Mary R. Meier Plaintiff- Appellant
St. Louis, City of Missouri; Doc's Towing, Inc. Defendants - Appellees St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners; Richard H. Gray, Member, St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, in his official capacity; Thomas Irwin, Member, St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, in his official capacity; Erwin Switzer, Member, St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, in his official capacity; Bettye Battle-Turner, Member, St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, in her official capacity; Francis G. Slay, in his official capacity as a member ex officio of the St. Louis City Board of Police Commissioners; St. Louis P.O. House, DSN 219 Defendants
Submitted: April 15, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
SMITH, Chief Judge, ARNOLD and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
Meier sued the City of St. Louis and Doc's Towing, Inc.,
claiming that both defendants violated her rights under the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when her car was towed and
stored without her consent or a warrant. The district court
granted summary judgment in the defendants' favor,
concluding that neither defendant was a party who could be
held liable for any alleged constitutional violation under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Because we conclude that Meier has
adduced evidence sufficient to establish both defendants'
liability, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
December 2015, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
(SLMPD) Officer Ashley Kelly responded to a hit-and-run
accident. Based on information received from the victim, she
suspected that the vehicle that left the scene was a Ford
F-150 truck registered to Meier. So she asked a SLMPD clerk
to report the truck as "wanted" for an ordinance
violation on the Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS)
network. REJIS is a computer network established by a
cooperative agreement between the City of St. Louis and St.
Louis County. It allows law enforcement agencies within the
county to share information with each other.
early morning of March 17, 2016, Maryland Heights Police
Department (MHPD) Officer Cliff House saw Ben Meier (Mary
Meier's son) and a companion sitting in a truck in a
hotel parking lot. House looked up the truck's license
plate number on REJIS and saw that it was wanted by SLMPD. He
approached the truck's occupants and eventually arrested
them for reasons unconnected to the wanted report. He
directed dispatch to arrange for the truck to be towed
because of the wanted report, among other things. MHPD
dispatch arranged for Doc's Towing to pick up the truck.
When a driver from Doc's Towing arrived, House indicated
that the truck was wanted by the City of St. Louis. The
driver wrote "Maryland Heights Police Department,"
"Hold," and the date on the truck's back window
and then towed it to Doc's Towing, where it was stored.
dispatch sent SLMPD a message through REJIS: "We have
located this vehicle and we are towing it to Doc's Towing
due to an arrest." SLMPD responded, "Please notify
our First District Detective Bureau in the morning with
arrest information." In the morning, SLMPD followed up
with another message to MHPD: "Advise driver/owner of
vehicle to respond to the First District Detective Bureau
regarding release of vehicle." MHPD mailed Meier a
notice that the truck had been towed to Doc's Towing.
March 18, Meier and her son went to Doc's Towing to get
the truck back. An employee told them that MHPD had
"released" the truck but that SLMPD still had a
"hold" on the truck, and therefore it could not be
released. Later that month, Ben Meier contacted SLMPD
Detective John Russo to figure out how to remove the wanted
hold on the truck. Russo explained that Ben would have to
answer SLMPD's "questions relative to the
Meier hired a lawyer, Jeff Rath, to help her get the truck
back. After numerous phone calls, Rath obtained a boilerplate
"release order" form from SLMPD that
"rescinded" the March 17 "hold order" on
the truck. Rath faxed the release order to Doc's Towing
on April 29. Doc's Towing then allowed Meier to retrieve
the truck after paying a tow fee and a separate storage fee
based on the number of days in storage. Unfortunately, the
truck had been damaged during its time in storage, and an
employee who mistakenly believed that the truck had been
abandoned by its owner had already applied for salvage title.
Doc's Towing attempted to remedy this error, but at the
time briefing was completed on this appeal, Meier still had
not obtained clean title for the truck.
sued various defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a
statute that establishes a cause of action against a person
who, under color of law, causes a violation of the
plaintiff's constitutional rights. The district court
granted summary judgment in favor of St. Louis and Doc's
Towing, concluding that these two defendants could not be
held liable under § 1983 because Meier had not adduced
evidence establishing that either defendant acted pursuant to
an official policy or that Doc's Towing had acted under
color of law. "We review the grant of a summary judgment
motion de novo and examine the record in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party." Smith v.
Insley's Inc., 499 F.3d 875, 879 (8th Cir. 2007).
"Summary judgment is only appropriate if the evidence