United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
March 16, 1973
MARTHA ASHENHURST, A MINOR, BY JULIA HALL, HER NEXT FRIEND, PLAINTIFF,
JOHN CAREY ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause comes on defendant James J. Stokes' motion to strike
and dismiss the complaint.
This is a civil rights action instituted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. The plaintiff, Martha Ashenhurst, is a
minor and a citizen of the United States of America. The
defendants now remaining are John Carey and James J. Stokes,
Chicago Police Officers.
In the complaint the plaintiff alleges, inter alia, the
1. The defendants, employees of the City of Chicago,
deprived the plaintiff of her civil rights under
color of state law.
2. On May 16, 1971, at approximately 10:15 P.M.
defendant Carey ordered and forced the plaintiff
to accompany him to the 21st District Police
Station. The plaintiff was held incommunicado by
the defendants Carey and Stokes until 1:30 A.M.
the following morning.
3. The defendants Carey and Stokes, without legal
justification, deprived the plaintiff of her right
to freedom from illegal seizure of her person;
freedom from unlawful arrest without evidence in
support thereof; freedom from illegal detention;
and freedom from physical abuse, coercion and
The plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $25,000 plus the
costs of maintaining this action.
The defendant Stokes, in support of his motion, contends (1)
that the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter and the
parties, and (2) plaintiff has failed in her complaint to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted against him. James J.
Stokes has also submitted to this Court an affidavit which states
in relevant part:
On May 16, 1971, from 10:00 P.M. and on May 17,
1971 to 6:00 A.M. I was the Watch Commander at the
21st District, Chicago Police Department. On May 16,
1971, at approximately 10:30 P.M., I observed the
Plaintiff in the custody of Officer John Carey. At
such time, I observed the Plaintiff,
Martha Ashenhurst, to be loud, using abusive and
profane language, disoriented in her mannerisms,
actions, and language. At this time, I determined the
Plaintiff, Martha Ashenhurst, to be a juvenile, at
which time I directed Officer John Carey to notify
the Youth Officer and to contact Martha Ashenhurst's
parents. The Plaintiff, Martha Ashenhurst was then
placed in a detention area for her own protection and
safety. I at no time directed that the Plaintiff be
held incommunicado or that she be held on open
The plaintiff, in opposition to the defendant's motion,
contends that there is merely a conflict in the plaintiff's and
the defendant's version of what transpired, which results in a
factual issue to be determined at trial.
This Court, on November 30, 1972, has already held that it has
jurisdiction over this action and that the plaintiff's complaint
set forth with sufficient specificity the necessary elements for
a cause of action against defendants Carey and Stokes. See
Ashenhurst v. Carey, 351 F. Supp. 708 (N.D.Ill. 1972).
However, as to the claims based on defendant's use of
scurrilous and obscene language, it is the opinion of this Court
that the alleged use of such language by the defendants Stokes
and Carey does not constitute a deprivation of plaintiff's civil
rights. There is no constitutional right to be free from obscene
or insulting language. The fact that in the instant action a
minor was subjected to such "obscene" language does not change
the essential character of the alleged right violated and does
not transform it into a right secured by the Constitution. Thus,
while the alleged use of obscene language by these defendants may
have been uncouth, it is not unconstitutional or a deprivation of
civil rights. Johnson v. Hackett, 284 F. Supp. 933 (E.D.Pa. 1968).
See also, Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84
L.Ed. 1213 (1940); Chaplinski v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62
S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942); Terminiello v. Chicago,
337 U.S. 1, 69 S.Ct. 894, 93 L.Ed. 1131 (1949); and Brandenberg v. Ohio,
395 U.S. 444, 89 S.Ct. 1827, 23 L.Ed.2d 430 (1969).
As to the other allegations of the complaint, it is the opinion
of this Court that the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which
relief can be granted and issues of fact which must be litigated.
Defendant Stokes contends that because he is a police
supervisor, he is not liable in the instant action. The doctrine
of respondeat superior clearly does not apply in civil rights
cases under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ashenhurst v. Carey, supra; Barrows
v. Faulkner, et al., 327 F. Supp. 1190, 1191 (N.D.Okla. 1971);
Sandberg v. Daley, 306 F. Supp. 277 (N.D.Ill. 1969). Further,
courts have uniformly held that police supervisory personnel are
not liable for damages to one injured by police misconduct absent
direct personal participation. Ashenhurst v. Carey, supra;
Barrows v. Faulkner, et al., supra; Sandberg v. Daley, supra;
Mach v. Lewis, 298 F. Supp. 1351 (S.D.Ga. 1969); Patrum v. Martin,
292 F. Supp. 370 (W.D.Ky. 1968); Runnels v. Parker, 263 F. Supp. 271
(C.D.Cal. 1967); Pritchard v. Downie, 216 F. Supp. 621
(E.D.Ark. 1963); Jordan v. Kelly, 223 F. Supp. 731 (W.D.Mo. 1963).
However, the affidavit of defendant James J. Stokes clearly
indicates that even though he acted in the capacity of a police
supervisor, he personally participated in the disputed incident.
While the version of the defendant as to what transpired may
differ from that of the plaintiff, this is a factual issue to be
determined by trial and not by a pre-trial motion.
Accordingly, it is hereby ordered:
1. That all allegations as to the deprivation of the
plaintiff's civil rights by defendants' use of
obscene and scurrilous language be stricken from
the complaint for failure to state a cause of
2. that the defendant's motion to strike and dismiss
the remainder of the complaint be denied.
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