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Blackwell v. Kalinowski

June 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George W. Lindberg


Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

In considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and must draw all reasonable inferences from those allegations in plaintiffs' favor. See Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court may grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if the complaint lacks "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." See id. at 618. In order to survive defendants' motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in plaintiffs' complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The plaintiffs' obligation to provide the grounds of their entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of elements of a cause of action will not do." Id.

According to the allegations in the complaint, in the early morning hours of October 17, 2007, plaintiff Blackwell was seated in the passenger seat of a legally parked car. Plaintiff Ford, who owns the car, had gone into a nearby house. At that time, the individual defendants, who are or were Chicago police officers, approached the car and ordered Blackwell to get out. They searched Blackwell and the car, but found no contraband. Defendants nevertheless arrested Blackwell, and seized the car. At the police station, Blackwell was shown bags containing what appeared to be a controlled substance. When Blackwell protested that he did not have any drugs on him, defendants replied, "You do now." Blackwell was charged with felony drug offenses and traffic charges, and spent two months in jail. After Blackwell prevailed at a suppression hearing, the prosecution dismissed the charges against him.

According to defendants, Ford contested the impoundment of her car in a hearing at the City of Chicago's Department of Administrative Hearings. The hearing officer found Ford liable under City ordinance 7-24-225, which provides:

The owner of record of any motor vehicle that contains any controlled substance or cannabis, as defined in the Controlled Substances Act, 720 ILCS 570/100, et seq., and the Cannabis Control Act, 720 ILCS 550/1, et seq., . . . shall be liable to the city for an administrative penalty of $1,000.00 plus any applicable towing and storage fees. Any such vehicle shall be subject to seizure and impoundment pursuant to this section.

Municipal Code of Chicago, § 7-24-225(a). The hearing officer imposed a $1,000.00 administrative penalty, plus storage and tow fees totaling $2,685.00. The car has not been returned to Ford.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges claims of false arrest, unconstitutional search and seizure of the car, and due process violations against the individual defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I through IV); and state law claims of malicious prosecution and conversion against all defendants (Counts V and VI).

Defendants first contend that collateral estoppel bars plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment, malicious prosecution, false arrest, and conversion claims. Defendants argue that the finding of liability in the impoundment hearing, the transcript of the proceedings at the hearing, and information contained in police reports filed during the hearing, preclude plaintiffs from raising these claims here.

As an initial matter, the Court must determine whether it can consider the hearing officer's finding, the hearing transcript, and the police reports in evaluating defendants' motion to dismiss. Although the Court generally limits its examination of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to consideration of allegations in the complaint, it may take judicial notice of "matters of public record" without converting the motion to a summary judgment motion. See General Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997). The Court may take judicial notice of records of an administrative proceeding. See Fornalik v. Perryman, 223 F.3d 523, 529 (7th Cir. 2000); Opoka v. INS, 94 F.3d 392, 394 (7th Cir. 1996). However, "courts generally cannot take notice of findings of fact from other proceedings for the truth asserted therein because these findings are disputable and usually are disputed." General Elec. Capital Corp., 128 F.3d at 1082 n.6.

The Court agrees that it may consider the hearing officer's decision and the hearing transcript to determine whether collateral estoppel applies. However, the factual allegations contained in the police reports do not become matters of public record suitable for consideration on a motion to dismiss merely because defendants filed the reports in the administrative proceeding. Accordingly, the Court disregards them.

Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, applies if:

(1) the issue sought to be precluded [is] the same as that involved in the prior litigation, (2) the issue [was] actually litigated, (3) the determination of the issue [was] essential to the final judgment, and (4) the party against whom estoppel is invoked [was] fully represented in the prior action.

See Meyer v. Rigdon, 36 F.3d 1375, 1379 (7th Cir. 1994). "Although strict identity of the parties is not necessary to achieve privity[,] . . . the parties must be so closely aligned that they represent the same legal interest." Kraushaar v. Flanigan, 45 F.3d 1040, 1050 (7th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted). Collateral estoppel can apply where the prior case was an administrative proceeding, as long as the administrative agency acted in a judicial capacity to resolve disputed issues of fact properly before it, and as long as ...

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