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Meidinger v. Ragnone

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

September 26, 2015

RANDALL J. MEIDINGER, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER RAGNONE, in his individual capacity, Defendant.

ORDER

JEFFREY L. VIKEN, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Before the court is defendant Peter Ragnone's motion to dismiss plaintiff Randall Meidinger's remaining claim against him. (Docket 130). Mr. Meidinger opposes the motion on the grounds that Officer Ragnone waived his ability to assert the affirmative defense of qualified immunity and that Mr. Meidinger has a valid Fourth Amendment claim based on Officer Ragnone's pre-grand jury conduct. (Docket 139). The court separately addresses a motion for attorney's fees made by former defendants Steve Allender, John Leahy, Sam Kooiker and the City of Rapid City. (Docket 104).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Ragnone filed claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging the City of Rapid City, Peter Ragnone, Steve Allender, Jerry Wright, John Leahy and Sam Kooiker violated his constitional rights as secured by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Docket 1). This court granted defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss all of Mr. Meidinger's claims against the defendants in their official capacities. (Docket 25). The court granted the parties' stipulation to dismiss Mr. Meidinger's claims against defendant Jerry Wright. (Docket 32). The defendants City of Rapid City, Peter Ragnone, Steve Allender, John Leahy and Sam Kooiker filed a motion for summary judgment. (Docket 38). Defendant Sam Kooiker also filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss and a motion for leave to file an amended answer. (Dockets 42 & 44). The court referred these motions to Magistrate Judge John E. Simko for a report and recommendation. (Docket 49).

Judge Simko denied as moot defendant Kooiker's motion to file an amended answer. (Docket 89). Judge Simko also recommended granting the motion for summary judgment as to the City of Rapid City, Sam Kooiker, John Leahy and Steve Allender. (Docket 90 at p. 36). Judge Simko recommended granting Officer Ragnone's motion for summary judgment relating to Mr. Meidinger's Fourteenth Amendment claims but denying the motion relating to Mr. Meidinger's Fourth Amendment claim. Id. Judge Simko recommended denying defendant Sam Kooiker's motion to dismiss. Id. Plaintiff and defendants timely filed objections to Judge Simko's report and recommendation. (Dockets 93 & 94).

The court adopted Judge Simko's report and recommendation in accord with the analysis set forth in the court's opinion. (Docket 102). The court overruled all of Mr. Meidinger's objections to Judge Simko's report and recommendation. Id. at 22. The court overruled in part and denied as moot in part the defendants' objections to Judge Simko's report and recommendation. Id. Following this court's summary judgment decision, only Peter Ragnone, in his individual capacity, remained as a defendant in the suit. (Docket 103). Officer Ragnone timely appealed the court's decision. (Docket 108). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted Mr. Meidinger's motion for the dismissal of Officer Ragnone's appeal. (Docket 119).

As a result of the dismissal, the court scheduled the case for a jury trial to begin on May 11, 2015. (Docket 122). The court scheduled a pretrial conference for April 24, 2015, to resolve any issues remaining prior to trial. On April 3, 2015, Officer Ragnone filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss Mr. Meidinger's remaining claims on the basis that Officer Ragnone was absolutely immune from Mr. Meidinger's remaining Fourth Amendment claims. (Docket 130). Mr. Meidinger resists the motion. (Docket 139). Officer Ragnone filed a brief in reply to Mr. Meidinger's response on April 23, 2015. (Docket 150). The court addressed Officer Ragnone's motion to dismiss at the April 24, 2015, pretrial conference.

MOTION TO DISMISS

1. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In evaluating a defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in plaintiff's complaint and grants all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff as the nonmoving party. Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) ("[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'") (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). See also Crooks v. Lynch, 557 F.3d 846, 848 (8th Cir. 2009) (The court must review "a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, accepting the facts alleged in the complaint as true and granting all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, the nonmoving party.") (brackets omitted).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

The court previously adopted the magistrate judge's findings of fact which were not the subject of objections. (Dockets 102 at 2). The parties did not raise specific objection to the magistrate judge's findings of fact at the April 24, 2015, hearing. However, the court does not rely on its earlier factual findings in adjudicating Officer Ragnone's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Sorace v. United States, No. 14-2683, 2015 WL 3396641, at *5 (8th Cir. May 27, 2015) ("A district court does not convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment when, for example, it does not rely upon matters outside the pleadings in granting the motion.")

2. Officer Ragnone's Absolute Immunity from § 1983 Liability for Testimony Given at a Grand Jury Proceeding

A. The State of Mr. Meidinger's Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment Claims

The magistrate judge analyzed Mr. Meidinger's reckless investigation and manufactured evidence claims[1] against Officer Ragnone under the Fourteenth Amendment because the claims were not specifically covered under the Fourth Amendment. (Docket 90 at pp. 13-14). The magistrate judge reasoned:

The evidence used by the grand jury to indict [Mr.] Meidinger was [Officer] Ragnone's testimony about [Mr.] Meidinger's confession and Ragnone's testimony about the volume of misidentified material delivered to the landfill by Fish Garbage which was not sawdust.... Apart from [Officer] Ragnone's testimony about [Mr.] Meidinger's confession and sawdust which are analyzed... under the Fourth Amendment, there is no potentially material, predicate false or manufactured evidence from [Officer] Ragnone's investigation which was used to persuade the grand jury to indict [Mr.] Meidinger.

Id. at 17-18.

The magistrate judge concluded "[Mr.] Meidinger has not offered sufficient evidence to show [Officer] Ragnone's investigation violated [Mr.] Meidinger's substantive due process right to a fair investigation." Id. at 19. Mr. Meidinger objected to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation in this regard. (Docket 93).

The court agreed with the magistrate judge's conclusion that "Mr. Meidinger has not offered sufficient evidence to support his theory of a police conspiracy to manufacture evidence designed to falsely formulate a pretense of probable cause to deprive him of his liberty." (Docket 102 at p. 20). The court overruled Mr. Meidinger's objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and found "[v]iewing the facts in a light most favorable to Mr. ...


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