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Meyer v. Pfeifle

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

March 14, 2019

RENE D. MEYER, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, Rene D. Meyer, sued defendants alleging various violations of her civil rights and her rights as a “sovereign citizen.” Docket 1 at 1. The complaint also alleges that defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and that the defendants “have conspired to take away [her] civil rights and are attempting to jail [her] for a letter.” Id. Meyer alleges that these violations have caused harm to her reputation and impeded her ability to obtain employment opportunities. Id. Defendants move to dismiss under 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dockets 13, 16, 18, and 20. Meyer opposes the motions. Docket 24. Following each defendant moving to dismiss, Meyer made a motion for oral argument and to correct defects in the case (Docket 37) and a motion to add defendants (Docket 35). For the following reasons, defendants' motions to dismiss are granted, and Meyer's motions are denied.


         Meyer filed this pro se complaint on May 3, 2018, naming defendants, Judge Craig Pfeifle, Judge Matthew Brown, Judge Heidi Linngren, the City of Rapid City, Pennington County, the Pennington County State's Attorney Office, Mark Vargo, the State of South Dakota, the Office of the Attorney General, and Marty Jackley, and alleging various violations of her civil rights and RICO. Docket 1. Jason Ravnsborg, in his official capacity, was substituted as the named defendant in lieu of Attorney General Marty Jackley, in his official capacity. Docket 39.

         Meyer's allegations stem from two criminal proceedings against her and her divorce proceeding all in the Seventh Judicial Circuit in Pennington County. Docket 17 at 2. One case is a pending criminal matter charging Meyer with two counts of forgery and attempted grand theft that alleges Meyer forged an invoice and letter from the City of Rapid City. Id. The other criminal case charged Meyer with second degree theft and intentional damage to property, but this case was later dismissed by the prosecutor. Id. Finally, a judgment and decree of divorce was filed December 20, 2017, in Meyer's divorce proceeding. Id. Meyer alleges that “[t]he reason all of the defendants are listed is they all have a part to play in the corruption of the judicial system to undermine the people and to use statutes to control the people instead of doing what they are supposed to do and that is to represent the people and a system of fairness.” Docket 1 at 9. Meyer states that the Pennington County States Attorneys Office and Mark Vargo “are the direct adversary in court and helps represent the state” and that the defendants “all work together with the judges to control the outcome of cases.” Id. Meyer alleges that “[t]he three judges are listed because both made decisions on the cases against me and one is pending and on going [sic]. . . .” Id. Apart from presiding over a case, Meyer alleges that Judge Linngren “spied on her” at a luncheon in Rapid City. Id. at 2.

         Meyer also alleges that an incident occurred on June 25, 2016, when the Rapid City police department allegedly raided Meyer's boyfriend's home. Id. at 3. Meyer suggests that the City of Rapid City “is just covering up their crimes by bringing felony charges against me.” Id. at 4. She claims that the State of South Dakota is “a business and fictional entity.” Id. at 5. Meyer alleges damages in the amount of $ 9, 789, 752 and that all damages are “linked to my divorce and my ex-husband and all the judges and police he has used to help him harass me.” Id. at 35-37.


         “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.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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. “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.” Id. Inferences are construed in favor of the non-moving party. Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1128 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 595 (8th Cir. 2009)).

         Pro se complaints, “ ‘however inartfully pleaded,' [are] held to ‘less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.' ” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Civil rights and pro se complaints must be liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted); Bediako v. Stein Mart, Inc., 354 F.3d 835, 839 (8th Cir. 2004). Even with this standard, a pro se complaint must “allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced.” Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004). The court is not required to “supply additional facts, nor will [it] construct a legal theory . . . that assumes facts that have not been pleaded.” Id. (citing Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1197 (10th Cir. 1989)). A complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations . . . [but] requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “If a plaintiff cannot make the requisite showing, dismissal is appropriate.” Abdullah v. Minnesota, 261 Fed.Appx. 926, 927 (8th Cir. 2008); see also Beavers v. Lockhart, 755 F.2d 657, 663 (8th Cir. 1985).


         I. Pennington County, Pennington County State's Attorney Office, and Mark Vargo

         Pennington County defendants move to dismiss Meyer's claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Docket 16. Meyer opposes the motion. Docket 24. When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court assumes that all facts in the complaint are true and construes any reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (citation omitted).

         A. § 1983 Claim

         Meyer alleges that the parties have conspired to take away her civil rights under “the Constitution, and the State of South Dakota Constitution.” Docket 1 at 1, 3. Because Meyer's claims involve allegations of the deprivation of civil rights, it is fair to construe her claim as a possible cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 3. “Section 1983 creates a species of tort liability for the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911, 916 (2017) (internal citation omitted). “The essential elements of a constitutional claim under § 1983 are (1) that the defendant acted under color of state law, and (2) that the alleged wrongful conduct deprived the plaintiff of a constitutionally protected federal right.” L.L. Nelson Enters., Inc. v. Cty. of St. Louis, 673 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing Schmidt v. City of Bella Villa, 557 F.3d 564, 571 (8th Cir. 2009)).

