United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
February 9, 2004.
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ Plaintiff,
JON WOODALL, ERNEST HALVORSEN and CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATTHEW KENNELLY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Angel Rodriguez has filed suit against Chicago Police detectives John
Woodall and Ernest Halvorsen, and the City of Chicago under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that, while acting within the scope of their
employment as Chicago Police officers, they violated his right to a fair
trial under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments
of the United States Constitution. Defendants have moved to dismiss the
complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the
ground that Rodriguez failed to bring suit within the applicable statute
of limitations. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies
The following facts are taken from Rodriguez's complaint, which the
Court accepts as true for the purposes of defendants' motion to dismiss.
On November 24, 1996, Ibrahim Zayed was shot and killed while working
at his grocery store,
Karlov Foods. Andrew Bolton, a store employee, witnessed the
shooting and described the killer as a "light-skinned male, white or
white Hispanic, who had never come into the store before." Bolton also
stated that he had never seen him around the neighborhood.
Defendant Halvorsen showed Bolton many sets of photographs, but he was
unable to make an identification, and after several months, Halvorsen and
Woodall had no suspect in the shooting. Under pressure to solve the case,
Halvorsen and Woodall allegedly threatened to charge Bolton with
conspiracy to commit murder to force him to identify someone so that they
could close the case. Woodall, in particular, wanted to close the case to
cover-up his involvement with Chicago Police detective Miedzianowski in a
narcotics trafficking conspiracy. Halvorsen and Woodall knew Rodriguez
had been at church when the shooting occurred, but they believed that he
would make a convenient suspect.
Sensing that Bolton was about to "cooperate," Halvorsen and Woodall
again began showing Bolton photo arrays, which now always included
pictures of Rodriguez. Bolton concluded, based on Rodriguez's repeated
inclusion in the photo arrays, that Halvorsen and Woodall wanted him to
identify Rodriguez as the shooter. To keep from being charged himself and
to prevent further harassment, Bolton identified Rodriguez as the
shooter. In March 1997, Bolton picked Rodriguez out of a police lineup,
but Woodall had told Bolton beforehand that Rodriguez would be in the
lineup and that he was likely Zayed's killer. Halvorsen and Woodall never
told prosecutors that they pressured Bolton into identifying Rodriguez,
or that Bolton had told them he had seen the real killer (who was not
Rodriguez) buying a snow blower about a week after the shooting.
Rodriguez was indicted for the murder of Zayed and went to trial in the
Circuit Court of Cook
County, on March 6, 1998. The prosecution offered the eyewitness
testimony of Bolton and the corroborating testimony of Halvorsen and
Woodall. The prosecution also offered the testimony of an Assistant
State's Attorney, who testified that Rodriguez, while in the process of
denying involvement in the shooting, blurted out "fake gun" without
having been told that Zayed was holding a toy gun at the time of the
shooting. The prosecution argued that only the shooter would know that
Zayed was holding a toy gun at the time he was shot, but it never offered
any evidence that Zayed was, in fact, holding a toy gun. On March 10,
1998, the jury found Rodriguez guilty of Zayed's murder, and he was
sentenced to sixty years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
On March 31, 2000 the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Rodriguez's
conviction because of the lack of reliable evidence, and on August 14,
2000, Rodriguez was released from custody. On February 18, 2003,
Rodriguez petitioned the Illinois Prisoner Review Board for a grant of
executive clemency. A hearing was held on Plaintiff's petition on July 9,
2003, during which plaintiff, his sister, and others offered testimony.
Although the State's Attorney's Office opposed Plaintiff's initial
release from custody, it did not oppose his clemency petition, which is
Rodriguez filed this suit on June 6, 2003.
Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only if it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his
claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson,
355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Kennedy v. Nat'l Juvenile Det. Ass'n,
187 F.3d 690, 695 (7th Cir. 1999). In considering the motion, the court
accepts as true the facts alleged in the complaint and draws reasonable
inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. Jackson v.
