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Corrigan v. City of Savage

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 14, 2019

John L. Corrigan, Jr., Plaintiff,
City of Savage, a municipal entity; Kyle Klapperick, Police Officer; Alexandria Marklowitz, Police Officer; Amber Bernier, a private individual; Nelson Rhodus, Assistant Scott County Attorney; Christian Wilton, Judge; Lynn Hanson, Probation Officer; Gabe Kerkaert, Police Officer; Edward Culbreth, Officer; Ashley Uthe, Police Officer; Luke Hennen, Scott County Sheriff; and Scott County, a municipality, Defendants.

          John L. Corrigan, Jr., 1705 3rd Ave. W., Apt. #6, Shakopee, MN 55379, pro se.

          Daniel P. Jurtz, Esq., League of Minnesota Cities, counsel for City of Savage Defendants.

          Lateesa T. Ward, Esq., Ward & Ward PC, counsel for Defendant Bernier.

          Anna L. Yunker, Esq., and William J. Everett, Esq., Everett & VanderWiel, PLLP, counsel for Scott County Defendants.

          Kathryn Iverson Landrum, Esq., Minnesota Attorney General's Office, counsel for Defendant Judge Wilton.




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Judge Christian Wilton's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 35), Defendants City of Savage, Police Officer Kerkaert, Police Officer Culbreth, Police Officer Kyle Klapperick, Police Officer Alexandria Marklowitz, and Police Officer Uthe's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 45), Defendants Nelson Rhodus, Luke Henne, Lynn Hanson, and Scott County's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 50), and the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings of Defendant Amber Bernier (Doc. No. 69). The motions have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636 and D. Minn. LR 72.1. (Doc. No. 14.) On November 8, 2018, this Court held a hearing on the matter in which counsel appeared on behalf of Defendants and Plaintiff appeared pro se. (See Doc. No. 84.) For the reasons stated below, this Court recommends that Defendants' motions be granted and Plaintiff's pro se Complaint be dismissed.


         The facts underlying Plaintiff Corrigan's case all relate in one way or another to an incident that occurred while driving on August 3, 2016, which resulted in Corrigan being charged and convicted of stalking, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.749. (See Doc. No. 11, Aff. of Kathryn Iverson Landrum (“Landrum Aff.”) ¶ 3, Ex. B, State of Minnesota v. John Louis Corrigan, Court File No. 70-CR-16-14594 (Scott Cnty. Dist. Ct. July 2, 2018).) The facts, as described by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, are as follows:

Amber Bernier was homebound from work on an evening in August 2016 and heading eastward on Highway 169 north when she encountered John Corrigan in Shakopee. Soon the three-lane roadway would split in two, with cars in the left lane bending north (on Highway 169), cars in the right lane continuing straight (on Highway 13), and cars in the middle lane having the option to choose either route. Corrigan's car was in the far left lane, and Bernier's was immediately behind it. Bernier moved to the center lane, intending to continue straight and avoid the northward bend. Corrigan also changed lanes in front of her. Bernier then pulled into the far right lane and passed Corrigan to her left. Neither liked the other's driving. As Bernier passed, each driver shot angry glances at the other.
Bernier continued in her lane toward the right as the highway divided. And at first Corrigan followed the middle lane toward the left, traveling on Highway 169 north after the point where the middle lane widened and then split in two. But then Bernier saw in her rearview mirror that Corrigan abruptly changed course and crossed the double white lines to continue in Bernier's direction. And he next moved into the right lane directly behind her onto Highway 13. He followed so closely that there was no room for any other car to fit between them.
Highway 13 also soon divided; drivers can continue straight, heading east, or they can bear right, heading south. Bernier moved into the right-hand lane heading south, and Corrigan followed closely behind her. After Bernier began south, she moved two lanes to her left, into the left-turn lane of the first intersection. She saw in her mirror that Corrigan, too, crossed over two lanes and entered the turn lane, cutting in front of another car to position himself behind Bernier. By this point, Bernier was frightened.
Rather than turn left, Bernier attempted to evade Corrigan by pulling out of the turn lane and back into southbound traffic, moving straight through the intersection. She saw in her mirror that Corrigan likewise changed course, following right behind her. Bernier continued through other intersections until she came to McColl Drive, where she moved into the left-turn lane and turned east. She saw in her mirror that, again, Corrigan did the same, following her.
As Bernier traveled east on McColl, she received a call from her husband. Bernier told him that she was being followed, and her husband advised her to call the police. She pulled into the driveway of the Savage fire department and stopped. Corrigan pulled beside her and stopped. Bernier lowered her window and told Corrigan to stop following her. Corrigan stared at her but said nothing. Then Bernier yelled, “Stop following me or I'm going to call the police!” Corrigan responded, “I figured you already would have.”
Bernier dialed 9-1-1 and spoke with a dispatcher, who stayed on the line and directed her to the nearby Savage police station. Bernier parked outside the front doors of the station, and Corrigan followed her and parked across the street. Police arrived.

