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Mitchell v. Eldridge

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

November 19, 2014

JAMES B. MITCHELL, JASON M. FEDELE, and TIFFNEY R. FEDELE, Plaintiffs,
v.
CONNER ELDRIDGE, DEBORAH F. GROOM, TRACY A. TRIPLETT, KYRA E. JENNER, CANDACE L. TAYLOR, KENNETH ELSER, CHRISTOPHER PLUMLEE, JANET L. PLOUDRE, GRANT EDWARDS, RONALD SCAMARDO, BETH PHILLIPS, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and UNKNOWN U.S. MARSHALS, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS L. BROOKS, District Judge.

Currently before the Court are Separate Defendants Conner Eldridge, Kyra E. Jenner, Tracy A. Triplett, Christopher Plumlee, Kenneth Elser, Deborah F. Groom, and Candace L. Taylor's Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, and 48) and Briefs in Support (Docs. 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, and 49); Separate Defendants Conner Eldridge, Tracy A. Triplett, Kyra E. Jenner, and Christopher Plumlee's Motion to Substitute the United States for the Individual Named Defendants (Doc. 34) and Brief in Support (Doc. 35); and Defendants' Motion for Entry of Dismissal as to Tiffney R. Fedele (Doc. 61). Also before the Court are Separate Plaintiff Mitchell's Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Doc. 55) and Plaintiff Jason M. Fedele's Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 59). Defendants' Reply to the Motion to Substitute (Doc. 60) and Defendants' Reply to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 62) were filed without prior permission from the Court, and will not be considered.

For the reasons described herein, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, and 48) are GRANTED, and Defendants' Motion to Substitute (Doc. 34) and Defendants' Motion for Entry of Dismissal (Doc. 61) are MOOT.

I. Background

Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging that United States Attorney Conner Eldridge, and Assistant United States Attorneys Kyra E. Jenner, Tracy A. Triplett, Christopher Plumlee, Kenneth Elser, Deborah F. Groom, Candace L. Taylor, and Beth Phillips ("Prosecutors") conspired with Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") special agent Janet L. Ploudre, and IRS task force officers Grant Edwards and Ronald Scamardo ("IRS Investigators") in order to bring to the grand jury the false charge of "enticing minors to engage in prostitution" in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b) so that the Court would detain Plaintiffs without bail. Plaintiffs allege that because § 2422(b) carried a ten year mandatory minimum sentence, the Court denied Plaintiffs bail. Plaintiffs also assert that the Prosecutors coerced several witnesses and co-conspirators to falsely accuse Plaintiffs of knowingly hiring minor escorts. Plaintiffs point out that they did not plead guilty to the charge of enticing minors to engage in prostitution, as that count was dismissed at sentencing.

Plaintiffs further allege that on June 17, 2011, after Plaintiff Mitchell was sentenced, Separate Defendants Eldridge, Triplett, Jenner, and Plumlee issued a press release that stated in part: "This case involved a large scale prostitution ring that exploited numerous individuals including minors. Exploitation of this nature takes a tremendous toll on the lives of the individuals involved. In our office, we are committed to investigating these terrible crimes." (Doc. 14, p. 32). Plaintiffs contend that the press release also stated that Mitchell was sentenced to 126 months imprisonment on "Conspiracy to use an Interstate Facility to Distribute Proceeds from Prostitution." Id. A nearly identical press release was given subsequent to Jason and Tiffney Fedele's sentencings. Plaintiffs maintain that these press releases are false, as Plaintiffs neither promoted prostitution, nor exploited minors. As compensation, Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages in the amount of $1, 000, 000 and punitive damages in the amount of $4, 000, 000 for each Plaintiff.

The Prosecutors seek dismissal under several theories, including absolute immunity and/or qualified immunity, and no respondeat superior liablity. Primarily, they argue that conduct surrounding the prosecution of Plaintiffs is protected by absolute immunity, and that Plaintiffs' acceptance of the presentence investigation report ("PSR") without objections at sentencing estops Plaintiffs from denying that at least one minor was involved in prostitution. The Prosecutors also assert that they are entitled to absolute immunity, or at least qualified immunity, for press releases concerning this matter.

In response, Separate Plaintiff Mitchell argues, among other things, that the Prosecutors acted as investigators, thus removing the protection of absolute immunity, and that statements to the press are not afforded absolute immunity.

As Separate Defendants Eldridge, Jenner, Triplett, Plumlee, Elser, Groom, and Taylor, can be dismissed under theories of absolute or qualified immunity, it is unnecessary to address the other issues presented in the parties' briefs.

II. Legal Standard

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court "accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint" and reviews the complaint to determine whether its allegations show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). All reasonable inferences from the complaint must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Crumpley-Patterson v. Trinity Lutheran Hosp., 388 F.3d 588, 590 (8th Cir. 2004). Nevertheless, the complaint must include facts sufficient to show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. "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." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Where the facts presented in the complaint do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but it has not shown "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court ordinarily does not consider matters outside the pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The Court may, however, consider exhibits attached to the complaint and documents that are necessarily embraced by the pleadings, Mattes v. ABC Plastics, Inc., 323 F.3d 695, 697, n.4 (8th Cir. 2003), and may also consider public records, Levy v. Ohl, 477 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 2007).

III. Discussion

A. Prosecutorial ...


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