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Maxwell v. Village of Sauget

February 5, 2007

CHRISTOPHER MAXWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF SAUGET, ILLINOIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss brought by Defendants Village of Sauget, Illinois, Richard Sauget, Jr., Patrick Delaney, and Scott Hedgpeth (Doc. 23). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

INTRODUCTION

This case arises from an incident that occurred on June 11, 2004, in which Plaintiff Christopher Maxwell, while being placed under arrest by Scott Hedgpeth, a police officer employed by the Village of Sauget, Illinois ("the Village"), allegedly was assaulted by Hedgpeth. On June 9, 2006, Maxwell filed this action against Hedgpeth, the Village, Richard Sauget, Jr., who is the mayor of the Village, and Patrick Delaney, who is the chief of the Village police department. The operative complaint in this case (Doc. 17) alleges claims for violations of Maxwell's federal civil rights, as well as claims under Illinois state law. Count I of the complaint alleges use of unreasonable force by Hedgpeth, in violation of Maxwell's Fourth Amendment rights, and Count II and Count III allege that Hedgpeth violated Maxwell's First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for complaining about police misconduct; Count VIII asserts that the Village is liable for these alleged constitutional deprivations because they were the result of a municipal policy or custom. Count IV alleges that the Village, Sauget, Delaney, and Hedgpeth conspired to violate Maxwell's First Amendment rights. Count V and Count VI allege, respectively, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Hedgpeth, while Count IX alleges a claim for negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of police officers against the Village, Sauget, and Delaney. Count VII alleges a civil conspiracy by the Village, Sauget, Delaney, and Hedgpeth. Count X asserts the vicarious liability of the Village for the torts of Hedgpeth, Sauget, and Delaney. The Village, Sauget, Delaney, and Hedgpeth have moved to dismiss Counts II-X of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Having carefully reviewed the submissions of the parties and conducted a hearing on the motion, the Court now is prepared to rule.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

The standard under which the Court must evaluate a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is well established. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326-27 (7th Cir. 2000); Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1427 (7th Cir. 1996). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must take a plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Hentosh v. Herman M. Finch Univ. of Health Scis./The Chicago Med. Sch., 167 F.3d 1170, 1173 (7th Cir. 1999); Strasburger v. Board of Educ., Hardin County Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. No. 1, 143 F.3d 351, 359 (7th Cir. 1998). A complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if "no relief could be granted 'under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.'" Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 589, 590 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)).

B. Motion to Dismiss

1. Federal Civil Rights Claims

a. Fourth Amendment Claims

The Court examines first the claims for violations of Maxwell's constitutional rights alleged in the complaint. The parties do not dispute, and the Court concludes, that Count I of the complaint, alleging that Hedgpeth subjected Maxwell to unreasonable force when arresting him, properly alleges a violation of Maxwell's Fourth Amendment rights. See Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989) ("[A]ll claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force -- deadly or not -- in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other . . . seizure . . . of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment[.]") (emphasis omitted). See also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-12 (2002) (federal civil rights claims are subject to an ordinary "notice pleading" standard, not a heightened pleading standard); Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993) (same); Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1010-11 (7th Cir. 2002) (Ripple, J., concurring) (same).*fn1

Although a somewhat closer question, the Court concludes further that Count VIII of the complaint adequately alleges that the injury to Maxwell's Fourth Amendment rights asserted in Count I was the product of the Village's unconstitutional policy or custom. See Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978) (liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is not vicarious, and a municipality may be liable under the statute only for constitutional injuries that are the result of a municipal policy or custom); Simmons v. Chicago Bd. of Educ., 289 F.3d 488, 494 (7th Cir. 2002) (same); Baxter v. Vigo County Sch. Corp., 26 F.3d 728, 734-35 (7th Cir. 1994) (same). See also Adams v. Cahokia Sch. Dist. #187, Civil No. 05-297-GPM, 2007 WL 172227, at *4 n.1, *7 (S.D. Ill. Jan. 19, 2007). Maxwell's allegations of municipal liability are somewhat conclusory, but the parties have not strongly disputed their adequacy to state a claim under Monell and, thus, the Court is reluctant to scrutinize them strictly under Rule 12(b)(6). See Ricketts v. Midwest Nat'l Bank, 874 F.2d 1177, 1185 (7th Cir. 1989); Shockley v. Jones, 823 F.2d 1068, 1072-73 (7th Cir. 1987); Doe v. St. Joseph's Hosp. of Fort Wayne, 788 F.2d 411, 414-15 (7th Cir. 1986). In any event, Maxwell's municipal liability claim can be examined more closely on summary judgment. See, e.g., Hauenschild v. City of Harvey, Ill., No. 04 C 7814, 2006 WL 3523754, at **6-8 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 7, 2006); Hare v. Zitek, 414 F. Supp. 2d 834, 860-62 (N.D. Ill. 2005); Caines v. Village of Forest Park, No. 02 C 7472, 2003 WL 21518558, at *5 (N.D. Ill. July 2, 2003). Accordingly, Count I and Count VIII withstand Defendants' motion to dismiss.

b. First Amendment Claims

Although Maxwell has stated a claim for relief for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, as well as a claim of municipal liability therefor, the Court concludes that Maxwell's claims based upon violations of his First Amendment rights are due to be dismissed. The gist of Maxwell's allegations is that, when he complained during his arrest by Hedgpeth that his handcuffs were too tight, Hedgpeth tightened the handcuffs and beat him. In general, to establish a claim for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, a plaintiff must show that (1) he or she engaged in constitutionally-protected conduct and (2) such conduct was a substantial or motivating factor behind the allegedly retaliatory acts. See Ashman v. Barrows, 438 F.3d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 2006); Sullivan v. Ramirez, 360 F.3d 692, 697-98 (7th Cir. 2004); Thomas v. Walton, 461 F. Supp. 2d 786, 795 (S.D. Ill. 2006). In the context of persons in custody, protected speech must be speech relating to a matter of public concern. See McElroy v. Lopac, 403 F.3d 855, 858 (7th Cir. 2005); Baldauf v. Davidson, No. 1:04-CV-1571-JDT-TAB, 2006 WL 3743819, at *18 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 18, 2006); Clark v. Stevenson, No. 06-C-419-C, 2006 WL 2380658, at *7 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 15, 2006); Sulkowska v. City of N.Y., 129 F. Supp. 2d 274, 286 n.22 (S.D.N.Y. 2001). This is because state actors have in some instances a legitimate interest in abridging the speech of persons in their custody and, absent the public speech requirement, all such abridgments would be elevated to the level of constitutional violations. See Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 149 (1983) (holding ...


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