United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
JAMES A. BATES PLAINTIFF
BENTONVILLE POLICE CHIEF JON SIMPSON; DETECTIVES JERROD WISEMAN, ANDY OLIVER, THOMAS BOYLE, KRIS MOFFIT, and JOSHUA WOODHAMS; CAPTAIN JUSTIN THOMPSON; THE CITY OF BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS; DR. CHARLES P. KOKES; and KRISTINE COLLINS HOMAN DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Timothy L. Brooks United States District Judge
before the Court are:
• Defendant Kristine Collins Homan's Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. 12) and Brief in Support (Doc. 13), and
Plaintiff James A. Bates's Response in Opposition (Doc.
• Defendant Dr. Charles P. Kokes's Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. 19) and Brief in Support (Doc. 20), Mr. Bates's
Response in Opposition (Doc. 33), and Dr. Kokes's Reply
(Doc. 37); and
• The Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 25) and Brief in Support
(Doc. 26) filed by Defendants Bentonville Police Chief Jon
Simpson, Detective Jerrod Wiseman, Detective Andy Oliver,
Detective Thomas Boyle, Detective Kris Moffit, Detective
Joshua Woodhams, Captain Justin Thompson, and the City of
Bentonville (collectively, "the Bentonville
Defendants"), Mr. Bates's Response in Opposition
(Doc. 34), the Bentonville Defendants' Reply (Doc. 41),
Mr. Bates's Sur-Reply (Doc. 42), and the Bentonville
Defendants' Supplement (Doc. 45).
Motions filed by Ms. Homan and Dr. Kokes are both
DENIED. The Bentonville Defendants'
Motion is GRANTED as to the only claim
brought against the City of Bentonville in this case (Count X
of Mr. Bates's Complaint), but that Motion is otherwise
DENIED. The reasons for these rulings are
November 21, 2015, Mr. Bates invited three friends named Sean
Henry, Owen McDonald, and Victor Collins over to his house to
drink alcohol, watch football, and use his hot tub.
Eventually that evening Mr. Henry and then Mr. McDonald left
and went home. Mr. Collins remained at Mr. Bates's house,
and at some point that night, Mr. Collins died.
a.m. the next day, Mr. Bates called 911 to report that he had
just found Mr. Collins dead in his hot tub. Police arrived at
Mr. Bates's house soon after he placed the 911 call, and
an investigation into the cause of Mr. Collins's death
began. Three months later, Mr. Bates was arrested and charged
in Benton County Circuit Court with murdering Mr. Collins.
Circuit Judge Brad Karren presided over that criminal case,
which ended roughly two years after Mr. Collins's death,
when the prosecuting attorney moved on November 29, 2017 to
dismiss the charges against Mr. Bates.
a year after the criminal charges against Mr. Bates were
dismissed, Mr. Collins's widow, Kristine Collins Homan,
filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against Mr. Bates in
Benton County Circuit Court, on behalf of Mr. Collins's
estate. That civil case was also assigned to Judge Karren.
Mr. Bates was personally served with the complaint in that
case on November 6, 2018. Apparently Mr. Bates immediately
reached out to the same Illinois lawyer who represented him
in the criminal case, Kathleen Zellner, who sent Ms.
Homan's attorney a four-page letter the very next day, on
November 7, 2018. In that letter, Ms. Zellner stated that she
represented Mr. Bates in the wrongful-death lawsuit, and that
the complaint in that case was "frivolous and completely
without merit." See Kristine Collins Homan v. James
Bates, Benton County Circuit Court No. 04CV-18-3180
(hereinafter "Wrongful Death Lawsuit"), Exhibit A
to Defendant's Reply filed on December 27, 2018 at
16:21:28, p. 1. Ms. Zellner threatened to file a counterclaim
for malicious prosecution and a motion for sanctions under
Ark. R. Civ. P. 11 if Ms. Homan would not dismiss the lawsuit
with prejudice. See id.
these threats, as of December 6, 2018, no responsive pleading
had yet been filed on Mr. Bates's behalf in that case.
