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Rodgers v. Peoples Gas

June 30, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 92 M1 13399 Honorable Sidney A. Jones, III Judges Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Zwick

Plaintiff, Alphonso Rodgers, instituted this action for malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, wrongful discharge, and breach of his employment contract. In addition, plaintiff asserted claims based upon violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) (18 U.S.C. § 1962, §1964 (West 1984 and Supp.1999)). The trial court dismissed several of plaintiff's claims with prejudice and entered summary judgment in favor of defendants on the remaining counts. On appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in disposing of his various claims for relief.

Plaintiff's complaint, as ultimately amended, consisted of seven counts. Counts I and II alleged that defendants were liable for malicious prosecution, and Counts III and IV asserted claims for civil conspiracy. Count V alleged that plaintiff's former employer, Peoples Gas, Light & Coke Company (hereinafter Peoples Gas), was liable for wrongful discharge. Count VI asserted violations of the RICO Act, and Count VII alleged that Peoples Gas was liable for breach of plaintiff's employment contract.

In support of his various claims, plaintiff alleged that, prior to his termination, he had been employed by Peoples Gas for 22 years and had been promoted to a management position in 1980. During 1988, Peoples Gas contracted with a private detective agency, Special Operations Associates (hereinafter SOA), to conduct an investigation of Peoples Gas employees who were suspected of being involved in computer fraud. In addition, Peoples Gas desired to terminate the employment of certain management employees and actively sought a means by which to accomplish that objective.

Plaintiff alleged that he was one of the employees targeted by Peoples Gas for investigation by SOA. Defendants Willie Suggs, Thomas J. Sheehan and James Manning were investigators for SOA and were acting within the scope of their employment during the course of their investigation of Peoples Gas employees. Defendant James Manning was also employed by the Office of the Cook County State's Attorney. According to the complaint, the SOA investigators proceeded with the computer-fraud investigation, but could not find any evidence that plaintiff had engaged in any fraudulent conduct against Peoples Gas. When SOA informed Peoples Gas of this fact, Peoples Gas instructed the SOA investigators to fabricate or manufacture a crime to implicate plaintiff so that Peoples Gas would have cause to terminate his employment.

Plaintiff further asserted that defendants then commenced a conspiracy to manufacture a crime implicating the plaintiff and to provide false information to the Office of the Cook County State's Attorney so plaintiff would be prosecuted, giving Peoples Gas cause to fire him. According to the complaint, the conspiracy was controlled by SOA and Peoples Gas and was implemented by defendants Suggs, Sheehan, and Manning, who set up and fabricated a delivery of narcotics by plaintiff. In furtherance of this conspiracy and under the direction of Sheehan, SOA, and Peoples Gas, defendant Suggs caused a package to be delivered to defendant Manning by plaintiff, without plaintiff knowing that the package contained narcotics.

Plaintiff's complaint further alleged that as part of the conspiracy, defendants SOA, Suggs, Manning, and Sheehan collected and manufactured false testimony and evidence and presented it before a grand jury. In September 1988, defendant Manning gave false testimony before the grand jury, which caused plaintiff to be indicted on two counts of delivery of a controlled substance. Defendant Peoples Gas was aware of and participated in the conspiracy. After the indictment, Peoples Gas fired plaintiff from his position and placed false information in his personnel file concerning his alleged criminal involvement. In addition, plaintiff asserted that all defendants continued to conspire together to provide false information to the State's Attorney's Office while the case was pending and provided false testimony before the trial court.

Plaintiff alleged that, at the conclusion of the criminal prosecution, the trial court found him not guilty of all charges and found that the defendants lacked probable cause to have plaintiff prosecuted for a fabricated criminal act. Plaintiff asserted that the defendants acted with malice.

Counts II through VI of the plaintiff's complaint were dismissed with prejudice. The trial court also dismissed Count I as to three defendants and entered summary judgment in favor of the remaining two defendants on this count. Summary judgment was entered on Count VII in favor of defendant Peoples Gas and against plaintiff. Plaintiff appeals these rulings by the trial court.

We initially address plaintiff's claim that the trial court erred in dismissing with prejudice his claims for malicious prosecution contained in Counts I and II of the complaint.

When determining the legal sufficiency of a complaint under section 2-615, all well-pled facts are taken as true, and all reasonable inferences from those facts are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. 735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1996); Connick v. Suzuki Motor Co., 174 Ill. 2d 482, 490, 675 N.E.2d 584 (1996). The court must determine whether the allegations in the complaint, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, are sufficient to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. Abbasi v. Paraskevoulakos, 187 Ill. 2d 386, 391, 718 N.E.2d 181 (1999); People ex rel. Sklodowski v. State of Illinois, 182 Ill. 2d 220, 227-28, 695 N.E.2d 374 (1998); Vernon v. Schuster, 179 Ill. 2d 338, 344, 688 N.E.2d 1172 (1997). A cause of action will not be dismissed on the pleadings unless it clearly appears that no set of facts can be proved which will entitle the plaintiff to recover. Vernon, 179 Ill. 2d at 344; Gouge v. Central Illinois Public Service Co., 144 Ill. 2d 535, 542, 582 N.E.2d 108 (1991). Since the question of whether a complaint states a cause of action is one of law, our review of a trial court's decision on a section 2-615 motion to dismiss is de novo. Kedzie & 103rd Currency Exchange, Inc. v. Hodge, 156 Ill. 2d 112, 116, 619 N.E.2d 732 (1993).

In Illinois, suits for malicious prosecution are not favored. Joiner, 82 Ill. 2d at 44; Schwartz v. Schwartz, 366 Ill. 247, 250, 8 N.E.2d 668 (1937); Shedd v. Patterson, 302 Ill. 355, 359-60, 134 N.E. 705 (1922). Public policy favors the exposure of crime, and the cooperation of citizens possessing knowledge thereof is essential to effective implementation of that policy. Joiner, 82 Ill. 2d at 44. Persons acting in good faith who have probable cause to believe crimes have been committed should not be deterred from reporting them by the fear of unfounded suits by those accused. Swick v. Liautaud, 169 Ill. 2d 504, 512, 662 N.E.2d 1238, (1996), quoting Joiner, 82 Ill. 2d at 44.

To state a claim of malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must allege facts showing (1) the commencement or continuance of an civil or criminal judicial proceeding by the defendant, (2) the termination of the proceeding in the plaintiff's favor, (3) the absence of probable cause for the proceeding, (4) the presence of malice, and (5) damages to the plaintiff resulting from the commencement or continuance of that proceeding. Swick v. Liautaud, 169 Ill. 2d 504, 512, 662 N.E.2d 1238 (1996); Joiner v. Benton Community Bank, 82 Ill. 2d 40, 45, 411 N.E.2d 229 (1980).

The commencement of a criminal proceeding is the filing of a complaint, an information, or an indictment. 725 ILCS 5/111--1 (West 1998). Thus, some official action is required; a citizen does not commence a prosecution when he merely gives false information to the proper authorities. Mulligan v. Village of Bradley, 131 Ill. App. 3d 513, 516, 475 N.E.2d 1029 (1985). However, when a citizen knowingly gives false information to a police officer, who then swears out a complaint, ...

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