United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
May 6, 1982
PAUL P. JEFFRIES, PLAINTIFF,
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Paul P. Jeffries ("Jeffries") sues the City of Chicago and
various of its police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section
1983") based on an allegedly unlawful arrest and detention.
Jeffries' Third Amended Complaint (the "Complaint") for the first
time named as defendants Sergeant Francis T. Lee ("Lee") and
three officers: Edmund Leracz ("Leracz"), Cynthia White ("White")
and Daniel Gallagher ("Gallagher"). After a short period of
discovery those four defendants (collectively "movants") moved
for summary judgment, and Jeffries did not oppose the motion.
This Court's March 17, 1982 order granted summary judgment.
Movants now seek attorneys' fees as prevailing parties under
42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("Section 1988"). For the reasons stated in this
memorandum opinion and order that motion is denied.
Under Section 1988 a prevailing defendant is entitled to fees
only if the court determines plaintiff's claim was "meritless in
the sense that it is groundless or without foundation." Hughes
v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 14, 101 S.Ct. 173, 178, 66 L.Ed.2d 163
(1980). Jeffries' Complaint alleges he was arrested because he
was suspected of committing a rape. Because Jeffries was unaware
of the identity of the officers involved in the arrest, he sought
certain documents from the City to learn such identity. Each of
the movants appeared in a document relating to the rape
investigation: Leracz had signed a January 25, 1981 supplemental
report about the rape; both White and Gallagher were involved in
the initial call to the police; Lee signed Leracz' request for
additional time to investigate. After discovery it turned out
that although all four thus participated in the initial rape
investigation, none was involved in Jeffries' arrest.*fn1
Movants contend Jeffries should have realized his allegations
against them were frivolous because the documents all related to
activities before the February 24, 1981 arrest. This Court
disagrees. Jeffries was attempting by discovery to identify the
officers involved in the arrest. It was hardly an unreasonable
assumption that officers initially involved in the rape
investigation may also have been involved in the later arrest.
Thus movants' participation in the rape investigation was a
sufficient basis for naming them in the Complaint and pursuing
discovery to determine whether they indeed participated in the
There may indeed have been other ways for Jeffries to pursue
the inquiry. Deposing movants before joining them as defendants
might have disclosed they had no involvement in the arrest.
But that is a hindsight judgment (moreover, every litigant
knows that discovery involving non-parties poses more
difficulties than taking an opponent's deposition). Under the
Hughes standard Jeffries did have a foundation or ground for
naming movants in his Complaint. And there was no showing of
oppressive conduct: As soon as Jeffries read the affidavits filed
in support of movants' summary judgment motion, he voluntarily
abandoned his action against them.
It is frequently true in Section 1983 actions that a plaintiff
is unaware of the identity of people who allegedly violated his
civil rights. Plaintiffs should not be discouraged from
vigorously pursuing their actions and attempting to determine the
identity of those involved in an incident.
In Hernas v. City of Hickory Hills, 517 F. Supp. 592, 593
(N.D.Ill. 1981) this Court awarded attorney's fees to a dismissed
defendant. But in Hernas plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate
any basis for their allegation against a particular police
officer. Once a plaintiff has demonstrated, as here, a rational
basis for believing that a particular individual may have been
involved in the incident involved in a complaint, this Court will
not award attorney's fees simply because that belief proves
Movants are denied any award of attorneys' fees.