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Akbar v. Daley

September 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint [16] for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion [16] is granted.

I. Background*fn2

Pro se Plaintiff Jamal Akbar filed a complaint [10] against Defendant Richard J. Daley individually and in his official capacity as the "Chief Administrator Officer for the City of Chicago." Plaintiff alleges that the City of Chicago's red light camera program, which uses electronic monitoring devices and photographic equipment to detect and record images of vehicles entering an intersection against a red light (see Chicago Mun. Code § 9-102-010), violates the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the cameras were "strategically placed throughout the City of Chicago, with the clear exception of the central business loop area/downtown Chicago." Plaintiff submits that the central business loop area/downtown ("Downtown") is "exclusively segregated from these lights being equally and proportionally placed, as they are in other parts of the city." He continues that "[m]eeting the revenue needs of the City should not just be saddle on the backs of other communities and Downtown Chicago remains segregated and protected from these lights"; that "[o]ur wealthy counterparts Downtown Chicago can't be above the law"; and that "traffic aids [working Downtown] write tickets at their discretion * * * but on the weekends when the traffic aids are home, the Red Light Cameras that has been routinely and discriminatively placed are pulling in revenue 24-7."

II. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Svcs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1973 n.14). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005). In addition, the Court construes pro se complaints liberally and holds them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

III. Analysis

A. Standing

As a threshold matter, Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to allege a cognizable injury caused by the red light camera program in his complaint and therefore lacks standing to bring an equal protection challenge. At minimum, three elements must be shown to establish standing: (1) plaintiff must have suffered an "injury-in-fact," which is defined as an invasion of a legally protected interest, which affects the plaintiff personally and which has actually occurred or is imminent; (2) a causal relationship must exist between the injury and the complained-of conduct; and (3) there must be a likelihood, as opposed to mere speculation, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision by the Court. See, e.g., Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); DH2, Inc. v. U.S. S.E.C., 422 F.3d 591, 596 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). General factual allegations of injury stemming from the defendant's conduct are sufficient at the pleading stage. Lujan, 504 561.

Defendant correctly notes in his motion to dismiss that Plaintiff's complaint does not allege that the red light camera program violates any legally-protected interest to which he is entitled, nor does the complaint even allege that Plaintiff had received a ticket as a result of the City's implementation of the program. Nor did Plaintiff suggest that there is any causal relationship between the automated red light camera program and any injury that he has suffered. If the Court were to consider only the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, it would agree with Defendant that Plaintiff lacks standing. Nowhere in his complaint did Plaintiff allege, "that he actually received any automated red light tickets * * * when and where any such tickets were received * * * [or] the disposition of any such tickets," and thus Plaintiff's complaint is devoid of allegations of an injury that would confer standing. See, e.g., Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. However, Plaintiff's response to the motion to dismiss includes an exhibit indicating that Plaintiff received a ticket for a "Red Light Violation" on August 30, 2008. Plaintiff challenged that ticket and the Department of Administrative Hearings denied the challenge on January 13, 2009.

Defendant makes both a factual and legal argument that attaching the ticket in a response to a motion to dismiss is insufficient to confer standing. Defendant contends that the attached document does not even indicate that the ticket was issued from a red light camera, arguing that the "red light violation" may in fact have resulted from a routine traffic stop. Although the August 30 incident is not mentioned in Plaintiff's complaint or his response to the motion to dismiss, the Court notes that the rules of procedure are relaxed for pro se plaintiffs. In keeping with the Court's responsibility to construe Plaintiff's complaint liberally, and to hold it to a less stringent standard (see Bridges, 557 F.3d at 546), the Court will assume for purposes of deciding Defendant's motion to dismiss that Plaintiff's ticket was issued by a red light camera. Defendant also argues that as a general rule, deficient pleadings may not be remedied by briefs in opposition to a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Thompson v. Nachtrieb, 888 F.2d 1202, 1205 (7th Cir. 1989). However, Plaintiff is not seeking to amend his complaint, but rather to elaborate on the allegations in his initial pleading. He still maintains the same equal protection challenge.

A better argument for Defendant might have been claim preclusion. It appears from a document attached to the complaint that Plaintiff failed to raise an equal protection challenge to his red light ticket at his administrative hearing. The attached document states that "[a]s a defense to this ticket you have asserted that you were not in violation of any parking or compliance ordinance at the time the violation was issued." The Seventh Circuit twice has noted in challenges to City of Chicago ordinances, including one to the red light camera program, that claim preclusion may bar any subsequent constitutional challenge in federal court. See Idris v. City of Chicago, 552 F.3d 564, 565 (7th Cir. 2009) ("Because all plaintiffs had an opportunity to present their contentions in the administrative process, and then to state court, the City might well have had a good argument that claim preclusion bars this litigation. Litigants can't reserve federal issues for a federal court"); Schor v. City of Chicago, --- F.3d ---, 2009 WL 2461392, at *2 (7th Cir. Aug. 9, 2009). Yet in both instances, the court concluded that the City defendants had waived the claim preclusion argument and therefore the Court addressed the substance of the claims. This Court takes the same approach.

B. Equal Protection

Assuming that Plaintiff has the requisite standing to bring his equal protection claim, that claim nevertheless must be dismissed for failure to state a claim. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that he or she was (1) deprived of a federal right, privilege, or immunity (2) by any person acting under color of state law. See Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 908 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). Plaintiff adequately has alleged that Defendant acted under color of state law: he challenges Defendant's "methods of implementation of the Red light Camera System." The question is whether he has sufficiently alleged a deprivation of a federal right -- specifically, a violation of his right to equal protection of the law. The Equal Protection Clause provides that "[no state shall] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV, § 1.*fn3 It grants to all citizens "the right to be free from invidious discrimination in ...

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