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RUSS v. WATTS

March 15, 2002

CHRISTOPHER RUSS, BRANDI SPENCER, JABREN SANDIFER, VERA LOVE, AND ISAAC RUSS, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
VAN B. WATTS, IV, STAR NO. 11999, PHILLIP BANAZIEWICZ, ROBERT HELSON, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, AND THE CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFEDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Gettleman, United States District Judge

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On June 5, 1999, Robert Russ ("Russ") was shot and killed by Chicago Police officer Van B. Wafts, IV ("Officer Watts") during a traffic stop on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, Illinois. Plaintiffs Christopher Russ, Brandi Spencer, and Jabren Sandifer were Russ's siblings. Plaintiffs Vera Love and Isaac Russ were Russ's parents. Plaintiffs' amended complaint sets forth six separate claims.

Three of those counts are based on 4 U.S.C. § 1983 and are alleged on behalf of Russ's parents against Officer Watts, in addition to Chicago Police officers Phillip Banaziewicz ("Officer Banaziewicz") and Robert Helson ("Officer Helson") (together referred to as "the individual officers"), who were apparently also present during the relevant events on June 5, 1999. The first of those counts, Count I, alleges that just prior to his death, Russ did not pose a threat of violence or great bodily harm, he was not committing a forcible felony, and he was not attempting to resist or escape arrest, or to do anything else that would justify his killing. Count I further alleges that, as a direct proximate cause of the individual officers' conduct, Russ's parents were deprived of their due process right of "association with their son . . . including the loss of society and companionship as secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments" to the U.S. Constitution.

Count III relies on the allegations above and further alleges that the individual officers "witnessed, observed or participated in the use of excessive force and battery" against Russ, and also that one or more of the individual officers "failed to restrain the other officers from committing the described acts" despite having the opportunity to do so, "in violation of the [individual] officers' sworn duty to enforce the laws of preserving peace and protecting [Russ]." As a direct and proximate result of that failure, Russ's parents allege, the individual officers deprived them of their "due process right to the association with [Russ], including the loss of society and companionship as secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments."

Similarly, Count IV alleges that the individual officers "did conspire among themselves to deprive [Russ's parents] of their constitutional rights, i.e., to hinder the due course of justice by engaging in a cover-up of the true circumstances of [Russ's] death" and to cover-up the use of excessive force upon Russ. Count IV also alleges that the individual officers reached an "explicit or implicit `meeting of the minds'" on June 5, 1999, and that said conspiracy continued thereafter and has manifested itself through many "overt acts to effectuate and promote the conspiracy," as set forth in the amended complaint. According to Russ's parents, this conspiracy has deprived them of their "constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by hindering the due course of justice and engaging in a coverup of the defendants' true involvement in the death of the decedent."

Additionally, in Count V, Russ's parents allege a § 1983 Monell claim against the City of Chicago, claiming that it did not provide proper training or a proper policy or procedure for its officers regarding the use of force in removing an occupant from a vehicle.

engaged in a conspiracy to impede the due course of justice with intent to deny the plaintiffs the equal protection of the laws or equal right to the privileges and immunities, including access to the courts, under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the right to seek judicial redress as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Defendants City of Chicago and Officer Helson (referred to collectively as "defendants") have filed motions to dismiss each of plaintiffs' claims, asserting, in various permutations, that plaintiffs lack standing to bring the claims, or that the averments thereof fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted. For the reasons explained below, defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

LEGAL STANDARD

The question of standing is essentially the question of whether plaintiffs are "entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or particular issues." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). Standing is a jurisdictional requirement. FW/PBS. Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231 (1990). As a result, in determining whether plaintiffs have standing, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, but also considers information beyond the complaint. Perry v. Village of Arlington Heights, 186 F.3d 826, 829 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Warth, 422 U.S. at 501); see also United Transp. Union v. Gateway Western Ry. Co., 78 F.3d 1208, 1210 (7th Cir. 1996). As the Seventh Circuit explained in Perry,

A party seeking to invoke a federal court's jurisdiction must demonstrate three things: (1) an injury in fact, which is an invasion of a legally protected interest that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal relationship between the injury and the challenged conduct, such that the injury can be fairly traced to the challenged action of the defendant and not from the independent action of some third party not before the court; and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. These three elements have been described as the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing.

186 F.3d at 829 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Further, "where standing is challenged as a factual matter, the plaintiff bears the burden of supporting the allegations necessary for standing with `competent proof' . . . . [which] requires a showing by a preponderance of the evidence that standing exists." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Conversely, in ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court considers "whether relief is possible under any set of facts that could be established consistent with the allegations." Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G., 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992). A claim may be dismissed only if it is beyond doubt that under no set of facts would plaintiffs' allegations entitle them to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Travel All Over the World, 73 F.3d at 1429-30. The purpose of a motion to dismiss is ...


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