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Johnson v. Garza

July 11, 2008

WILLIE JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT GARZA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Willie Johnson ("Johnson") has filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 ("Section 1983") action, together with a related state law claim, against the City of Chicago ("City") and eleven of its police officers ("Officers"): Robert Garza, Anthony Amato, Vernon Mitchell Jr., Thomas Harris, Thomas McDermott, Donna Strand, Daniel Ludwig, Enrique Pacheco Jr., Patrick Johnson, Bryant Garcia and A. Torres.*fn1 Johnson charges that he was deprived of his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments*fn2 when Officers (1) searched the apartment where Johnson was staying, using a warrant that they obtained after having presented false information to a state magistrate judge, (2) arrested him without probable cause, (3) elicited incriminating statements without first administering the warnings mandated by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), (4) incarcerated him for more than three years pending disposition of state and federal indictments and (5) deprived him of fair criminal proceedings by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence and falsifying evidence and testimony.*fn3 As indicated earlier, Johnson also asserts a state law claim: one of malicious prosecution.

Defendants have moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) to dismiss Johnson's Complaint in its entirety for a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons discussed below, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Motion To Dismiss Standards

In considering the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor (see, e.g., McMillan v. Collection Prof'ls, Inc., 455 F.3d 754, 758 (7th Cir. 2006)). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, the complaint must (1) put defendants on "fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds upon which it rests" (Rule 8(a)) and (2) plausibly suggest that plaintiff has a right to relief (EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007), citing and quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)).

Factual Background*fn4

Sometime in September 2003 Officers illegally entered and searched a basement apartment located at 1806 S. Harding in Chicago (¶8). Johnson did not live at that address but enjoyed the "rights of a guest" there (id.).*fn5 On October 2, 2003 Officers returned to the same apartment, armed with a search warrant they had obtained by relying on an informant of dubious credibility and by "misrepresent[ing] and falsif[ying] information when presenting the warrant to a state magistrate for signature" (¶9). During that second search Officers claimed they found, among other items, a controlled substance and a gun (¶10).

Then on November 15, 2003 Officers arrested Johnson and charged him with felonies related to the controlled substance and gun found at 1806 S. Harding (¶11). During the arrest Johnson made what Officers "claimed" were incriminating statements before he was given his Miranda warnings (¶12).

As a result of Officers' actions, a state indictment was filed against Johnson in the Circuit Court of Cook County on or about December 8, 2003, after which a federal indictment against Johnson followed in the Northern District of Illinois on or about May 19, 2004 (¶13). Johnson remained incarcerated for three years after the state's indictment, a direct result of Officers' decision to cover up relevant evidence and after they had lost "all trace[s] of information regarding their alleged informant" (¶¶14-16). Johnson was released on December 6, 2006 only after Chief Judge James Holderman had (1) granted the United States' motion to dismiss the federal indictment against him*fn6 and (2) issued "various rulings and orders regarding irregularities and inconsistencies in police testimony and the prosecution proof pertaining to constitutional issues" (¶15).*fn7

Timeliness of Unlawful Search and False Arrest Claims

According to defendants, Johnson's claims that Officers conducted an unlawful search of the 1806 S. Harding apartment and that they falsely arrested him are time-barred because they were not asserted within the two-year statute of limitations imposed by Illinois law (D. Mem. 3). It is unusual to dismiss a claim as time-barred under Rule 12(b)(6), because the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that a complaint need not anticipate or overcome (Hollander v. Brown, 457 F.3d 688, 691 n.1 (7th Cir. 2006)). Still, a plaintiff can "effectively plead[ ] herself out of court by alleging facts that are sufficient to establish the defense" (id.). On the other side of the coin, a complaint may present "any set of facts that if proven would establish a defense to the statute of limitations," thus making dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) premature (Clark v. City of Braidwood, 318 F.3d 764, 767-68 (7th Cir. 2003)(emphasis in original). In this instance the Complaint presents all the relevant facts, so this opinion can consider whether those two claims are indeed time-barred.

Wallace v. Kato, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 1094-95 (2007) greatly assists in that analysis, for it clarified the rules governing (1) the accrual date of a Section 1983 action (that is, when that "cause of action beg[ins] to run"), (2) the length of the concomitant statute of limitations and (3) the source of any applicable tolling rules. Wallace held that although courts must look to the law of the state to identify the length of the statute of limitations and any relevant tolling rules, "the accrual date of a §1983 cause of action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law" (id., emphasis in original). Both the unreasonable search and the false arrest contentions will be evaluated in those terms.

Unlawful Search Claim

Johnson claims that his Fourth Amendment right to be protected from an unreasonable search was violated when Officers relied on an invalid warrant to enter and search the basement apartment at 1806 S. Harding on October 2, 2003.*fn8 In that respect, although the Fourth Amendment permits searches supported by probable cause and conducted pursuant to warrants (see, e.g., United States v. Butler, 71 F.3d 243, 248 (7th Cir. 1995)), that Amendment is violated when state officials "intentionally or recklessly submit[ ] false statements in an affidavit supporting a search warrant" (United States v. Hoffman, 519 F.3d 672, 675 (7th Cir. 2008), following Franks v. Del., 438 U.S. 154, 155-56 (1978)). That just-quoted language fits Johnson's allegations.

As to Johnson's unlawful search argument, Gonzalez v. Entress, 133 F.3d 551, 553 (7th Cir. 1998) holds that a Section 1983 action challenging such a search accrues at the time of the search--and under Illinois law Section 1983 actions are subject to a two-year statute of limitations (Jogi v. Voges, 480 F.3d 822, 836 (7th Cir. 2007)). That combination preliminarily suggests that Johnson's filing of this action on December 5, 2007-- more than two years after the October 2, 2003 search--came too late.

But that suggestion can be overridden if Johnson, pursuant to Wallace, can point either to some aspect of federal law that would alter the accrual date established in Gonzalez or to some provision of state law that would toll the two-year statute of limitations. Here the first of those alternatives is brought into play by the "discovery rule" of the federal common law, as explained in Cada v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 920 F.2d 446, 450 (7th Cir. 1990):

Accrual is the date on which the statute of limitations begins to run. It is not the date on which the wrong that injures the plaintiff occurs, but the date--often the same, but sometimes later--on which the plaintiff discovers that he has been injured. The rule that postpones the beginning of the limitations period from the date when the plaintiff is wronged to the date when he discovers he has been injured is the "discovery rule" of federal common law, which is read into statutes of limitations in federal-question cases (even when those statutes of limitations are borrowed from state ...


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