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Fort v. Smith

OPINION FILED JUNE 26, 1980.

ANTHONY J. FORT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

STEVE SMITH ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Massac County; the Hon. LOUIS G. HORMAN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE HARRISON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The plaintiff, Anthony J. Fort, appeals from an order of April 2, 1979, by the circuit court of Massac County dismissing his three-count complaint. Two of the counts alleged certain acts of misconduct by Steve Smith, a Massac County deputy, in his arrest of the plaintiff. Count III attempted to raise a claim in products liability against the Frank Thornber Company, which printed the forms used by Massac County in processing the defendant on criminal charges. The defendants filed motions to dismiss based on the argument that the complaint did not state a cause of action and was conclusory. The trial court dismissed counts I and II finding that they lacked sufficient facts to state a cause of action, were stated in terms of pure conclusion, and did not contain a plain and concise statement of the pleader's cause of action. The complaint against Frank Thornber Company was also dismissed. The court granted plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint, but plaintiff elected to stand on the pleadings as submitted. We reverse as to the dismissal of count I and affirm the ruling of the circuit court regarding counts II and III.

Section 33(1) of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 33(1)) requires that pleadings shall contain a plain and concise statement of the cause of action advanced. In his lucid and comprehensive opinion in Kita v. YMCA (1964), 47 Ill. App.2d 409, 198 N.E.2d 174, Mr. Justice McCormick examined the standard by which we determine whether a cause of action has been sufficiently stated. He notes the impossibility of formulating any simple methodology. But it is clear that certain considerations are paramount. A flexible standard is to be applied to the language of the pleading, since we are admonished by the Civil Practice Act that all pleadings are to be liberally construed with the aim of avoiding the procedural rigidities of former times. The ultimate measure is one which facilitates the doing of substantial justice between the parties involved. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 33(3); Adams v. J.I. Case Co. (1970), 125 Ill. App.2d 388, 261 N.E.2d 1; Consolidated Construction Co. v. Great Lakes Plumbing & Heating Co. (1967), 90 Ill. App.2d 196, 234 N.E.2d 378; Kita v. YMCA; Church v. Adler (1953), 350 Ill. App. 471, 113 N.E.2d 327.) In addition, no pleading is to be considered bad in substance where it is composed of intelligible allegations and information which reasonably inform the opposite party of the nature of the claim he is expected to counter. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 42(2); Adams v. J.I. Case Co.; Consolidated Construction Co., Inc. v. Great Lakes Plumbing & Heating Co.; Kita v. YMCA.

• 1 Whatever his fate may be on the merits (for at this stage of the proceedings it is neither our province nor purpose to be so concerned, but rather that of the trial court upon remand), appellant has complied with the statutory pleading requirements for count I. It was intended to present a claim for the tort of false imprisonment arising out of an alleged illegal arrest. This wrong consists of the unlawful and involuntary restraint of an individual's personal liberty or freedom of movement. (Shelton v. Barry (1946), 328 Ill. App. 497, 66 N.E.2d 697.) For the sake of clarity, we set out the pertinent paragraphs of count I below, noting that paragraph 1 alleges that the defendant was deputy sheriff of Massac County, acting under color of law at the time in question, and that paragraph 2 identifies the plaintiff, stating that he was driving near Metropolis, Illinois, when arrested.

"4. At the time Defendant arrested Plaintiff the Defendant had no warrant commanding that Plaintiff be arrested, Defendant had no reasonable grounds to believe that a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest had been issued, and, Defendant had no reasonable grounds to believe that Plaintiff was committing or had committed an offense which would justify or make reasonable this arrest.

5. Injury and damage directly resulting from and proximately caused by the Defendant's misconduct aforesaid include that the Plaintiff was subjected to a deprivation of his liberty and right to use and enjoy the highways of Illinois for a considerable number of hours; Plaintiff was subjected to an unreasonable jailing undue even in the event Plaintiff was later held to answer an accusation in the Circuit Court said jailing being in the Massac County Jail without judicially issued warrant or commitment [sic] to justify Plainitff's [sic] being received as a prisoner; Plaintiff was subjected to a deprivation of his right to use and enjoy $95.00 of a $100.00 deposit of bail security made by Plainitff [sic] at about 9:00 A.M. on 8/12/78 to obtain Plainitff's [sic] release from Massac County Jail confinement."

There can be no doubt that the pleader has rendered an intelligible statement of the theory of his claim. He has set forth a sufficient body of ultimate fact such that both the defense and the court may be fully apprised of the cause which he intends to attempt to prove. While the plaintiff's pleadings may in certain instances be less than artful, surely he has stated in count I the necessary elements with sufficient particularity to survive a motion to dismiss.

We cannot agree with our dissenting brother when he asserts that no facts are furnished to support what he deems to be the purely conclusory statement that the defendant arrested plaintiff without "reasonable grounds to believe that plaintiff was committing or had committed an offense which would justify or make reasonable this arrest." While the terms "reasonable cause" and "reasonable grounds to believe" are often used in legal practice as terms of art which serve to denote legal conclusions, it would be unfortunate indeed to forget that such legal conclusions themselves are composed of ultimate facts. It is an assertion of fact here, based on circumstances which the plaintiff is attempting to get into court to prove, that no facts existed upon which the defendant could reasonably base an arrest. The plaintiff in his pleading alleges that no facts existed qua fact. Our brother would have him plead proof of a negative.

Nor do we agree that the language of count II, which discloses that plaintiff was thereafter accused of possession of a controlled substance, negates the assertions of fact which have been referred to. The charge of possession was merely an allegation, itself subject to proof, and if warranted the trial court may so determine. The pertinent paragraph of count II states only that:

"3. Defendant, with the intent to unjustifiably interfere with or subject Plaintiff to an unreasonable deprivation of Plaintiff's right aforesaid, brought Plaintiff to the Massac County Jail as a custodially arrested person noticed only [sic] that he was accused or to be accused of misdemeanor possession of cannabis and Defendant then and there confining or causing the confinement of Plainitff [sic] as a prisoner or pre-trial detainee in the Massac County Jail."

• 2 Assuming, arguendo, that the allegations are inconsistent, it does not follow that these counts may not be pleaded together in the same complaint. The Civil Practice Act expressly allows a plaintiff to plead inconsistent factual allegations in separate counts in the alternative. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 43(2).) The sufficiency of each count in the ultimate resolution of a claim for relief is a separate legal question. The basis of the rule is that trial proof will determine whether and upon which set of facts the plaintiff may be granted relief. Each count, in this aspect, stands alone, and an averment in one count is precluded from denying the validity of an averment in another. McCormick v. Kopmann (1959), 23 Ill. App.2d 189, 161 N.E.2d 720.

• 3 Count II states the same factual scenario as does count I, adding that plaintiff was "accused or to be accused of misdemeanor possession of cannabis * * *." It is alleged that the arrest in question violated the rights secured to the plaintiff by article I, section 7, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, namely that:

"No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense unless on indictment of a grand jury, except in cases in which the punishment is by fine or by imprisonment other than in the penitentiary, in cases of impeachment, and in cases arising in the militia when in actual service in time of war or public danger. The General Assembly by law may abolish the grand jury or further limit its use.

No person shall be held to answer for a crime punishable by death or by imprisonment in the penitentiary unless either the initial charge has been brought by indictment of a grand jury or the person has been given a ...


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