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Allen v. City of East St. Louis

February 11, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


REAGAN, District Judge

Six individuals and two corporations brought suit in this United States District Court alleging infringement of federally-secured civil rights and naming as Defendants the then-Mayor of East St. Louis, Illinois (Carl Officer) and two East St. Louis police officers (Captains Matthews and Mister). The April 10, 2007 complaint was stricken, because it lacked counsel's signature, lacked the case number, and was not accompanied by a civil cover sheet. Plaintiff's counsel re-filed the complaint, but the Clerk's Office issued a Notice of Errors pointing out a problem with the attorney's signature and explaining how to properly sign a pleading in accord with the filing rules of this District. Four months passed without activity in the case.

On September 5, 2007, the Clerk of Court issued a Notice of Impending Dismissal, admonishing that the case would be dismissed for want of prosecution unless Plaintiffs -- by September 25, 2007 -- either served Defendants or sought an entry of default under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a).

Two days after that deadline elapsed, Plaintiffs' counsel moved for leave to file an amended complaint to add the City of East St. Louis as a Defendant and replace Defendant Officer with the newly-elected Mayor of East St. Louis (Alvin Parks). Plaintiffs' September 27th motion was stricken for noncompliance with electronic filing requirements, and counsel moved afresh to amend the complaint (see Docs. 8, 9).

The October 2, 2007 motion to amend lacked a proper signature and resulted in issuance of a notice of errors from the Clerk's Office. In the meantime, the Honorable Clifford J. Proud, United States Magistrate Judge, denied the motion to amend, pointing out that leave of Court was not actually required, since no responsive pleading had been filed at that point. The undersigned District Judge then issued an Order directing Plaintiffs' counsel to file a properly signed "First Amended Complaint" (in compliance with the electronic filing rules of this District) by October 17, 2007.

Plaintiff's counsel timely filed the amended complaint (although curiously leaving Officer named as Mayor, after having sought leave to substitute current Mayor, Alvin Parks, as the named Defendant). In the first amended complaint, the same six individuals and two corporations sue the former Mayor (Officer), the two police captains (Matthews and Mister), plus the City of East St. Louis (collectively, "Defendants").

Now before the Court is Defendants' December 13, 2007 motion to dismiss the first amended complaint, filed with supporting memorandum (Docs. 15, 16). Plaintiffs' response deadline was January 18th (see Doc. 17).

On January 18th, Plaintiffs filed a brief opposing the dismissal motion, but the Clerk's Office struck that brief several days later, based on several violations of e-filing rules, including the fact the pleading lacked a certificate of service. Additionally, the brief was docketed as a "Pretrial Memorandum" (rather than a brief or memo opposing dismissal). Moreover, the memo was filed in duplicate, each copy of which consisted of four pages of argument and analysis followed by three pages of random legal snippets and notes such as "Look at other cases -- better language" (Doc. 23, p. 5). Worse yet, the pleading contained no signature at all -- just a blank line after the "s/." The Clerk's Office telephoned the office of Plaintiffs' counsel and alerted staff there of the reasons the responsive memo was being stricken.

Two weeks passed. Plaintiffs' counsel has neither attempted to re-file the brief opposing Defendants' dismissal motion nor moved for more time in which to do so. Local Rule 7.1(c) of this District provides that failure to timely file a memorandum opposing a dismissal motion "may, in the court's discretion, be considered an admission of the merits of the motion." Although vested with that discretion, the undersigned District Judge prefers to resolve cases on the merits rather than dismiss them via this provision.

With that in mind, the Court turns to the pending motion and will consider the pleadings which are properly before the Court, including Plaintiffs' amended complaint, Defendants' dismissal motion and Defendants' supporting briefs. Analysis begins with overview of Plaintiffs' allegations, summary of Defendants' arguments for dismissal, and reference to the applicable standard of review.

The three-count amended complaint -- which seeks money damages, injunctive relief and attorneys' fees/costs -- alleges as follows. City Nights, Inc. (operating as "Miss Kitty's II") sought approval of the City of East St. Louis to operate a sexually-oriented adult entertainment facility. The City -- which already had issued business and liquor licenses to City Nights -- failed to deny or otherwise rule on the request to operate the sexually-oriented business. Despite the fact that the City's Code allows an applicant awaiting a ruling to "work or perform services without a permit until such time as the permit is granted" or the denial of the permit "becomes final," Defendants used criminal process to intimidate Plaintiffs and dissuade them from operating their nightclub in the City. Ultimately, the business was raided by un-named East St. Louis police officers. Dancers (Plaintiffs Cromwell, Johnson and Pruitte) were arrested, and the arresting officers seized vehicles and other personal property belonging to the dancer-Plaintiffs.

Invoking subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the amended complaint alleges false arrest, malicious abuse of process, false imprisonment, illegal seizure of personal property, and interference with the operation of a legal business, all in violation of rights guaranteed to Plaintiffs by the United States Constitution.

Defendants maintain that Plaintiffs' allegations are vague, confusing and conclusory (meriting dismissal of the entire amended complaint) and that Plaintiffs allege no participation in or approval of the alleged violations by Captains Matthews and Mister ...

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