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Gregory v. City of Evanson

December 15, 2006

PATRICIA GREGORY, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF HER MINOR SON, BRAD BARRETT, AND RONALD GREEN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS THE FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF HIS MINOR SON, SHAQUILL GREEN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF EVANSTON, OFFICER KOCH, SERGEANT HEARTS-GLASS, DETECTIVE WILLIAMS, DETECTIVE DAVIS, AND UNKNOWN EVANSTON POLICE OFFICERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Patricia Gregory, individually, and as mother and next friend of her minor son, Brad Barrett, and Ronald Green, individually, and as the father and next friend of his minor son, Shaquill Green (collectively "Plaintiffs") bring the present twenty-four (24) count Complaint alleging violations of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state law claims. Defendants Thomas Koch, Tracy Williams, Angela Hearts-Glass, and Larry Davis (collectively, the "Individual Defendants") filed this Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) as to Counts VI, VII, VIII, and IX of the Complaint. For the following reasons, the Court denies the Individual Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings differ from Rule 12(b) motions to dismiss because they are brought after the pleadings are closed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); Northern Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998) ("Rule 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment after the parties have filed the complaint and answer."). Despite the difference in timing, the Court reviews Rule 12(c) motions under the same standards that apply to motions under Rule 12(b)(6). Guise v. BWM Mortgage, LLC, 377 F.3d 795, 798 (7th Cir. 2004). Under Rule 12(c), the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Thomas v. Guardsmark, 381 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir. 2004). "A court will grant a Rule 12(c) motion only when it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts to support a claim for relief and the moving party demonstrates that there are no material issues of fact to be resolved." Brunt v. Serv. Employees Int'l Union, 284 F.3d 715, 718-19 (7th Cir. 2002). In determining a motion for judgment on the pleadings, courts may only consider the pleadings, which consist of the complaint, the answer, and documents attached as exhibits. Housing Auth. Risk Retention Group, Inc. v. Chicago Housing Auth., 378 F.3d 596, 600 (7th Cir. 2004).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' Complaint arises out of an incident that took place on July 29, 2005 involving Evanston Police Officers arresting two minors for disorderly conduct in downtown Evanston, Illinois. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Evanston Police Officer Thomas Koch arrested Brad Barrett and Shaquill Green, both minors, without probable cause. (R. 1-1, Compl. ¶¶ 15-20.) Police then took the boys to the Evanston Police Department after which they placed the minors in different interrogation rooms. (Id. ¶ 25). Upon learning of the arrests, Plaintiffs Patricia Gregory, Brad Barrett's mother, and Ronald Green, Shaquill Green's father, went to the Evanston Police Department. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.) Thereafter, the parents demanded to see their minor children, but the Individual Defendants "refused to provide the parents access to their sons." (Id. ¶¶ 27, 28.) The Complaint further alleges that Brad Barrett and Shaquill Green wanted to see their parents, but no one told them that their parents were at the Evanston Police Department. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 31.)

Eventually, the police brought Brad Barrett and Shaquill Green from the interrogation rooms to the waiting area where their parents were waiting, yet the police did not allow the parents to speak with their children at that point. (Id. ¶ 32.) Instead, Plaintiffs allege that the police required them to sign a document prohibiting their sons from being in downtown Evanston for seven days. (Id. ¶ 33.) The parents initially refused to sign the documents and demanded access to their children, yet the Individual Defendants did not allow the parents access until they signed the documents. (Id.) After the parents signed the documents, the police released Brad Barrett and Shaquill Green into the custody of their parents. (Id. ¶ 36.)

At issue are four counts of the Complaint based on the substantive due process right of familial relations under the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, in Count VI of the Complaint, Brad Barrett claims that the police violated his familial rights when they did not let him see his mother, Patricia Gregory. (Id. ¶¶ 63-67.) Similarly, under Count VII, Shaquill Green alleges that the police violated his familial rights when they did not allow him to see his father, Ronald Green. (Id. ¶¶ 68-72.) Plaintiff Patricia Gregory alleges in Count VIII that the police violated her familial rights when the police did not let her see her minor son. (Id. ¶¶ 73-77.) Likewise, in Count IX of the Complaint, Plaintiff Ronald Green claims that the police violated his familial rights when the police did not allow him to see his son. (Id. ¶¶ 78-82.)

ANALYSIS

I. Qualified Immunity Standard

The Individual Defendants assert that the doctrine of qualified immunity protects them from this lawsuit. In general, qualified immunity shields government officers performing discretionary functions from civil litigation. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). "As the qualified immunity defense has evolved, it provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S.Ct. 1092, 89 L.Ed.2d 271 (1986). When determining whether qualified immunity shields a public official from a Section 1983 action, the Court undertakes a two-part inquiry. Jones v. Wilhelm, 425 F.3d 455, 460 (7th Cir. 2005). The Court's first inquiry is whether the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, show that the Individual Defendants violated a constitutional right. Id. (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)). If the facts comprise a constitutional violation, the Court's second inquiry is whether the constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the Individual Defendants' conduct. Wernsing v. Thompson, 423 F.3d 732, 742 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201). The Individual Defendants "will enjoy qualified immunity unless the court affirmatively answers both questions." Jones v. Wilhelm, 425 F.3d at 460 (emphasis in original).

II. Substantive Due Process Right to Familial Relations

The Court first addresses whether the facts, viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, show that the Individual Defendants violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. See Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Here, Plaintiffs allege that the Individual Defendants violated their substantive due process right to familial relations under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides, "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend XIV, § 1. In general, the Fourteenth Amendment establishes a "fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children." Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000) (plurality opinion). "The Supreme Court has long recognized, as a component of 'substantive' due process, that parents have a liberty interest in familial relations, which includes the right to 'establish a home and bring up children' and 'to control the education of their own.'" Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 517 (7th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Substantive due process, however, does not cover state actions that were not purposely directed at the parent-child relationship. See Russ v. Watts, 414 F.3d 783, 787-88 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing cases); see also Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328, 106 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986) ("the Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty, or property") (emphasis in original). As the Russ court emphasized, "[t]he Supreme Court has recognized violations of the due process liberty interest in the parent-child relationship only where the state took action specifically aimed at interfering with that relationship." Russ, 414 F.3d at 788. Accordingly, "finding a constitutional violation based on official actions that were not directed at the parent-child ...


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