(Id. at 2-4.)

         Corrigan describes what happens next in his Amended Complaint. Police Officer Kerkaert arrived on the scene and began asking Corrigan questions. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) Corrigan placed his passport on the hood of his vehicle. (Id.) Police Officers Edward Culbreth, Alexandria Marklowitz, Ashley Uthe, and Sergeant Kyle Klapperick then arrived on scene. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 26.) Uthe and Marklowitz interviewed Bernier, while the other officers tried to speak to Corrigan. (Id.) Corrigan was given a citation for fifth degree assault and then left the scene. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.) Assistant County Attorney Nelson Rhodus later amended the charge to stalking under Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd. 2(2). (Am. Compl. ¶ 33; Doc. No. 53, Decl. of Anna L. Yunker (“Yunker Decl.”) ¶ 3, Ex. 3 at 1.)

         Judge Christian Wilton presided over Corrigan's criminal case and following the jury-trial conviction, sentenced him to 120-days in jail. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-37.) Before the sentencing, Corrigan had filed a post-trial motion requesting a new trial and vacation of the judgment, arguing that the Minnesota stalking statute was unconstitutional; that Bernier had committed perjury during her trial testimony; that Rhodus had improperly coached Bernier prior to her testimony; and that Rhodus knew Bernier's trial testimony was false. (See Yunker Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 4 at 1-2.) Judge Wilton denied the motions (Id. at 5.) Also prior to sentencing, Judge Wilton ordered Scott County Community Corrections to prepare a Pre-Sentence Investigation (“PSI”) report. (Am. Compl. ¶ 37.) The report was completed by Probation Officer Lynn Hanson (Id. at ¶ 38.) Hanson concluded that Corrigan would not be amenable to probation and recommended that he serve 120 days in the Scott County Jail. (Id.) Judge Wilton imposed the 120-day sentence as recommended. Corrigan appealed the conviction and sentence; the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Minnesota Supreme Court denied certiorari.

         On August 2, 2018, Corrigan filed a Complaint pro se with this Court. (Doc. No. 1.) The Complaint was thereafter amended on September 5, 2018. (Doc. No. 23, Am. Compl.) Corrigan has sued the City of Savage, Scott County, Police Officers Kyle Klapperick, Alexandria Marklowitz, Gabe Kerkaert, Edward Culbreth, and Ashley Uthe, Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen, Probation Officer Lynn Hanson, Assistant Scott County Attorney Nelson Rhodus, Judge Wilton, and the victim of the underlying stalking charge, Amber Bernier. The Amended Complaint contains federal civil rights claims for relief “under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and rais[es] supplemental state-law claims concerning the actions . . . in unlawfully arresting, maliciously prosecuting, denying due process, prosecutorial misconduct, denying access to the courts and cruel and unusual punishment.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Corrigan also alleges the “actions and conduct of the defendants are the result of a policy, practice, custom, and deliberate indifference on the part of the Defendants City of Savage and Scott County.” (Id.) In addition, he alleges that Defendant Bernier, although a private individual, “was acting for the state which exercised coercive power or significant encouragement, either overt or covert, where the choice to continue is deemed to be that of the state, ” and that Bernier “acted jointly with Defendant Police Officers and Defendant Rhodus to deprive the Plaintiff of his constitutional rights to be free from unlawful seizure and his right to due process through a fair trial.” (Id.)

         Corrigan requests both compensatory and punitive damages for the following asserted claims in this case:

• Against the Defendant City Police Officers and Defendant Bernier (the victim), Corrigan asserts a violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights relating to free speech, unlawful arrest, right to remain silent, retaliatory prosecution, and malicious prosecution (Count I).
• Against the City of Savage, Corrigan asserts a violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights relating to deficient “training, supervision, investigation, or discipline” regarding the stop, detention, arrest, and charge. (Count II).
• Against Assistant Scott County Attorney Nelson Rhodus, Corrigan asserts a violation of procedural due process (Count III), and claims that the stalking statute under which he was charged is unconstitutional (Count V).
• Against Probation Officer Lynn Hanson, Corrigan asserts a violation of the Eighth Amendment by imposing a cruel and unusual punishment of 120 days in jail (Count IV).
• Against Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen, Probation Officer Lynn Hanson, and Scott County, Corrigan asserts a violation of his First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights regarding “training, supervision, investigation, or discipline in the areas of . . . provid[ing] prisoners with ‘adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law'” and “[t]he proper exercise of probation officer powers, including but not limited to the investigation, analysis, and recommendation of the Pre-Sentence Investigation report” (Count VI).
• Against all of the Defendant City Police Officers, Corrigan asserts state law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, denial of due process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and malicious prosecution; against Defendant Rhodus, Corrigan asserts a claim for prosecutorial misconduct; against the victim Defendant Bernier, Corrigan asserts claims for misrepresentation, perjury, and intentional infliction of emotional distress; and against Defendants Hennen, Hanson, the City of Savage, and the Scott County, Corrigan asserts a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VII).