E.J. Brach Corp.,
176 F.3d 971, 977 (7th Cir. 1999); Zemke v. City of Chicago,
100 F.3d 511, 513 (7th Cir. 1996).
Defendants argue that Rodriguez's § 1983 claim is barred by
Illinois's two year, personal injury statute of limitations, which both
parties concede applies to such claims. Citing to Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), defendants assert that the statute of
limitations began to run once the Illinois Appellate Court overturned
Rodriguez's conviction in August 2000, and therefore his § 1983 claim
is barred because it was not filed until June 2003. Rodriguez contends
that the earliest the statute of limitations could have began to run was
sometime in early 2003, when Woodall was arrested for and pled guilty to
conspiring with other police officers to commit crimes, which included
pinning crimes on innocent people. Rodriguez contends that it was not
until after discovering this information that he began to suspect that
Woodall may have intentionally pinned Zayed's murder on him.
Alternatively, Rodriguez argues that, the statute of limitations should
be tolled because Woodall fraudulently concealed his violation of
Rodriguez's due process rights.
Defendants' motion is premised largely on the proposition that a claim
arising from a wrongful conviction necessarily accrues when the
conviction is reversed. But although Heck says that such a claim
cannot be filed until the conviction has been overturned or vacated, it
does not stand for the proposition that a claim of this type must be
filed within two years (or whatever the applicable period is) of the
conviction's reversal. Rather, a claim accrues when the plaintiff knows
or should know that his constitutional rights were violated. Wilson
v. Giesen, 956 F.2d 738, 740 (7th Cir. 1992). The violation in this
case was not the conviction itself the Seventh Circuit has held
that § 1983 does not permit a claim for malicious prosecution,
see Newsome v. McCabe, 256 F.3d 747, 751 (7th Cir. 2001)
but rather the detectives' failure to disclose that they had coerced
Bolton to falsely identify
Rodriguez and their failure to disclose Bolton's statement that
implicated someone else and thus exculpated Rodriguez.
The question the Court must decide is whether there is no set of facts
consistent with Rodriguez's claim under which the statute of limitations
began to run on or after June 6, 2001. The fairly obvious answer to this
question is no. Certainly Rodriguez knew he had been wrongly convicted,
but that does not inevitably translate into knowledge that the conviction
resulted from a Brady violation or other police misconduct.
Witnesses sometimes get it wrong without any help; taking the complaint
in the light most favorable to Rodriguez, he had no way to know at the
time of his trial that Bolton's false testimony resulted from coercion or
that exculpatory information had been withheld. Bolton is not a
representative of the state, and thus if he were mistaken or lying for
his own reasons, Rodriguez's due process rights would not have been
The reversal of Rodriguez's conviction on appeal did not add any new
information to the mix. The Appellate Court did not address any of the
matters on which Rodriguez's claim is based; it but merely reversed his
conviction on the grounds that there was not enough credible evidence to
convict him. In other words, the court simply found that the prosecution
had not met its burden of proof, not that Rodriguez had been deprived of
his right to a fair trial.
Defendants object to Rodriguez's reliance on Woodall's indictment and
guilty plea to federal drug charges because it is not alleged in the
complaint. The short answer to this is that these matters are in no way
necessary to defeat defendants' motion. In the present context, the
burden is on defendants to show that Rodriguez necessarily should have
known of defendants' misconduct before June 6, 2001. Because they cannot
make that showing, the specific date after June 2001 on which
Rodriguez was put on notice of Woodall's involvement in criminal
activity is beside the point.
For the reasons stated above, the Court denies defendants' motion to
dismiss the second amended complaint [Docket #16]. Defendants are ordered
to answer the second amended complaint within ten days of this order. The
case is set for a status hearing on February 24, 2004 at 9:30 a.m. for
the purpose of discussing the possibility of settlement.
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