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Sudduth v. Donnelly

April 1, 2009

ROY SUDDUTH PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTOPHER J. DONNELLY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, RONALD C. RILEY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, TIMOTHY C. EVANS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, ANITA ALVAREZ, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY,*FN1 STEPHEN BRUDD, FARAH BRASS, DAVID SABATINI, TODD MCCUTCHEON, ALLISON SISE, PIERRE M. OMIDYAR, MARGARET WHITMAN, EBAY, INC., CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, ILL., CITY OF MARKHAM, ILL., COUNTY OF COOK, ILL., AND THE STATE OF ILLINOIS DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Roy Sudduth ("Sudduth") filed this suit against several Defendants based upon his inability to arrive at a criminal proceeding in state court on time. In his Complaint, Sudduth alleges four causes of action, including violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count I), violation of the Rehabilitation Act (Count II) and two violations of the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment (Count III and IV). Although not enumerated in separate counts, Sudduth also alleges violations of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), all Defendants but Stephen Brudd ("Brudd") have moved to dismiss Sudduth's Complaint.*fn2 For the reasons stated, the Motions to Dismiss are granted.

PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

The following allegations are taken as true, as the Court is required to do at the motion to dismiss stage. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). Sudduth, a Black man who suffers from diabetes and who resides in the District of Columbia, won an online auction through Ebay for a phone card. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11, 20.) To pay for the item, Sudduth mailed a money order to Brudd, the seller of the phone card, on December 29, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 20.) On January 4, 2008, Brudd cashed the money order but did not send the phone card to Sudduth. (Compl. ¶ 21.) In response, Sudduth filed numerous written complaints with Defendants Ebay, Inc. ("Ebay"), its Chief Executive Officer Margaret Whitman ("Whitman") and its Director and Chairman of the Board Pierre Omidyar ("Omidyar") (collectively the "Ebay Defendants"). (Compl. ¶ 22.) Nonetheless, Sudduth did not receive the phone card. (Id.)

Because he did not receive the phone card, Sudduth filed criminal complaints against Brudd with the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department and the Park Forest, Illinois Police Department. (Compl. ¶ 23.) As a result of the criminal complaint, the Park Forest police arrested Brudd and charged him with unspecified violations of Illinois criminal law in February 2008. (Compl. ¶ 24.) A hearing for the criminal case was scheduled for May 1, 2008 in the Cook County Circuit Courthouse located in Markham, Illinois. (Compl. ¶¶ 25-26.) Prior to the scheduled hearing, Sudduth informed the Park Forest Police Department and the Illinois State's Attorney's Office in Markham that he suffered from a disability and would need "reasonable accommodations in the form of having ample enough time in order for him to be able to attend" the May 1, 2008 proceeding. (Compl. ¶ 26.) Despite providing them with notice of his disability, neither the Park Forest Police Department nor the Illinois State's Attorney responded to his request for an accommodation. (Compl. ¶ 27.)

As a result of diabetes, Sudduth suffers from impaired sight. (Compl. ¶¶ 33-34.) Because of this visual impairment, Sudduth could not travel from his home in the District of Columbia to Chicago by airplane or automobile. (Id.) In order to attend Brudd's May 1, 2008 proceeding in Markham, Sudduth took Amtrak's Train Number 3 on April 30, 2008 that departed from Washington, D.C. to Chicago at 4:05 p.m. (Compl. ¶ 28.) After the train fell behind schedule, Sudduth called the Markham courthouse and informed Defendant Farah Brass ("Brass") that he could not attend Brudd's proceeding at the scheduled time because his train from Washington, D.C. was running late and he had no other way of making it to the courthouse by 9:00 a.m. (Compl. ¶ 30.) The court held Brudd's as scheduled and Defendant Cook County Circuit Judge Christopher J. Donnelly ("Judge Donnelly") dismissed the charges against Brudd. (Compl. ¶ 35).

When Sudduth learned of the dismissal later that day, he complained to the Illinois State's Attorney's Office that Judge Donnelly had "wrongfully dismissed" the case and that nobody provided him with "reasonable accommodations" that would allow him to attend the May 1 proceeding against Brudd. (Compl. ¶ 36.) Because he did not attend the May 1, 2008 proceeding, Sudduth claims that Judge Donnelly held "illegal ex-parte criminal hearings without the disabled victim ever being present." (Compl. ¶ 45.) On May 3, 2008, Sudduth wrote a letter to Defendant Cook County Circuit Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans ("Judge Evans") to demand "an opportunity for redress and an opportunity for due process with regards to the criminal acts of . . . Brudd." (Compl. ¶ 37.) On July 8, 2008, Judge Donnelly held another hearing to determine if the criminal charges against Brudd should be reinstated. (Compl. ¶ 38.) At the hearing, Judge Donnelly "again dismissed" the criminal charges against Brudd. (Compl. ¶ 39.)

