Cunningham v. Bates et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Leona Bates's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Kristy Cunninghams First Amended Complaint # 14 is DENIED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant Leona Bates's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Kristy Cunninghams Complaint # 7 is DENIED as moot. Signed by District Judge Rodney W. Sippel on 8/25/16. (ARL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
LEONA BATES, et al.,
No. 4:16 CV 793 RWS
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Kristy Cunningham brings due process claims under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 against eight individual Defendants, the City of Farmington, Missouri, and
St. Francois County, Missouri. One of the individual defendants, Leona Bates,
moves to dismiss the claims against her, arguing Cunningham has failed to allege
facts showing Bates, who is not a public official, acted under color of state law.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
Cunningham opposes the motion.
Cunningham has sufficiently stated a claim that Bates conspired with state actors
to deprive Cunningham of her constitutional rights, I will deny the motion.
In ruling on a motion to dismiss, I must accept as true all factual allegations
in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hager
v. Ark. Dep’t of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2013). Under the federal
rules, a plaintiff need not provide “‘detailed factual allegations,’” but must provide
“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, 555, 570 (2007)).
Cunningham filed her original complaint in this case on June 3, 2016. She
then filed an amended complaint on June 8, 2016.
Bates moved to dismiss
Cunningham’s original complaint, see Doc. 7, and then filed another motion to
dismiss Cunningham’s amended complaint, see Doc. 14. Bates’s first motion to
dismiss is moot. The background and analysis that follow address Bates’s motion
to dismiss Cunningham’s amended complaint.
Cunningham brings due process claims against eight individuals: (1) Bates;
(2) Dennis Smith, the jail administrator for St. Francois County; (3) David
Kennedy, a bailiff employed by St. Francois County, who Cunningham alleges
“regularly ran errands for the St. Francois County Prosecutor”; (4) Daniel Bullock,
the Sheriff of St. Francois County; (5) Spring Henson Gray, a clerk or secretary for
the St. Francois County Prosecutor; (6) Donald Duncan, a Farmington police
officer; (7) Rick Baker, Farmington Police Chief; and (8) John Doe, a Farmington
police officer. Cunningham alleges the following facts relevant to this motion. In
2013, Cunningham alleges she discovered her husband was having an affair with
Bates and with another woman, Kelly Vaugh, a friend of Bates. Cunningham
complained publicly about Bates and sent an email to several people stating that
Vaugh was having an affair with her husband.
Vaugh filed a petition for a
temporary restraining order against Cunningham, which was denied. Then, in
November 2013, Bates started filing police reports claiming Cunningham was
stalking and assaulting her. Cunningham did not know Bates was filing these
reports, and Cunningham was never interviewed by the Police Department or the
Sheriff’s Office with respect to these reports or the stalking charge that ultimately
Bates began appearing at functions she knew Cunningham would be
attending and attempting to provoke Cunningham into a confrontation, after which
she would secretly file false police reports claiming Cunningham had stalked and
assaulted her. This occurred on at least three occasions between November 2013
and January 2014. On the last occasion, on or about January 11, 2014, two
Farmington police officers, Defendants Duncan and/or Doe, were waiting for
Cunningham when she left the restaurant where Bates confronted her. They pulled
Cunningham passed a field sobriety test but refused to take a
breathalyzer test because she had had gastric bypass surgery and had been told this
would cause a high reading on a breathalyzer. She was arrested and charged with
driving while intoxicated. She posted bond for that charge and for an aggravated
stalking charge filed in January 2014.
Cunningham’s bond on the stalking charge was revoked in May 2014. A
hearing was held on June 11, 2014, on Cunningham’s motion to reinstate her bond.
Bates did not testify at that hearing. Cunningham was denied bond on the grounds
that Bates was afraid Cunningham would stalk and assault her.
pleaded guilty to aggravated stalking of Bates on August 16, 2014 because that
was the only way to be released from jail to see her children. While Cunningham
was in jail, Bates falsely claimed that Cunningham was telephoning her from jail.
Smith, who controlled jail phone records, falsely reported these alleged calls to the
Bates has a friendly relationship with Smith.
alleges, on information and belief, that Smith has a friendly relationship with
Bullock, Duncan, and Baker, among others.
Around August 28, 2014, Cunningham went to the Elks Club near
Farmington with friends. When Cunningham left the Elks Club, Duncan and/or
Doe were waiting for her to exit the building.
