filed against the Cicero police department prior to his arrest but, under Strauss, "the number of complaints filed, without more," would have indicated "nothing." Id. at 769. Cf. Williams v. City of Chicago, 658 F. Supp. 147, 155 (N.D.Ill. 1987) (holding that an official policy of neglect concerning a particular officer could be inferred from the fact that a much higher number of complaints were filed on average against that officer than were filed against other officers).
The heightened pleading requirement established in Strauss had the positive effect of eliminating unsustainable Monell claims, but some courts criticized it because it demanded allegations of specific facts by plaintiffs who, prior to discovery, may have had no way of knowing them. See e.g., Payne v. City of Lasalle, 610 F. Supp. 606, 607-08 (N.D.Ill. 1985). Normally, plaintiffs need not plead specific facts in order to survive motions to dismiss. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). The general rule is that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his [or her] claim which would entitle him [or her] to relief." Id. at 46-47. See also Means v. City of Chicago, 535 F. Supp. 455, 458-60 (N.D.Ill. 1982) (applying the Conley standard to Monell claims), questioned in Strauss, 760 F.2d at 769-70. Under Leatherman, district courts may no longer impose heightened pleading requirements on plaintiffs asserting Monell claims. "Federal courts and litigants must rely on summary judgment and control of discovery to weed out unmeritorious claims sooner rather than later." Leatherman, 1993 WL 52174 at 4. If a plaintiff submits a Monell claim that satisfies both the traditional Conley pleading requirements and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which requires only "a short and plain statement of a claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," then the plaintiff is entitled to advance that claim in court. Hammond therefore may proceed with his claim that Cicero's lax attitude toward police brutality by its officers resulted in the violation of his constitutional rights.
As noted, Hammond does not stop at accusing the town of following a custom of "acquiescence in prior misconduct," as was alleged in Strauss. 760 F.2d at 767. Hammond suggests that the "authorized decisionmakers" in the Cicero police department chose "a course of action tailored to a particular situation" that they knew to be unconstitutional. Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481, 106 S. Ct. 1292, 89 L. Ed. 2d 452 (1986). By asserting that the arresting officers and their superiors had accepted bribes from the owners of Luciano's restaurant in exchange for official favors, Hammond's complaint extends well beyond the typical "boilerplate" claims addressed in Strauss, in which plaintiffs offer examples of employees' misconduct and argue that top officials "must have known" about their employees' propensities for committing constitutional violations. Hammond does not claim that the supervisors must have known, or should have known, about the Luciano's bribery scheme. He claims that they did know about the scheme and, indeed, that they participated in it. Such allegations may be hard to support with solid evidence but, even under Strauss, plaintiffs were never required to submit evidence at the pleading stage of litigation. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1522 (7th Cir. 1990).
Even before Leatherman, the Seventh Circuit had discouraged trial courts from applying the Strauss rule too strictly. Strauss was not to be construed as authorizing application of the summary judgment standard to motions to dismiss. Gibson, 910 F.2d at 1520-23. And, significantly, Strauss was not to be read as calling for dismissal of complaints devoid of extensive factual allegations when the complaints alleged that policymakers had actual knowledge of the constitutionally violative behavior at issue. Sivard v. Pulaski County, 959 F.2d 662, 668-69 (7th Cir. 1992); Gibson, 910 F.2d at 1522 n.20. Thus, by alleging that town policymakers actually knew about the officers' arrangement with Luciano's, Hammond might have satisfied even the uncompromising pleading requirements that formerly applied to Monell claims in this circuit.
Cicero attacks plaintiff's Monell claim on the rationale that it encompasses only one unconstitutional event. Concededly, it is entirely possible that the town's alleged relationship with Luciano's never deprived anyone other than Hammond of his or her constitutional rights. Plaintiff makes no references to any other incidents involving the restaurant and the police. When top policymakers are involved, however, only one incident is required to make out a claim under Monell. Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 480; Malak v. Associated Physicians, Inc., 784 F.2d 277 (7th Cir. 1986); Sivard, 959 F.2d at 668. Had Hammond accused only the lower-level, arresting officers of taking bribes, Strauss probably would have required proof of more than one incident, but that is not what Hammond has alleged.
Hammond's complaint contains one omission that might have doomed his Monell claim under the old standard. Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is sufficient to impose liability under Monell only if the activity was caused by a municipal decision which "can be attributed to a municipal policy maker." Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824, 85 L. Ed. 2d 791, 105 S. Ct. 2427 (1985) (plurality opinion). Hammond alleges that top officials knew about the alleged bribery scheme but he does not state who those officials were. An accusation of public corruption without a name attached to it can be extremely burdensome for a municipality to defend and, given the general approach taken in this circuit toward municipal liability under § 1983, such an indefinite accusation might not have sufficed to support a Monell claim prior to Leatherman. However, now that district courts are barred from considering the burden of litigation on defendant municipalities when considering motions to dismiss Monell claims, Hammond must be permitted to proceed with his claim that a municipal policy of favoring Luciano's in law enforcement matters caused four officers to violate his constitutional rights. See Leatherman, 1993 WL 52174 at 2.
Cicero also moves to dismiss plaintiff's demand for punitive damages against it. Municipalities may not be subject to punitive damage awards pursuant to § 1983. City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 69 L. Ed. 2d 616, 101 S. Ct. 2748 (1981). Plaintiff points out that a municipality still may be liable to pay punitive damage awards against an individual defendant if the municipality is required under state law to indemnify the individual defendant. See Bell v. City of Milwaukee, 746 F.2d 1205, 1271 (7th Cir. 1984). In Illinois, however, municipalities may not indemnify individual defendants for punitive damage awards against them. Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 24, P 1-4-6; ch. 85 P 2-302. Plaintiff's demand for punitive damages against Cicero is therefore dismissed.
Cicero's motion to dismiss plaintiff's Monell claim is denied, but its motion to strike plaintiff's demand for punitive damages against it is granted.
JAMES B. MORAN,
Chief Judge, U.S. District Court
March 11, 1993.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.