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Hutchcroft-Darling v. Boecker

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

October 21, 2019

BRIAN HUTCHCROFT-DARLING and FRANK MASSINGHAM, Plaintiffs,
v.
JUSTIN BOECKER; JERRY A. VANDER SANDEN; CITY OF CEDAR RAPIDS; and LINN COUNTY, IOWA; Defendants.

          ORDER

          Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case is before me on a motion (Doc. No. 8) to dismiss by defendants Jerry Vander Sanden and Linn County, Iowa. Plaintiffs Brian Hutchcroft-Darling (Darling) and Frank Massingham (Massingham) have filed a resistance (Doc. No. 10). I find that oral argument is not necessary. See Local Rule 7(c).

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiffs filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 1, 2019. Doc. No. 1 at 1. They allege that Darling is the owner of Hutch's Property, L.L.C., which owns three duplexes in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Doc. No. 1 at 3. Massingham is an employee of Hutch's Property. Plaintiffs allege that they were falsely accused and charged with theft of a tenant's washer and dryer. The tenant, Andrea Bowlay-Williams (Bowlay), reported the theft to the Cedar Rapids Police Department on September 17, 2017. Id. Defendant Justin Boecker, a police officer with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, investigated the complaint by speaking to four witnesses at the apartment complex. Id. at 4.

         Plaintiffs allege that on September 19, 2017, Vander Sanden (the elected County Attorney for Linn County) issued two sworn complaints[1] alleging that witnesses had observed plaintiffs steal a washer and dryer from a tenant valued between $1, 000 and $10, 000. Id. at 10. Plaintiffs allege that Vander Sanden never talked with any of the alleged witnesses and merely accepted Boecker's account of the incident. They contend that had Vander Sanden conducted his own investigation beyond “rubber stamping” Boecker's police report, he would have determined that no probable cause existed and that Boecker had misrepresented his interviews with the alleged witnesses. Id. Plaintiffs state Boecker knew when he filed his report and requested formal charges that no probable cause existed for theft charges against plaintiffs. They contend Boecker never attempted to enter the apartment duplex to see if the washer and dryer were present.

         Warrants were issued for plaintiffs' arrests on September 20, 2017. Id. at 11. They were arrested and detained until they could post bail. On February 28, 2018, Vander Sanden filed a motion to dismiss the charges, stating “the witnesses upon which the State relied in filing charges” had “retracted their earlier statements (sic) to police.” Id. Due to the witnesses' “recantations, ” Vander Sanden determined there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charges. Id. (citing Doc. No. 1-3). Plaintiffs allege that Vander Sanden's statements to the court about witness “retractions” and “recantations” were made in reckless disregard of the truth because no such “retractions” or “recantations” were ever made by any of the witnesses. They allege the witnesses never made incriminating statements against plaintiffs in the first place.

         Plaintiffs allege the following claims against Vander Sanden (in his individual and official capacities) and Linn County:

. Violation of Clearly Established Civil Rights Guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - False Arrest/Arrest Without Probable Cause against Defendants Boecker and Vander Sanden in their individual and official capacities and Cedar Rapids and Linn County
. False Arrest Claim (Common Law) - Against Defendants Boecker, Vander Sanden including conspiracy and respondeat superior liability against Cedar Rapids and Linn County, Iowa
. Malicious Prosecution Claim - Against Defendants Boecker, Vander Sanden including conspiracy and respondeat superior liability against Cedar Rapids and Linn County, Iowa

Id. at 12-17.

         III. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize a pre-answer motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Supreme Court has provided the following guidance in considering whether a pleading properly states a claim:

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” As the Court held in [Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)], the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. Id., at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)). A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id., at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955.
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id., at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.
Id., at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (brackets omitted).

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009).

         Courts assess “plausibility” by “‘draw[ing] on [their own] judicial experience and common sense.'” Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1128 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Also, courts “‘review the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual allegation.'” Id. (quoting Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n.4 (8th Cir. 2010)). While factual “plausibility” is typically the focus of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, federal courts may dismiss a claim that lacks a cognizable legal theory. See, e.g., Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013); Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 469 (3d Cir. 2013); Commonwealth Prop. Advocates, L.L.C. v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 680 F.3d 1194, 1202 (10th Cir. 2011); accord Target Training Intern., Ltd. v. Lee, 1 F.Supp.3d 927 (N.D. Iowa 2014).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, ordinarily the court “cannot consider matters outside the pleadings without converting the motion into a motion for summary judgment.” McMahon v. Transamerica Life Ins., No. C17-149-LTS, 2018 WL 3381406, at *2 n.2 (N.D. Iowa July 11, 2018); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On the other hand, when a copy of a “written instrument” is attached to a pleading, it is considered “a part of the pleading for all purposes, ” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(c). Thus, when the pleadings necessarily embrace certain documents, I may consider those documents without turning a motion to dismiss into a ...


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