Cunningham’s friend, Eric
McKorkle, had been drinking and attempted to drive. Cunningham pushed him to
prevent him from driving. The officers arrested Cunningham, and she was charged
with misdemeanor assault and incarcerated from August 28, 2014, until September
25, 2014, when she obtained a bond. During this period, her friend, Chuck Dyers,
attempted to assist her in obtaining a bond. Dyers received telephone calls and text
messages from a telephone number registered to Smith. Smith told him it would
be in his best interest to have no contact with Cunningham.
Cunningham’s probation was revoked on November 7, 2014, and the Court
sentenced her to 120 days in prison. Before her probation revocation hearing,
Cunningham spoke with Sheriff Bullock and told him that the charges against her
had been manufactured by Bates, with the assistance of her friends in public office,
including Smith, and that she had not been calling Bates from jail. Bullock did not
take action or investigate these matters. Smith initially denied to Bullock that he
knew Bates. Cunningham has obtained a photograph of Bates and Smith together
with a small group at a Thanksgiving Day dinner in November 2013.
Cunningham alleges Bates sought to discredit her and seek revenge against
her for revealing Bates’s affair with Cunningham’s husband, so Bates persuaded
her friends to issue false charges against Cunningham, not investigate those
charges, deny her bond, hold her in jail indefinitely, coerce her into pleading guilty
to false aggravated stalking charges, and revoke her probation to require her to
spend additional time in jail. Cunningham alleges Bates had a friendly relationship
with Smith, who had a friendly relationship with Bullock, Duncan, and Baker,
among others. She alleges that Kennedy and Gray also acted in concert with this
group, had their own reasons for wanting revenge against her, and interfered with
her attempt to speak with the prosecutor’s office’s victim’s advocate about her
Cunningham brings Counts I and II against Bates and the other individual
Defendants, arguing they denied her due process of law by acting in concert, under
color of state law, to recklessly present false evidence to the prosecutor, fail to
investigate the facts, persuade the prosecutor to deny her bond, hold her in jail
indefinitely until she pled guilty, revoke her probation, and selectively prosecute
her on false charges. Bates moves to dismiss Counts I and II only on the grounds
that Cunningham has failed to state a claim against her because she has not alleged
any facts showing Bates, a private citizen, acted under color of state law.
“Section 1983 imposes liability for certain actions taken ‘under color of’ law
that deprive a person ‘of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United
States.’” Dossett v. First State Bank, 399 F.3d 940, 947 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 931 (1982)). “Only state actors can be
held liable under section 1983.” Carlson v. Roetzel & Andress, 552 F.3d 648, 650
(8th Cir. 2008) (quotation marks omitted). “A private party may be held liable
under § 1983 only if it is a ‘willful participant in joint activity with the State or its
Gibson v. Regions Fin. Corp., 557 F.3d 842, 846 (8th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Lugar, 457 U.S. at 941). “[M]ere furnishing of information to a law
enforcement officer, even if the information is false, does not constitute joint
activity with state officials.” See id. But allegations that a private actor conspired
with state actors to deprive the plaintiff of her civil rights may adequately allege
that the private actor acted under color of state law if the conspiracy allegations are
sufficiently specific to give rise to an inference of a meeting of the minds between
the defendants. See Murray v. Lene, 595 F.3d 868, 870‒71 (8th Cir. 2010); Smith
v. Bacon, 699 F.2d 434, 436‒37 (8th Cir. 1983) (per curiam).
Cunningham’s allegations, as outlined above, assumed as true and viewed in
the light most favorable to her, are sufficient to state a plausible claim that Bates
had a mutual understanding with at least some of the other Defendants to violate
Cunningham’s constitutional rights. While there are no allegations of an express
meeting of the minds, conspiracies are rarely shown by direct evidence, especially
on the face of the complaint. See Smith, 699 F.2d at 437. If Cunningham’s
allegations are substantiated, a reasonable jury could infer that at least some of the
Defendants, including Bates, conspired against Cunningham to have her falsely
arrested, detained, and charged. As a result, I will deny Bates’s motion to dismiss
Cunningham’s First Amended Complaint.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Leona Bates’s Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff Kristy Cunningham’s First Amended Complaint # is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant Leona Bates’s Motion
to Dismiss Plaintiff Kristy Cunningham’s Complaint # is DENIED as moot.
RODNEY W. SIPPEL
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 25th day of August, 2016.
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