where a plaintiff brings his § 1983 claims
under a theory of municipal liability based on the decision of an official responsible for
establishing final policy, the identification of the final policymaker “is itself a legal
question to be resolved by the trial judge before the case is submitted to the jury.”
Soltesz v. Rushmore Plaza Civic Ctr., 847 F.3d 941, 946 (8th Cir. 2017). But even if
identification of the policymaker is ultimately required in this case based on the theories of
municipal liability asserted, the Court does not believe that it is required at this stage. See,
e.g., Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271, 1279–80 (11th Cir. 2016) (holding that “not
all theories of municipal liability under § 1983 require (or depend on) a single final
policymaker,” and identification of a final policymaker is not required at the pleading
stage, provided that the complaint sufficiently alleges “a policy, practice, or custom of the
City” that caused the constitutional violation).
In light of the extensive briefing submitted on these issues, the Court finds that oral
argument is unnecessary.
For the reasons set forth above,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s corrected motion to dismiss
Plaintiffs’ first amended complaint, and motion for a hearing, are both DENIED. ECF
Nos. 150 & 165.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the stay previously entered is lifted, and, no
later than seven days from the date of this Memorandum and Order, the parties shall
submit a joint proposed scheduling plan for the remainder of this litigation, which
addresses the filing deadline and briefing schedule for any motion for class certification;
the parties’ positions concerning the referral of this action to mediation and when such a
referral would be most productive; and any other appropriate deadlines and dates in the
current Case Management Order, including a proposed trial date.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the current trial setting of April 9, 2018, is
VACATED, to be reset as appropriate in accordance with the parties’ joint proposed
AUDREY G. FLEISSIG
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 13th day of February, 2018.
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