         The Supreme Court held in Monell v. Department of Social Services that while municipalities can be sued under § 1983, a plaintiff must show a constitutional right violation was caused by an official policy or widespread custom. 436 U.S. 658, 690-95 (1978). “[N]either municipalities nor government officials may be held liable for unconstitutional conduct under a theory of respondeat superior.” Rogers v. King, 885 F.3d 1118, 1122-23 (8th Cir. 2018) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 691). Thus, a governmental entity is liable under § 1983 “only when the entity itself is a ‘moving force' behind the violation. That is, the entity's official ‘policy or custom' must have ‘caused' the constitutional violation . . . .” Clay v. Conlee, 815 F.2d 1164, 1170 (8th Cir. 1987). “[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom . . . inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.

         To establish governmental liability under Monell, a plaintiff must allege facts to support a finding of a continuing, widespread pattern of unconstitutional conduct, deliberate indifference or tacit authorization by the entity's policymaking officials, and injury suffered by the plaintiff due to this custom. Thelma D. By and Through Delores A. v. Bd. of Educ. of St. Louis, 934 F.2d 929, 932-33 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Jane Doe “A” By and Through Jane Doe “B” v. Special Sch. Dist. of St. Louis Cty., 901 F.2d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 1990)). This rule “was intended to distinguish acts of the [governmental entity] from acts of employees of the [governmental entity], and thereby make clear that [governmental] liability is limited to action for which the [governmental entity] is actually responsible.” Thompson v. Shock, 852 F.3d 786, 793 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479-80 (1986)). “At a minimum, a complaint must allege facts which would support the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom.” Doe v. Sch. Dist. of Norfolk, 340 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2003).

         First, Meyer's complaint fails to allege that Meyer was deprived of any constitutional right. Aside from the fact that her three court cases were venued in Pennington County and the two criminal matters were prosecuted by the Pennington County State's Attorney Office, Meyer fails to plead any facts that support a constitutional deprivation by these parties. Second, Meyer fails to allege any custom or policy of Pennington County that led to a violation of her constitutional rights. Pennington County acts through its county commissioners who do not direct what cases should be prosecuted by the Pennington County State's Attorney Office. The county has no policies or customs that would direct Vargo as the Pennington County State's Attorney as to what charges should be brought, dismissed, or reduced. Because Meyer fails to allege a constitutional violation and fails to allege facts that would support the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom, Meyer's complaint fails to state a claim against Pennington County or the Pennington County State's Attorney Office.

         “If the complaint does not specifically name the defendant in his individual capacity, it is presumed he is sued only in his official capacity.” Artis v. Francis Howell North Band Booster Ass'n, 161 F.3d 1178, 1182 (8th Cir. 1998). Meyer fails to express in what capacity Vargo is sued. Thus, he is presumed to be sued in his official capacity. Prosecutors like Vargo who are sued under § 1983 may be entitled to either absolute or qualified immunity. Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 123-26 (1997). The type of immunity depends on the function the prosecutor was performing during the alleged misconduct. Id. at 127. Prosecutors have absolute immunity for actions “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). For example, “[p]rosecutors enjoy absolute immunity in their review of and decisions to charge a violation of the law.” Sample v. City of Woodbury, 836 F.3d 913, 916 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Imbler, 424 U.S. at 420-427). For other functions, like investigative or administrative functions, prosecutors only have qualified immunity. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993).

         Meyer alleges that “Mark Vargo [sic] in charge of this office.” Docket 1 at 9. She also alleges that the Pennington County State's Attorney is “a direct adversary in court and helps represent the state.” Id. Although it is hard to decipher what other allegations apply to Vargo, Meyer's central complaints concerning her two criminal cases and her divorce case appear to concern Vargo's actions “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. Vargo's decision to indict is protected by absolute immunity. Buckley, 509 U.S. at 274 n.5. Thus, because any decisions by Vargo in Meyer's criminal cases were intimately associated with the judicial process, his actions are protected by absolute immunity.

         Meyer fails to state a § 1983 claim upon which relief can be granted against Mark Vargo, Pennington County, or the Pennington County State's Attorney Office.

         B. Conspiracy claims - RICO and § 1983

         It is unclear whether Meyer alleges conspiracy claims against the defendants under § 1983 and the RICO Act or just the RICO Act. First, Meyer alleges that the defendants' “violations fall under the RICO ACT . . . .” Docket 1 at 3. Meyer alleges that the South Dakota bar association “violates the RICO ACT, it's a club. The judge, the states attorney, the attorney general, the county and state all work together to get convictions and align against the accused.” Id. at 7. Meyer also alleges that “its a Kangaroo Court. It is a violation of [her] Civil Rights and violates the Constitution and also my rights as a sovereign.” Id. Meyer ...

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