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Blunt v. Becker

February 16, 2010

KEITH L. BLUNT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH BECKER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow United States District Court Judge

Judge Robert M. Dow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Keith L. Blunt, brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants move to dismiss the action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim. For the reasons stated in this order, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A reading of Plaintiff's second amended complaint supports the following summary of the alleged operative conduct of the parties:

In August 2007, Tranvontae Howard, Andretta Crockett (Tranvontae's mother and Plaintiff's "love interest/common-law wife"), and Plaintiff were involved in a domestic dispute. When the Defendants, Detective Kenneth Becker, Officer Osborne, Officer Berka, and Crime Scene Technician Dust, arrived at the scene, Plaintiff was nursing "the accidental and incidental minor injuries of Andretta, that were possibly unintentionally inflicted by herself." Defendants were informed that Plaintiff had called the police to the home. At some point, Tranvontae told the police that Plaintiff had taken a knife away from Andretta for the safety of all three individuals.

Defendants fabricated and falsified charges against Plaintiff in a conspiracy to wrongfully arrest and subsequently convict Plaintiff. Defendants' wrongful conduct included: (1) collecting "suggestive 'crime-scene' photos" of a simple domestic dispute, (2) lying to the grand jury, (3) "excluding" exculpatory crime scene photos, (4) and ignoring the facts that Plaintiff told the Defendants that Andretta was intoxicated and that the dispute was not caused or initiated by Plaintiff. Plaintiff was subsequently convicted of aggravated battery and aggravated domestic battery. That conviction is presently on appeal.

II. Analysis

It is well established that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 325 (7th Cir. 2000). In addition, when considering whether to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court takes the allegations in the complaint as true, viewing all facts -- as well as any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom -- in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000); Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n. 1 (2002)). However, some factual allegations my be "so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice to defendants of the plaintiff's claims." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2009) (quoting Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007)).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires, in relevant part, that the complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Rule 8 reflects a liberal notice pleading requirement that focuses the 'litigation on the merits of the claim' rather than some technicality that might keep a plaintiff out of court. Brooks, 578 F.3d at 580 (quoting Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 514). Alleging specific facts is not required. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). However, a plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. The plaintiff's claim must be "plausible" in that there are "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" that supports the plaintiff's allegations. Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 556. Plaintiff brings thirteen counts: Count I (Section 1983 violation of due process claim), Count II (Section 1983 claim for false arrest), Count III (state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress), Count IV (Section 1983 claim for coercive conduct), Count V (state-law claim for loss of consortium), Count VI (state law claim for loss of parental relationship), Count VII (conspiracy claim), Count VIII (state-law official misconduct claim), Count IX (respondeat superior claim), Count X (Section 1983 wrongful imprisonment claim), Count XI (state-law malicious prosecution claim), Count XII ("deprivation of civil rights claim"), and Count XIII (indemnification claim against the City of Chicago). Defendants move to dismiss all claims.

A. Count I

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his due process rights when they "excluded" favorable evidence, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 91 (1983), resulting in a wrongful conviction. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants violated his due process rights by falsely arresting him when they knew he was actually innocent. Defendants argue that Count I is barred by the Heck doctrine.

Heck holds that a claim for damages may not be pursued if the claim's success would necessarily imply the invalidity of a criminal conviction or sentence. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). The Heck rule "is intended to prevent collateral attack on a criminal conviction through the vehicle of a civil suit." McCann v. Neilsen, 466 F.3d 619, 621 (7th Cir. 2006).

Plaintiff's due process claim based on the allegation that his due process rights were violated because Defendants excluded favorable evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction as a Brady violation occurs at trial. See Newsome v. McCabe, 256 F.3d 747, 752 (7th Cir. 2001) (finding Heck applied to due process claim based on alleged Brady violation). Thus, Count I is barred unless and until Plaintiff's conviction has been invalidated. Plaintiff's additional claim that his due process rights were violated by his false arrest is an improper attempt by Plaintiff to state a due process claim "by combining what are essentially claims for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment and state law malicious prosecution into a sort of hybrid substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment." McCann v. Mangialardi, 337 F.3d 782, 786 (7th Cir. 2003); see also Brooks v. City Chicago, 564 F.3d 830, 832 (7th Cir. 2009) (affirming dismissal of due process claim based on false arrest and resulting ...


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