Submitted: April 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
SMITH, Chief Judge, ARNOLD and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
ARNOLD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Charles Lewis spent approximately eight days in jail
following the dismissal of criminal charges against him, he
sued St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and others,
asserting they were responsible for his delayed release.
Gardner moved to dismiss Lewis's complaint against her on
the grounds of qualified and absolute immunity, but the
district court denied her motion. Arguing the district court
erred in doing so, Gardner has filed this interlocutory
appeal. We agree with her that she is entitled to qualified
immunity, and so we do not reach the issue of whether she is
also entitled to absolute immunity.
stage in the proceedings, we accept as true the facts alleged
in Lewis's complaint. See Olin v. Dakota Access,
LLC, 910 F.3d 1072, 1075 (8th Cir. 2018). In 2016,
Charles Lewis was arrested and charged with two counts of
making terroristic threats. He denied making these threats,
and he was detained pending trial. At trial the jury
acquitted him of one count but was hung on the second count.
Lewis was returned to jail after trial.
two months later, with the date of the retrial on the second
count nearing, the Circuit Attorney's Office, through
Gardner and an unknown assistant circuit attorney, dismissed
the remaining charge against Lewis by filing a
"Memorandum of Nolle Prosequi." Five days later
Lewis's attorney was notified of the dismissal of the
charge, but two days after that Lewis's attorney
discovered Lewis's name on the jail roster. When the
attorney called the St. Louis City Sheriff's Office, he
was told that Lewis had not been released because there had
been "a hold issued by Jefferson County." The
attorney then called the Jefferson County court and was told
that no hold had been issued. Meanwhile, Lewis was
transferred to another jail in St. Louis, and he repeatedly
told officers during and after the transfer that he should be
released, to which at least some replied that the hold from
Jefferson County prevented his release. Lewis was eventually
released about eight days after the Circuit Attorney's
Office had filed the nolle prosequi.
result of his delayed release, Lewis sued the City of St.
Louis and a host of its employees and officials, including
Gardner. He asserted that Gardner had violated his
constitutional rights to due process and to be free from
unreasonable seizure, had failed to establish policies and
train staff to ensure citizens would not be wrongfully
imprisoned, had established a pattern or practice whereby
citizens were wrongfully imprisoned, and had committed the
state-law tort of false imprisonment. Gardner moved to
dismiss, arguing, among other things, that she was entitled
to qualified immunity because the complaint did not establish
how she was personally involved in violating a clearly
established constitutional right. The district court
disagreed and held that, at this early stage, Lewis had
alleged that "Gardner was on notice of and deliberately
indifferent to or authorized the violations alleged."
review the denial of a motion to dismiss based on qualified
immunity de novo. Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 963
(8th Cir. 2016). A government official is entitled to
qualified immunity if her conduct does not violate clearly
established constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known. White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct.
548, 551 (2017). For the right to be clearly established,
case law need not be directly on point, but it must place the
constitutional question beyond debate. Id.
district court and Lewis characterize the clearly established
right at issue as the right of a person not to be detained
after charges against him have been dismissed. As a matter of
abstract legal principle, this statement is unexceptionable.
But as the Supreme Court and our court have cautioned on
several occasions, "clearly established law should not
be defined at a high level of generality" but must
instead "be particularized to the facts of the
case." Id. at 552; see also Estate of
Walker v. Wallace, 881 F.3d 1056, 1061 (8th Cir. 2018).
So the relevant question is whether the law clearly
establishes that Gardner, or someone in her office, must go
beyond the filing of a nolle prosequi to ensure the release
of those against whom no charges are pending. Lewis bears the
burden of showing that the law is clearly established.
See Estate of Walker, 881 F.3d at 1060.
alleges in his complaint that Gardner has "a
responsibility to communicate the dismissal of criminal
charges to" the state court, the city's
sheriff's office, and "to those with direct custody
over people incarcerated by the City of St. Louis." But,
of course, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as
factual allegations as true. See Torti v. Hoag, 868
F.3d 666, 671 (8th Cir. 2017). Instead, Lewis must show that
clearly established law imposed this duty on Gardner. He
hasn't. Lewis has not offered a single authority
purporting to place this responsibility with Gardner or her
subordinates, as opposed to, say, the state court itself; it
could just as well be that the state court clerk is
responsible for giving notice of the dismissal to those who
have custody of Lewis. We can hardly conclude, therefore,
that Gardner violated Lewis's constitutional rights.
assuming Gardner had the legal responsibility to notify the
sheriff and other relevant authorities, Lewis has not
actually alleged that Gardner did not satisfy that
responsibility. Nowhere in his complaint does Lewis allege
that Gardner did not immediately notify the requisite people
that charges against Lewis had been dropped. In fact, the
reason given for Lewis's continued detention was not a
lack of notice regarding the city's dismissal of charges
against him; rather, it was that another county had put a
hold on Lewis's release. Nor does Lewis allege anywhere
that Gardner was involved in Jefferson County issuing the
hold or asserted that she was legally obligated to
investigate or challenge it. We therefore cannot see how
Lewis's complaint alleges a plausible claim for relief
against Gardner on any of Lewis's federal claims. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 672-75 (2009).
conclude, moreover, that Lewis's state-law
false-imprisonment claim against Gardner should be dismissed
as well. Though ordinarily premature, we may take up
Gardner's interlocutory appeal of the district
court's denial of her motion to dismiss this claim now
because it is inextricably intertwined with the properly
appealed matter of qualified immunity. See Langford v.
Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 458 (8th Cir. 2010). Our
conclusion that Lewis's complaint does not plausibly show
that Gardner was personally involved in Lewis's delayed
release necessarily requires that Lewis's
false-imprisonment charge ...