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Stanford v. Garcia

March 31, 2009

TRACI STANFORD, GUARDIAN OF LILLIAN FLETCHER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHICAGO POLICE SGT. FERNANDO GARCIA, STAR #1670, CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER WILFREDO ROMAN, STAR #17631, SHERRY PONCE-DELEON, CHARLENE VALENTINE, BARABARA HAYNES, AND THE CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan Humphrey Lefkow United States District Judge

Judge Joan H. Lefkow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Lillian Fletcher ("Fletcher"), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988 and the laws of the State of Illinois, against police officers Fernando Garcia and Wilfredo Roman ("officer defendants"), Chicago Department of Senior Services employees Sherry Ponce-DeLeon, Charlene Valentine, and Barbara Haynes ("CDSS defendants"),*fn1 and the City of Chicago. The CDSS defendants now move to dismiss count VI, which asserts a §1983 claim against the CDSS defendants for violations of Fletcher's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights, and for their dismissal from count VII, a state law claim against the CDSS defendants and the officer defendants for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.*fn2 For the following reasons, the CDSS defendants' motion [#42] will be granted.

LEGAL STANDARD

A defendant may bring a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). For the purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court takes as true all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Jackson v. E.J. Branch Corp., 176 F.3d 971, 977-978 (7th Cir. 1999). In order to survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 126 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed. 2d 80 (1957)). A plaintiff is obliged to "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief," which "requires more than labels and conclusions." Id. (internal quotations omitted). In other words, the allegations must be "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (citing Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-236 (3d ed. 2004)).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Fletcher's complaint arises from a series of events that occurred on or about October 29, 2007. At that time, Fletcher was eighty-two years old and living independently. Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 10. Fletcher had been receiving services from CDSS for over five years. Id. ¶ 11.

Because Fletcher did not want CDSS workers to come to her home, her receipt of these services had been facilitated by Fletcher's family members. Id. ¶¶ 11, 14. CDSS was aware of Fletcher's wishes and had her family's contact information, including their phone numbers. Id. ¶¶ 14, 67. Without any reason to believe that Fletcher was in need of intervention and without making prior arrangements with Fletcher or her family, the CDSS defendants went to Fletcher's home to conduct an interview. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. From inside her home, Fletcher informed the CDSS defendants that she did not want their services. Id. ¶ 16. The CDSS defendants then called the Chicago police department. Id.

When the police arrived at Fletcher's home, she informed them that she was fine and did not want them to enter her home. Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Without justification, the police forced entry into Fletcher's home and deployed a TASER stun gun against her several times. Id. ¶¶ 20-25. As a result of these events, Fletcher suffered damages as a result of her great physical pain, including burns to her stomach and fluid in her head, severe emotional and mental suffering, and medical expenses. Id. ¶¶ 27-28.

DISCUSSION

I. Fletcher's § 1983 Claim for Violations of her Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process Rights (Count VI)

Fletcher contends that the CDSS defendants owed her a duty of protection which they failed to fulfill when they chose to call the Chicago police instead of first requesting assistance from her family. See Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 67-69. Fletcher argues that in doing so, the CDSS defendants placed Fletcher in danger or at a heightened risk of harm, in violation of her substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 71-72.

"[T]he Due Process Clauses generally confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government itself may not deprive the individual." DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 196, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed. 2d. 249 (1989). The clause is "phrased as a limitation on the State's power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security." Id. at 195. In certain limited circumstances, however, "the Constitution imposes upon the State affirmative duties of care and protection with respect to particular individuals." Id. at 198. The Supreme Court has explained that "[t]he affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State's knowledge of the individual's predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitation which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf." Id. at 200. "[I]t is the State's affirmative act of restraining the individual's freedom to act on his own behalf -- through incarceration, institutionalization, or other similar restraint of personal liberty -- which is the 'deprivation of liberty' triggering the protections of the Due Process Clause, not its failure to act to protect his liberty interests against harms inflicted by other means." Id.

DeShaney has been interpreted by the Seventh Circuit to mean that the Constitution imposes upon the state both "a duty to protect individuals with whom it has a 'special relationship' by virtue of the state's custody over the individual" and "a duty to protect individuals against dangers the state itself creates under the state-created danger doctrine." King v. East St. Louis Sch. Dist. 189, 496 F.3d 812, 817-18 (7th Cir. 2007). The Seventh Circuit recently explained that while "[s]ome cases distinguish between the state's duty not to inflict harm and its duty to protect someone whom it has rendered helpless," the two classes of cases are functionally the same. Sandage v. Bd. of Commissioners of Vanderburgh County, 548 F.3d 595, 598 (7th Cir. 2008). "[I]n both classes of case the victim is safe before the state intervenes and unsafe afterward." Id. See, e.g., Reed v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1122 (7th Cir. 1993) (a family who had been injured by a drunk driver was entitled to maintain a claim for violation of their substantive due process rights against police where police had removed a sober driver and left behind a passenger whom they knew to be drunk with the car keys). In Sandage, the Seventh Circuit reaffirmed the three principles outlined in King to determine whether the plaintiff can complain under the Fourteenth Amendment of a failure to protect: (1) the state, by its ...


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