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KITTLER v. CITY OF CHICAGO

July 26, 2004.

ERIC KITTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss brought by Defendants City of Chicago, Detective Waynes Bunch ("Bunch"), Detective Judy Castellanos ("Castellanos"), Detective Steven Konow ("Konow"), Sergeant Sergio Rajkovich ("Rajkovich"), and Detective Thurman Royster ("Royster") (collectively "City Defendants"). This matter is also before the court on Defendant Kent Sinson's ("Sinson") motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, we grant the motions in part and deny the motions in part.

BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff Eric Kittler ("Kittler") was arrested at approximately 5:45 p.m. on March 27, 1997, in connection with an armed robbery and murder. Kittler was fifteen years old at the time of the arrest. Kittler claims that he was taken to the police station and placed in an interrogation room for approximately twelve hours. During that time, Plaintiff alleges that various City Defendants continuously interrogated him and that he was deprived of sleep and food. According to Kittler, the City Defendants screamed at him and threatened him with physical harm during the interrogation, and attempted to intimidate him to get him to make a confession. Kittler also claims that he was denied access to his mother who was at the station attempting to see him. Kittler claims that all of the above actions by the City Defendants was part of a conspiracy to get Kittler to confess. Kittler alleges that Assistant State's Attorney Sinson joined in the interrogations in the late evening hours. In the early morning hours of March 28, 2001, Kittler signed a statement prepared by Sinson, implicating Kittler in the murder of Abdel Khalil ("Khalil"). Kittler also alleges that Defendants brought in his mother only when he was about to sign the statement, and that at that time, Defendants placed a can of soda and a bag of potato chips in front of him. Kittler claims that Defendants photographed Kittler and his mother with the food through a surveillance mirror in the interrogation room and later used that photograph during the criminal proceedings to mislead the jury into concluding that Defendants treated him well during the interrogation.

  Kittler was prosecuted and convicted of first-degree murder. On March 24, 2001, Kittler's conviction was overturned on appeal and the case was remanded. The basis for the reversal was that the Appellate Court found no probable cause for Kittler's arrest. Kittler was retried and acquitted in March of 2002. On October 2, 2003, Kittler filed a three-count complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") alleging an unlawful arrest and detention claim (Count I), a coerced confession claim (Count II), and denial of a fair trial claim (Count III). Kittler also alleges a Monell claim against the City of Chicago ("the City").

  LEGAL STANDARD

  In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must draw all reasonable inferences that favor the plaintiff, construe the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations in the complaint. Thompson v. Illinois Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002); Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir. 1991). The allegations of a complaint should not be dismissed for a failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Nonetheless, in order to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege the "operative facts" upon which each claim is based. Kyle v. Morton High School, 144 F.3d 448, 454-55 (7th Cir. 1998); Lucien v. Preiner, 967 F.2d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 1992). The plaintiff need not allege all of the facts involved in the claim and can plead conclusions. Higgs v. Carter, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002); Kyle, 144 F.3d at 455. However, any conclusions pled must "provide the defendant with at least minimal notice of the claim," Id., and the plaintiff cannot satisfy federal pleading requirements merely "by attaching bare legal conclusions to narrated facts which fail to outline the bases of [his] claim." Perkins, 939 F.2d at 466-67.

  DISCUSSION

  I. Statute of Limitation

  The City Defendants and Sinson argue that Kittler's claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations. The City Defendants withdrew their time-bar argument for the motion to dismiss on the basis that the time of accrual is not apparent from the allegations in the complaint. The City indicated that they may present the argument at a later stage in these proceedings. However, Sinson persisted in his argument that Kittler's claims are time-barred. Kittler and Sinson agree that a two year statute of limitations applies to Kittler's Section 1983 claim. See Ashafa v. City of Chicago, 146 F.3d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1998) (stating that two year statute of limitations for Illinois personal injury claims is applied for Section 1983 claims in Illinois). The disagreement arises concerning when Kittler's claims accrued. Sinson argues that the complaint is untimely because the complaint was filed on October 2, 2003, and the Illinois Appellate court reversed Kittler's conviction on March 24, 2001. Kittler argues that the Illinois Appellate court merely reversed his conviction and remanded his case for a new trial. Kittler argues that his claims did not accrue until Kittler was acquitted of the criminal charges in March of 2002.

  A plaintiff's Section 1983 claim "attributable to an unconstitutional conviction or sentence does not accrue until the conviction or sentence has been invalidated." Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 489-90 (1994). Thus, a plaintiff convicted of a crime in state court cannot file a Section 1983 claim "that if vindicated would undermine" the state conviction "until the conviction is nullified, even if the claimant is not seeking to get the conviction set aside." Gauger v. Hendle, 349 F.3d 354, 360-61 (7th Cir. 2003). The Seventh Circuit has held that "since a false arrest is not a defense to criminal charges, . . . determining that an arrest violated the Fourth Amendment does not undermine the defendant's conviction and therefore the claim arises, and the statute of limitations begins to run, when the arrest is made." Id. However, the Seventh Circuit has also cautioned that "this general approach must not be understood as a rule to be applied in every case." Wiley v. City of Chicago, 361 F.3d 994, 997 (7th Cir. 2004). The issue of "the accrual of the civil rights claims . . . is ultimately governed by the Supreme Court's decision in Heck." Id. The proper inquiry for making such a determination is whether the alleged unlawful activity can "impugn the validity of the plaintiff's conviction." Id.; See Gauger v. Hendle, 349 F.3d 354, 361 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding that the plaintiff's challenge of arrest "was implicitly" a challenge of the "legality of his conviction, which rested crucially on the statements that he made to the police when he was questioned after being arrested."). If such is the case, then the Section 1983 claim does not accrue until the "criminal charge or conviction is set aside or dismissed. . . ." Wiley v. City of Chicago, 361 F.3d 994, 997 (7th Cir. 2004).

  In the instant case, accepting as true all of Kittler's allegations, and based upon the allegations before us, we conclude that his arrest and subsequent confession were crucial to the conviction of Kittler. Thus, Kittler could not seek to challenge the arrest and confession until his conviction was overturned and he was acquitted. The Illinois appellate court's reversal merely returned the case to the trial court and Kittler again faced prosecution. Thus, his Section 1983 claim did not accrue until he was acquitted. We note that this result also serves the interest of judicial economy. If Kittler were forced to prematurely file a Section 1983 claim upon the appellate court reversal and remand to avoid the statute of limitations bar, the federal court would be left in an uncertain position. On remand, the state trial court proceedings could again result in a conviction and the federal court entertaining Kittler's Section 1983 claim would be required to dismiss the claim, lest the federal court's ruling disturb the findings of the state trial court. Therefore, we deny Sinson's motion to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations.

  II. Coerced Confession Claim Against City Defendants

  The City Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's coerced confession claim (Count II) and have adopted Defendant Sinson's collateral estoppel argument. The City Defendants argue that because the issue of the voluntariness of Kittler's confession was raised and litigated in a motion to suppress in the original criminal proceeding, and because the motion to suppress was ...


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