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SHORTERS v. CITY OF CHICAGO

September 6, 1985

VICKIE SHORTERS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On July 2, 1985 Vickie Shorters ("Shorters") and Delores Clark ("Clark") sued the City of Chicago ("City") and Chicago police officer George Weir ("Weir") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), seeking damages for an alleged violation of plaintiffs' civil rights in August 1982. Defendants then moved under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 12(b)(6) to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint, in part on the grounds it is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.*fn1 For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, the Complaint survives that motion.

Facts*fn2

In the early morning hours of August 5, 1982 plaintiffs, who were riding in an automobile owned by Clark, stopped to purchase hamburgers at a White Castle restaurant at 111th and State Streets in Chicago. Shorters entered the restaurant while Clark remained in the car. While waiting for Shorters to return, Clark was approached by a restaurant security guard who told her she was parked in a restricted area and would have to move her car. After some discussion Clark agreed to do so.

As Clark was moving the car Weir arrived on the scene, ordered Clark to stop the car and asked to see her license. When Clark produced her license, Weir reached inside the car, took the license from her and also removed the keys from the ignition switch. Weir then opened the car door, removed Clark from the car and placed her in his squad car, in the meantime subjecting her to verbal abuse. Shortly thereafter Shorters emerged from the restaurant and approached Weir to ask about what had happened. Weir responded "Do you want to go to jail too?," twisted Shorters's arm behind her back and placed her under arrest. Clark was later charged with battery, while both Shorters and Clark were charged with disorderly conduct. After plaintiffs had appeared several times in the Circuit Court of Cook County all charges against them were dropped.

Statute of Limitations

Defendants' motion to dismiss invokes the Supreme Court's definitive ruling in Wilson v. Garcia, ___ U.S. ___, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985). Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1949 characterizes Section 1983 claims collectively as "[g]eneral personal injury actions, sounding in tort,"*fn3 and id. at 1947 mandates the selection, "in each State, [of] the one most appropriate statute of limitations for all § 1983 claims." That statute in Illinois, defendants argue, is Ill. Rev.Stat. ch. 110, ¶ 13-202 ("Section 13-202"*fn4):

  Actions for damages for an injury to the person, or
  for false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution, or
  for a statutory penalty, or for abduction, or for
  seduction, or for criminal conversation . . . shall
  be commenced within two years next after the cause of
  action accrued. . . .

Because the events giving rise to plaintiffs' claim occurred in August 1982, defendants claim the July 1985 Complaint was filed out of time.

Plaintiffs counter with two arguments:

    2. Even if Wilson were instead to cause Section 13
  202 to supply the applicable limitations period,
  plaintiffs should be afforded a reasonable time after
  Wilson to file actions (a) that would have been
  timely under what had been thought a five-year
  limitations period (adopted by our Court of Appeals
  in Beard v. Robinson, 563 F.2d 331 (7th Cir. 1977),
  cert. denied, 438 U.S. 907, 98 S.Ct. 3125, 57 L.Ed.2d
  1149 (1978)) but (b) that would become untimely under
  a post-Wilson two-year period.

This opinion considers those arguments in turn.

1. Applicable Illinois Limitations Period

Wilson teaches a twofold inquiry:

    1. a single characterization of all Section 1983
  claims — for which purpose a federal standard
  applies; and
    2. selection of a single state limitations statute
  — for which purpose state law necessarily gives
  content to the state's own statutes.

Because of the double aspect of that inquiry, and because of the two quite different sources that must be drawn upon, special care must be taken to avoid the trap of assuming the same or similar words necessarily have the same meaning in the two contexts — they may, of course, but they need not.

This opinion turns then to the first question: the precise meaning of the Wilson characterization. Wilson, 105 S.Ct. at 1948 speaks of Section 1983 "as conferring a general remedy for injuries to personal rights." On the following page it refers to "all § 1983 actions as involving claims for personal injuries," to "[g]eneral personal injury actions, sounding in tort" and to "§ 1983 claims [as] best characterized as personal injury actions." Certainly Justice Stevens (speaking for the Court, over a single dissent) was not shifting the intended meaning of his language in such a brief compass. Slight variations in locution do not import any change in substance.

Because this Court is already aware of what the second-step (state-law) inquiry later in this opinion will bring, it notes Wilson gave several strong clues as to what the shorthand terms "injuries to personal rights" and "personal injuries" embrace. Wilson, id. at 1948 said:

  As we have noted, however, the ยง 1983 remedy
  encompasses a broad range of potential tort
  analogies, from injuries to property to ...

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