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Jones v. Hileman

February 2, 2009


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


A. Introduction

On August 27, 2007, Plaintiffs Robert Jones, individually and as the personal representative of Melvin Jones, and Kay Jones filed this action (Doc. 2). On November 5, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging deprivation of their Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U. S. C. §§ 1983, wrongful death, and deliberate indifference to a serious medical need (Doc. 69). On December 3, 2008, Defendants Stephen Lawrence, Jonathan Wright, and John Barr moved for dismissal pursuant to FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(1) and (6) (Doc. 80). Defendants argue that Counts 3 and 4 must be dismissed because they are entitled to either sovereign immunity or qualified immunity. They also argue that Count 4 must be dismissed because Plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On December 29, 2008, Plaintiffs filed their response in opposition (Doc. 88).

Having reviewed the parties' filings, this Court now GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 80).

B. Factual Background

The compliant stems from events surrounding Melvin Jones's October 20, 2006 suicide. Construing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the following events occurred that afternoon. Melvin Jones went to his parents' backyard with a loaded .22 caliber rifle intending to engage in target practice. At around 2:15 p.m., Robert Jones, Melvin's father, went outside and learned that Melvin had called 911 to inform the emergency dispatcher of his suicidal intentions. Melvin requested an ambulance specifically because "Robert had heart trouble and Melvin did not want anything bad to happen to anyone else as a result of his conduct" (Doc. 69, ¶ 17). Robert then called Kay Jones, his wife and Melvin's mother, apprised her of the situation, and requested that she return home.

Soon after the 911 call, local law enforcement officers arrived on the scene. Defendants John Barr, John Wright, and Stephen Lawrence of the Illinois State Police were among those who responded to the emergency call. Other officers who arrived on the scene included Bart Hileman, Ron Stamp, and Robbie McGee of the Union County Sheriff's Department, and Dale Foster and Bryan Watkins of the Anna Police Department. Many emergency vehicles arrived at the scene, which Plaintiffs say only raised the tension.

As the first officers to arrive, Hileman and Stamp drew their weapons and pointed them at Melvin. Robert told them about the conversation he had been having with Melvin regarding his suicidal intentions and the reasons for them. He also told them that Kay, Melvin's mother, was on her way to the scene in order to convince Melvin not to hurt himself.

Defendant Barr appeared in plain clothes and identified himself as a trained police negotiator. In fact, only Officer Wright was trained to negotiate with suicidal subjects, but he never attempted to communicate with Melvin. Instead, Barr, along with Robert, attempted to negotiate with Melvin while officers simultaneously tried to gain control of the site. This included Defendant Lawrence establishing a "sniper position," even though Melvin never pointed his gun at anyone and promised that he would not hurt them. In fact, the officers believed Melvin's assurances and did not feel threatened. Nonetheless, Melvin could see Lawrence and other armed officers positioning for a clear shot, which created further tension.

When Kay arrived on scene, Defendants refused to allow her access to Melvin. Defendants instructed her "not to come any closer" and threatened to use handcuffs and place her in a police vehicle if she violated their instructions. An officer was instructed to "guard Kay and prevent her from moving" (Doc. 69, ¶ 33). Robert told Barr that the officers needed to let Kay talk to Melvin, because she was the only one who could get through to him, but Barr refused.

Robert was eventually asked to leave Melvin's side. Though he had not interfered with the officers in any way, he was handcuffed and placed under arrest for obstruction of justice. While Barr continued to speak with Melvin, Robert was taken to the Union County Jail.

Minutes after Robert was removed from the scene, Melvin shot himself. Melvin was taken to Union County Hospital by ambulance and died at 4:00 p.m on October 20, 2006. Robert was later released, and no charges were filed against Robert or Kay.

C. Legal Standards Governing a Motion to Dismiss

Dismissal is warranted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE if the complaint fails to set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."Bell Atlantic Corp. V. Twombly, --U.S.--, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007); EEOC v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007).

Stated another way, the question on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of what the suit is about and the grounds on which the suit rests. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Mosely v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 434 F.3d 527, 533 (7th Cir. 2006). Additionally, although federal complaints need only plead claims, not facts, the pleading regime created by Bell Atlantic requires the complaint to allege a plausible theory of liability against the defendant. Sheridan v. Marathon Petroleum Co., LLC, 530 F.3d 590, 596 (7th Cir. 2008); see also Limestone Dev. Corp. v. Village of Lemont, Ill.,520 F.3d 797, 803-04 (7th Cir. 2008).

In Tamayo v. Blagojevich, the Seventh Circuit emphasized that even though Bell Atlantic "retooled federal pleading standards" and "retired the oft-quoted Conley formulation," notice pleading is still all that is required. 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008). "A plaintiff still must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief." Id.; Accord Pugh v. Tribune Co., 521 F.3d 686, 699 (7th Cir. 2008) ("surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion requires more than labels and conclusions"; the allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level").

In making this assessment, the District Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. Tricontinental Industries, Inc., Ltd. v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 475 F.3d 824, 833 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 128 S.Ct. 357 (2007); Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 969 ...

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