Sudduth then brought this suit, claiming that all Defendants except for the Ebay Defendants violated Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to assure that their programs, activities and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 8-9.) Sudduth also brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that all Defendants, including the Ebay Defendants, have either violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or conspired with each other to deny him his equal protection rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 53.) To remedy these violations, Sudduth requests the following: 1) a declaratory judgment that all Defendants violated his equal protection rights; 2) an injunction requiring Judge Donnelly, Judge Ronald C. Riley, Judge Evans (collectively, the "Judicial Defendants"), the Circuit Court of Cook County, the City of Markham, the County of Cook and the State of Illinois to "hold all criminal and/or civil hearings that involve individuals with disabilities, at the individual['s] . . . request, . . . outside of the Markham, Illinois Courthouse, in a location that is accessible by all forms of public transportation, such as downtown Chicago, Illinois"; 3) an injunction requiring the Ebay Defendants to "ban all Ebay sellers and/or buyers with past criminal activity and complaints . . . from participating in any and all [of] Ebay's activities on Ebay.com"; 4) a declaratory judgment that all Defendants violated his rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964; 5) an injunction enjoining all Defendants from discriminating on the basis of race, religion or disability "in any aspect of the Circuit Court of Cook County; Cook County, Illinois; City of Markham, Illinois; State of Illinois and Ebay's" services; and 6) money damages against all Defendants except for the Judicial Defendants. (Compl. ¶¶ 59-64.)

Before the Court are the following four motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim: 1) the Ebay Defendants' Motion to Dismiss; 2) the Judicial Defendants, Circuit Court of Cook County and the State of Illinois' Motion to Dismiss; 3) the State's Attorney's Office Defendants'(Anita Alvarez, David Sabatini, Farah Brass, Todd McCutcheon and Allison Size) and the County of Cook, Illinois' Motion to Dismiss; and 4) the City of Markham's Motion to Dismiss.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Murphy, 51 F.3d at 717. To state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not allege all facts involved in the claim. See Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994). However, in order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the claim must be supported by facts that, if taken as true, at least plausibly suggest that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). Such a set of facts must "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of illegality. Id. at 1965.

DISCUSSION

I. The Ebay Defendants

Sudduth brings claims against the Ebay Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his equal protection rights and conspiracy to violate his equal protection rights. Additionally, he claims that the Ebay defendants violated the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 by discriminating against him on the basis of his race.

a. Section 1983 Equal Protection Claim

A plaintiff may bring an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to redress constitutional violations committed under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "[T]o state a claim for relief under § 1983, plaintiffs must allege: 1) they were deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and 2) the deprivation was visited upon them by a person or persons acting under color of state law." McKinney v. Duplain, 463 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2006). In certain circumstances, a private party's conduct can constitute state action. See Tarpley v. Keistler,188 F.3d 788, 791 (7th Cir. 1999). However, "before a private party's conduct can be considered state action, there must be a sufficiently close nexus between the state and the private conduct so that the action 'may be fairly treated as that of the state itself.'" Wade v. Byles, 83 F.3d 902, 905 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002 (1982)).

Here, Sudduth alleges that the Ebay Defendants "acted under color of state law in the course and scope of their duties and functioned as agents, employees and officers" of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the County of Cook and the State of Illinois. (Compl. ¶ 16.) However, Sudduth's Complaint does not contain factual allegations to support the conclusory allegation that the Ebay Defendants acted under color of state law. To the contrary, the Complaint only alleges that the Ebay Defendants hosted an online auction and received complaints from Sudduth relating to his dealings with Brudd. Those allegations reveal a that Ebay, private corporation, operated its business with no nexus to the state. Because the Complaint does not properly allege that the Ebay Defendants acted under color of state law, Sudduth has failed to state a claim against the Ebay Defendants under § 1983 for violation of his equal protection rights.

b. Section 1983 Conspiracy Claim

Sudduth also claims that the Ebay Defendants conspired with all other Defendants to deny Sudduth his equal protection rights. Private parties may be liable under § 1983 when they conspire with a state actor to deprive the plaintiff of a constitutional right. See Proffitt v. Ridgway, 279 F.3d 503, 507 (7th Cir. 2002). To state a claim for a conspiracy under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that state officials and the private party somehow reached an understanding to deny the plaintiff's constitutional rights. See House v. Belford, 956 F.2d 711, 271 (7th Cir. 1992). "[M]ere allegations of a conspiracy are insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss." Moore v. Marketplace Restaurant, Inc., 754 F.2d 1336, 1352 (7th Cir. 1985).

To support the claim that the Ebay Defendants conspired with all other Defendants to deny him of his equal protection rights, Sudduth states that "all of the above captioned Defendants . . . conspire to deny Plaintiff Sudduth of his United States Constitutional Rights . . . ." (Compl. ΒΆ 53.) Other than that statement, the Complaint contains no allegations that would demonstrate that the Ebay Defendants entered into an agreement with the other Defendants to deprive Sudduth of his constitutional rights. In fact, the Complaint does not even claim that the Ebay Defendants ever communicated with the other Defendants. Sudduth only alleges that the Ebay Defendants hosted an online auction and failed to respond to his complaints regarding the auction. Such allegations do not suggest that the ...


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