ST. LOUIS – The city of St. Louis and a handful of its police officers failed to convince the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri’s Eastern Division to dismiss a case against them filed by a journalist who was arrested while covering a protest.
Michael Faulk sued the city over allegations he was injured by several officers while covering a protest in 2017 after the St. Louis City Circuit Court's ruling on State of Missouri v. Stockley. He alleges pepper spray was used on him and he was also pushed by officers. The ruling states he was taken to the St. Louis City Justice Center and was detained for 13 hours.
He sued citing First and 14th Amendment violations, conspiracy to deprive civil rights, municipal liability for failure to train, discipline and supervise, and for customs of conducting unreasonable searches and seizures as well as use of excessive force. He also filed state law claims against the city alleging intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and conversion.
U.S. District Court Jean C. Hamilton ruled on the case, holding that Faulk sufficiently pointed out multiple occasions where police used chemical agents without warning peaceful protesters.
Faulk also alleged the city had a settlement agreement in a related March 2015 case and that as part of the settlement, SLMPD vowed to no longer use chemical agents on a group of people who were not taking part in illegal conduct. If it did, it would at the very least have to issue a warning.
"These factual allegations are sufficient to support the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom that plausibly caused the constitutional violations here,” Hamilton wrote.
Hamilton disagreed with Faulk that the SLMPD didn’t properly train its officers and granted the city's motion to dismiss on alleged failure to train, supervise and discipline its offers. The judge granted Faulk leave to amend the claim.
Hamilton sided with Faulk in his civil conspiracy claim. The city wanted the claim dismissed, stating the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine blocked it. But Hamilton said the Eighth Circuit has yet to determine if the doctrine is actually relevant to claims that Faulk alleges. Without the guidance, district judges have “consistently declined to extend the doctrine’s reach, at least at the pleading stage,” Hamilton said, and denied the motion to dismiss.
As for the state law claims, the city said these are invalid because of sovereign immunity. Hamilton disagreed, pointing out that Faulk noted the city gets insurance via the Public Facilities Protection Corp. (PFPC), which is a not-for-profit business that the city pays annually. The funds are then given for claims against the city, or at least serve as a self-insurance plan. Hamilton concurred with previous cases that determined that PFPC insurance or self-insurance is enough to provide an exception to sovereign immunity in state law claims.
Hamilton granted Faulk leave to file a forth amended complaint and the defendants were granted an extension to file their answers to Faulk's third amended complaint.