Submitted: April 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Missouri - Springfield
COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
ERICKSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Sandknop filed a pro se § 1983 claim against
the Missouri Department of Corrections ("MDOC"),
the warden of the Ozark Correctional Center
("OCC"), and a former probation and parole officer
at the OCC, alleging that he was unlawfully deprived of his
liberty as a result of statements made by the former
probation and parole officer to a local state court. The
district court concluded that the warden and the officer
were entitled to absolute and qualified immunity and
dismissed Sandknop's suit. Sandknop now appeals with the
assistance of pro bono counsel. We affirm.
12, 2013, Christopher Sandknop pled guilty to driving while
intoxicated. Sandknop had a number of prior convictions and
was considered a "chronic offender" under section
577.001(5) of the Missouri Statutes Annotated. The state
circuit judge sentenced Sandknop to a mandatory ten-year term
of imprisonment. Notwithstanding the mandatory term, under
Missouri law the court was authorized to suspend the sentence
of a chronic offender to allow the offender to participate in
a custodial substance abuse treatment program. See
Mo. Stat. Ann. § 217.362(2). Armed with this authority,
the state court suspended Sandknop's sentence and ordered
him to complete the substance abuse program.
series of Missouri cases have addressed whether and to what
extent offenders who successfully complete the substance
abuse program are entitled to release on probation. The abuse
treatment program created by the MDOC lasts for twelve
months, even though the statute at issue allows the court to
impose a sentence requiring the defendant to participate in
an "institutional drug or alcohol treatment for a period
of at least twelve and no more than twenty-four months, as
well as a term of incarceration." Id. The
statute further provides that when the defendant completes
the program "the board of probation and parole shall
advise the sentencing court of an offender's probationary
release date thirty days prior to release. If the court
determines that probation is not appropriate the court may
order the execution of the offender's sentence."
Id. at § 217.362(3). Despite the language of
the statute, some trial courts in Missouri concluded that
they were authorized to "retain jurisdiction" and
order that an inmate could be held up to the twenty-four
month maximum treatment period found in section 217.362(2).
See Salm v. Mennemeyer, 423 S.W.3d 319, 320 (Mo.
App. 2014) (describing trial court order purporting to retain
jurisdiction under that section). The Missouri Court of
Appeals held in Salm that section 217.362 did not
authorize that approach. Id.
completed the substance abuse treatment program after
Salm was decided and attempted to secure his
release. In response, the trial court entered an order
"retaining jurisdiction" over Sandknop under the
same theory that was ruled impermissible in Salm.
Sandknop alleges that the court issued the order because a
probation and parole officer at the OCC informed the court in
an ex parte communication that it was entitled to do
so, even though the opinion in Salm had warned the
MDOC that its "court report investigations should no
longer advise that section 217.362 allows trial courts to
retain jurisdiction up to twenty-four months."
Id. at 321 n.4.
Pursuant to the state court's order, Sandknop was held
for several additional months at the OCC after completing his
treatment program. Sandknop sought a writ of mandamus
compelling his release. The MDOC asked the Missouri Court of
Appeals not to issue the writ due to a separate statutory
provision stating that "[n]o chronic offender shall be
eligible for parole or probation until he or she has served a
minimum of two years imprisonment." See Mo.
Stat. Ann. § 577.023.6(4) (2012) (recodified at Mo.
Stat. Ann. § 577.010.6(5)). The court of appeals noted
that the trial court had not purported to exercise
jurisdiction under section 577.023, declined to address the
interplay between the two provisions, and issued a writ
compelling the trial court to comply with section 217.362.
See Sandknop v. Goldman, 450 S.W.3d 499, 503
remand the trial court amended its previous order to add a
reference to section 577.023. The Supreme Court of Missouri
later explained that a defendant is only eligible for release
pursuant to section 217.362(3) after the defendant has served
the two-year minimum specified in section 577.023. See
State ex rel. Hodges v. Asel, 460 S.W.3d 926, 929 (Mo.
brought this § 1983 suit alleging that he was
unconstitutionally deprived of his liberty because of the
officer's ex parte communication to the state
court stating that section 217.362 permitted Sandknop's
continued detention. He also brought state-law claims of
intentional infliction of emotional distress and false
imprisonment. His § 1983 claims were dismissed on
absolute and qualified immunity grounds. The district court
declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the
remaining state-law claims. Sandknop appeals.
survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint
must provide "enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). We construe pro
se complaints "liberally," but the complaint
must still allege sufficient facts to support the claims
advanced. See Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th
Cir. 2004). We review de novo a district court's
grant of dismissal based on absolute immunity or qualified
immunity. See Greenman v. Jessen, 787 F.3d 882, 887
(8th Cir. 2015); Buser v. Raymond, 476 F.3d 565, 568
(8th Cir. 2007). Dismissing a case on a 12(b)(6) motion for
reasons of qualified immunity is appropriate when the