Mr. Bates inquired of Ms. Zellner via text message on
December 6, asking whether they needed to file a response
that day. See Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Exhibit C to
Defendant's Reply filed on December 27, 2018 at 16:21:28,
p. 1. Ms. Zellner sent a reply text to Mr. Bates, saying
"We are going to get an extension." See
Id. Three days earlier, Ms. Zellner had emailed Ms.
Homan's attorney asking whether he would object to an
anticipated motion for additional time to answer or otherwise
plead. See Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Exhibit B to
Defendant's Reply filed on December 27, 2018 at 16:21:28,
p. 1. But apparently Ms. Collin's attorney was not
agreeable to any such extension, and on December 10, there
still being no responsive pleading or motion for extension on
the docket, Ms. Homan moved for default judgment.
Thirty-three minutes after that motion was filed, Judge
Karren signed and filed an order granting it and entering
default judgment. See Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Motion
for Default Judgment filed on December 10, 2018 at 15:29:30,
and Default Judgment filed on December 10, 2018 at
next day, Mr. Bates filed a motion to set aside the default
judgment, and a separate motion to extend time to respond to
the complaint. This was but the first of several attempts Mr.
Bates has made in that case to obtain such relief, and all of
them have been denied. He has also filed a motion in that
case asking Judge Karren to recuse, which likewise was
recently denied. He is no longer being represented by Ms.
Zellner in that case, but he has been represented by counsel
throughout its pendency. As the default judgment was to
liability only, the matter has been set for a jury trial on
the issue of damages, currently scheduled to be held on
November 6, 2019. See Wrongful Death Lawsuit,
Scheduling Order filed on January 10, 2019 at 14:59:50.
January 23, 2019, Mr. Bates initiated the instant lawsuit in
this Court, filing a 59-page Complaint against Ms.
Homan, the Bentonville Defendants, and Dr. Kokes (an employee
of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory who performed an
autopsy on Mr. Collins). The Complaint alleges that the
Defendants conspired to frame Mr. Bates for Mr. Collins's
murder in order to help Ms. Homan obtain life insurance
proceeds that would not be available to her if Mr. Collins
were responsible for his own death. It alleges that the
Bentonville Defendants were motivated to help Ms. Homan
because Mr. Collins was a former police officer who worked
with current Bentonville police officers in his job providing
security for Walmart's corporate headquarters, he and Ms.
Homan were neighbors to a Bentonville police officer, and he
and Ms. Homan had several friends in the Bentonville police
to the Complaint, Mr. Collins was 6'5" tall, weighed
315 pounds, had been in 103-degree water in the hot tub, and
had a blood alcohol level of .318 along with Prozac and
methylphenidate in his system at the time of his death. And
although Dr. Kokes opined in his autopsy report that the
cause of Mr. Collins's death was strangulation, Mr. Bates
alleges that the autopsy was actually inconsistent with such
a finding because, among other reasons, Mr. Collins's
hyoid bone was not fractured, there were no ligature marks,
scratches, or finger bruising on his neck, and there was no
evidence of damage to his thyroid cartilage. He also alleges,
among many other things, that Bentonville police officers
concealed relevant audio recordings, destroyed his phone to
prevent him from obtaining information from it, and falsified
water meter readings, and that Ms. Homan wrote a letter to
prosecutors falsely claiming that Mr. Bates was stalking her
and her children in a vehicle that Mr. Bates was subsequently
able to prove he no longer owned during the time period of
the alleged stalking.