         Against Judge Wilton, Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief (no monetary relief) for a violation of procedural due process (Count III), and for violation of the Eighth Amendment by imposing a cruel and unusual punishment of 120 days in jail (Count IV).


         A. Standard of Review

         In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Schaller Tel. Co. v. Golden Sky Sys., Inc., 298 F.3d 736, 740 (8th Cir. 2002). In doing so, however, a court need not accept as true wholly conclusory allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999), or legal conclusions drawn by the pleader from the facts alleged. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990). A court may consider the complaint, matters of public record, orders, materials embraced by the complaint, and exhibits attached to the complaint in deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Porous Media Corp. v. Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir. 1999).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. This standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Id. at 556. Whether a complaint states a claim is a question of law. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989). In addition, this court notes that pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam). However, even a pro se complaint must allege facts, and not just bare, unsupported, legal conclusions. Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985) (“Although it is to be liberally construed, a pro se complaint must contain specific facts supporting its conclusions.”).

         Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there are no issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Porous Media Corp., 186 F.3d at 1079. In making this determination, the court must “accept as true all factual allegations set out in the complaint and . . . construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted). When deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, “the court may consider the pleadings themselves, materials embraced by the pleadings, exhibits attached to the pleadings, and matters of public record.” Mills v. City of Grand Forks, 614 F.3d 495, 498 (8th Cir. 2010); see also Fraenkel v. Messerli & Kramer, P.A., No. Civ. 04-1072 (JRT/FLN), 2004 WL 1765309, at *2 (D. Minn. July 29, 2004). Defendants have submitted the register of actions in Corrigan's criminal case, a copy of state court decisions in Corrigan's state criminal action along with other state court and appellate filings, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals opinion on Corrigan's appeal. (Doc. No. 11, Aff. of Kathryn Iverson Landrum (“Landrum Aff.”) ¶¶ 2 & 3, Exs. A & B; Doc. No. 48, Aff. of Daniel P. Kurtz (“Kurtz Aff.”) ¶¶ 3, 6, 7, Exs. B, D, E; Doc. No. 53, Decl. of Anna L. Yunker (“Yunker Decl.”) ¶¶ 2, 3. Exs. 2-15).) Corrigan does not dispute the authenticity of these documents. The Court will consider these matters of public record in deciding Defendants' motions to dismiss and will not convert those motions into motions for summary judgment.[1]

         B. § 1983 Claims

         Corrigan brings § 1983 claims against all of the Defendants for various constitutional violations, brings a Monell claims against the City of Savage, Scott County, Scott County Sheriff Hennen, and Probation Officer Hanson, and brings additional state law claims against all of the Defendants except Judge Wilton. The Court will address Corrigan's § 1983 claims as they relate to Judge Wilton, the City Defendants, [2] the County Defendants, [3] and Bernier in turn, and then address the remaining state-law claims. Before doing so, however, given the contentions in the Complaint that the state court proceedings violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights, Plaintiff's claims raise questions of this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction and whether his claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, issues that must be addressed first.

         1. Jurisdiction

         “Subject matter jurisdiction . . . is a threshold requirement which must be assured in every federal case.” Turner v. Armontrout, 922 F.2d 492, 493 (8th Cir. 1991). “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is jurisdictional. Lawrence v. City of St. Paul, 740 F.Supp.2d 1026, 1036 (D. Minn. 2010). Defendant Judge Wilton argues that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims against him under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[4] This Court disagrees.

         Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal district court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who “ha[ve] litigated and lost in state court” and who “essentially invite[] federal courts of first instance to review and reverse unfavorable state-court judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283 (2005); see also District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486-87 (1983) (holding that federal district courts may not exercise judgment over issues that are “inextricably intertwined” with a prior state-court judgment); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923) (holding that federal district courts have no appellate jurisdiction over state courts). Although Corrigan asks for “declaratory judgment for constitutional violations (due process and cruel and unusual punishment) by Judge Wilton” (Am. Compl at 18, Relief), he is not asking this Court to reverse or otherwise set aside his state-court conviction.[5] Therefore, Corrigan “plainly has not repaired to federal court to undo the [Minnesota] judgment [against him].” Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 293. Thus, this Court is not deprived of subject-matter jurisdiction by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         2. ยง 1983 Claims ...

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