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Ferguson v. City of Chicago

November 18, 2004

PIERRE FERGUSON, APPELLANT,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

Docket No. 97218-Agenda 5-November 2004.

Plaintiff, Pierre Ferguson, brought an action in the circuit court of Cook County to recover damages from defendant, the City of Chicago (the City), for malicious prosecution. The City moved to dismiss Ferguson's action, arguing, inter alia, that it was barred by the one-year limitations period set forth in the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/8-101 (West 2000)). The circuit court found the City's limitations defense to be meritorious and dismissed Ferguson's complaint pursuant to section 2-619(a)(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(5) (West 2000)). The circuit court's judgment was affirmed by the appellate court. 343 Ill. App. 3d 60. We subsequently granted Ferguson's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315. For the reasons that follow, we now reverse and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings.

Because this matter comes before us in the context of a dismissal under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure, we must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and all inferences that may reasonably be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. Feltmeier v. Feltmeier, 207 Ill. 2d 263, 277 (2003). Pursuant to this standard, and based on the allegations in Ferguson's complaint, the facts of this case are as follows.

Ferguson is a resident of the City of Chicago. On July 31, 1999, he looked out the window of his home and saw an ambulance being driven the wrong way down a one-way street and strike another vehicle. When Chicago police officers arrived at the scene to investigate the collision, Ferguson approached them to report what he had witnessed. The officers refused to speak with Ferguson and ordered him to return to his property. Ferguson complied.

The driver of the ambulance denied, falsely, that he had been negligent. When it appeared to Ferguson that the investigating officers were going to accept the ambulance driver's version of what had taken place, Ferguson told the officers that neither the ambulance's emergency lights nor its sirens had been activated.

The officers responded to Ferguson's statements by walking into his yard and placing him under arrest. According to Ferguson's complaint, the police subsequently misled the prosecutors assigned to the case by claiming that Ferguson had been arrested because he was swearing at them in a loud voice and refused to stop. The officers also gave false statements that Ferguson had resisted arrest and struck one of the officers in the chest.

Ferguson was charged with three misdemeanor offenses. He retained counsel to represent him. After Ferguson had appeared in court nine times, the assistant State's Attorney who was prosecuting the case concluded that the arresting officers had lied. The assistant State's Attorney therefore requested that the charges be "stricken with leave to reinstate,"or SOL'd.

The court granted the State's request and SOL'd the charges on August 25, 2000. Ferguson's lawyer immediately filed a written demand for a trial. Pursuant to section 103-5(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/103-5(b) (West 2000)), Ferguson was entitled to be tried within 160 days from the date of that demand. The 160-day speedy-trial period subsequently elapsed on February 1, 2001, without any further action by the State or the court. The prosecutor never sought leave to reinstate the charges and no trial was ever conducted.

On January 29, 2002, Ferguson filed a one-count complaint for malicious prosecution against the City based on the foregoing events. The City made a timely motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 2000)). Three arguments were advanced by the City in support of its motion: (1) Ferguson's cause of action was time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations; (2) another action was pending between the same parties for the same cause in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; and (3) the complaint failed to state a cause of action because it did not allege sufficient facts to establish certain elements necessary to prevail on a claim of malicious prosecution.

Following a hearing, the circuit court agreed with the City's contention that Ferguson's cause of action was untimely. It therefore dismissed the cause of action pursuant to section 2-619(a)(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(5) (West 2000)). The court did not rule on the City's claim that Ferguson failed to state a cause of action, nor did it reach the question of whether Ferguson's complaint should be dismissed based on the pendency of his other lawsuit in federal court.

The appellate court affirmed. Ferguson sought and obtained leave to appeal to our court, and the matter is now before us for review. On this appeal, the State does not argue that dismissal of Ferguson's cause of action should be sustained on the grounds that his complaint fails to state a cause of action or because it is the subject of another pending action between the same parties. The sole question we are asked to consider is whether plaintiff's cause of action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

In determining whether a cause of action is untimely, we are not bound by the conclusions of either the circuit or the appellate court. Whether a cause of action was properly dismissed under section 2-619(a)(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure based on the statute of limitations is a matter we review de novo. See Alicea v. Snyder, 321 Ill. App. 3d 248, 252 (2001).

As indicated earlier in this opinion, Ferguson's complaint asserts a civil action for damages against the City of Chicago. Because the City is a local public entity, and because Ferguson seeks to hold it liable in tort for injuries he sustained, Ferguson's action is subject to section 8-101 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/8-101 (West 2000)). Section 8-101 of the Act provides that a civil action sounding in tort asserted against a local entity or any of its employees must be "commenced within one year from the date that the injury was received or the cause of action accrued." 745 ILCS 10/8-101 (West 2000).

A cause of action for malicious prosecution does not accrue until the criminal proceeding on which it is based has been terminated in the plaintiff's favor. See Stanger v. Felix, 97 Ill. App. 3d 585, 586-87 (1981). The point of contention in this case is when the criminal proceedings against Ferguson should be deemed to have been terminated. The City's position, with which the circuit and appellate courts both agreed, is that the proceedings terminated on August 25, 2000, when the circuit court entered its order striking the criminal charges with leave to reinstate. Ferguson, however, argues that striking a charge with leave to reinstate is not a final disposition of the criminal proceedings. He contends that the proceedings remained pending and that the State remained free to reinstate the charges until the statutory speedy-trial period expired. Accordingly, he asserts that ...


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