Bates's Complaint brings ten counts against these
Defendants. Six counts are brought against the individual
Bentonville Defendants and Dr. Kokes under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for various constitutional violations, including false
arrest, fabrication of evidence, reckless investigation,
conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, failure to
intervene, and supervisory liability. The Complaint also
brings three counts under Arkansas law against all individual
Defendants (including Ms. Homan), for malicious prosecution,
civil conspiracy, and outrage. The tenth count, for
indemnification, is brought only against the City of
Bentonville, alleging that an Arkansas statute requires the
City to pay all judgments and settlements entered against the
individual Bentonville Defendants for the other nine claims.
the Defendants have filed motions to dismiss the claims
against them. For the most part, those motions are premised
on either preclusionary or jurisdictional arguments in the
vein that the ongoing Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Benton County
Circuit Court is a bar either to Mr. Bates's claims in
this case or to this Court's jurisdiction over them. Some
of the Defendants also argue that the Complaint substantively
fails to plead sufficient facts to support the claims brought
against them under Arkansas law. All of these motions to
dismiss are ripe for decision, as they have been fully
briefed and the Court received oral argument on them at an
April 9, 2019 case management hearing. The Court will discuss
its rulings below, after reciting the legal standards
governing motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and
survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide "a short
and plain statement of the claim that [the plaintiff] is
entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The purpose
of this requirement is to "give the defendant fair
notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which
it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93
(2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). The Court must accept all of a
complaint's factual allegations as true, and construe
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, drawing
all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.
See Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d
659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).
the 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 Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 570). "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. "A
pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or
'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it
tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further
factual enhancement.'" Id. In other words,
while "the pleading standard that Rule 8 announces does
not require 'detailed factual allegations, '... it
demands more than an unadorned, the
defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id.
Rule 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction, they "may be resolved either on the face
of the pleadings or upon factual determinations made in
consideration of matters outside of the pleadings."
Bhd. of Maint of Way Emps. Div. of Intern. Bhd. of
Teamsters v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 475 F.Supp.2d 819,
834-35 (N.D. Iowa 2007) (citing Titus v. Sullivan, 4
F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993); Osborn v. United
States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 & n.6 (8th Cir. 1990)).
Here, the Court will consider the same universe of materials
for Rule 12(b)(1) purposes as for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes,
which includes "matters incorporated by reference or
integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice,
matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the
record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint
whose authenticity is unquestioned." Miller v.
Redwood Toxicology Lab., Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 931 (8th
Cir. 2012) (quoting 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357
(3d ed. 2004)).
Defendants' arguments in favor of dismissal can be
grouped into four categories. The first category concerns
whether Mr. Bates's claims are barred under the doctrine
of res judicata. The second category concerns
whether this Court should refrain from exercising
jurisdiction over Mr. Bates's claims in order to avoid
interfering with or undermining the Wrongful Death Lawsuit.
The third category concerns the doctrine of qualified
immunity as applied to the individual Bentonville Defendants.
And the fourth category concerns whether Mr. Bates's
Complaint alleges sufficient facts to state a claim,
independently of any jurisdictional concerns. This Opinion
discusses each of these categories, in the aforementioned
sequence,  below.
the affirmative defense of res judicata is raised in
a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may
dismiss a case on that basis if the doctrine's
applicability "is apparent on the face of the
complaint," including "public records and materials
embraced by the complaint, and materials attached to the
complaint." See C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v.
Lobrano, 695 F.3d 758, 763-64 (8th Cir. 2012) (internal
citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted).
"The law of the forum that rendered the first judgment
controls the res judicata analysis." See Id. at
764 (quoting Laase v. Cnty. of Isanti, 638 F.3d 853,
856 (8th Cir. 2011)). Thus, this Court must apply the res
judicata laws of Arkansas, which is the governing law in
the Benton County Circuit Court, where the Wrongful Death
Lawsuit is being adjudicated.
Arkansas law, res judicata "consists of two
facets, one being issue preclusion and the other claim
preclusion." Baptist Health v. Murphy, 2010
Ark. 358, at *7. The first subsection below will take up the
matter of claim preclusion. Then the next subsection will
discuss issue preclusion.