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Cox v. Renth

March 4, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' motion to dismiss Counts III and IV of the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 21) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Trevaughn Cox has responded to the motion (Doc. 24).

I. Standard for Dismissal

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all allegations in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, 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). This requirement is satisfied if the complaint (1) describes the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests and (2) plausibly suggests that the plaintiff has a right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atl., 550 U.S. at 555; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007).

Although liberal federal notice pleading standards ensure that minimally detailed complaints can survive a motion to dismiss, those standards will not prevent dismissal of complaints that plead too much. A case can be dismissed because a complaint pleads facts establishing that the defendant is entitled to prevail. Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 519 (7th Cir. 1998); Soo Line R.R. Co. v. St. Louis S.W. Ry. Co., 125 F.3d 481, 483 (7th Cir. 1997); see Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 588 (7th Cir. 2009) (dismissal appropriate when party pleads facts establishing defense to his claim), cert. denied, 78 U.S.L.W. 3417 (2010). That is what the defendants in this case charge.

II. Alleged Facts

This dispute stems from an incident on August 27, 2008. On that day Cox, who was 29 years old, was standing in front of his home in Madison, Illinois, on or near the street. Defendant Michael Renth, a City of Madison police officer, was in the neighborhood and saw some school-aged children standing in the middle of the street. Via the public address system on his patrol car, Renth ordered the children to get out of the street. As Renth was driving away, he looked into his rearview mirror and saw Cox standing on or near the street. He turned his car around, approached Cox and got out of the car. Unprovoked, with his baton he jabbed Cox in the stomach and hit him over his right eyebrow. He then arrested Cox and took him to the Madison Police Department where he shoved him into a holding cell wall. Cox was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries caused by Renth's conduct.

Renth caused Cox to be charged with four offenses: (1) resisting arrest, (2) aggravated assault, (3) pedestrian walking along a highway and (4) disobeying a police officer. The latter two offenses are petty offenses for which jail time is not available under Illinois law. Cox was eventually acquitted of the aggravated assault charge but was convicted of the other three charges.

In August 2009, Cox filed this lawsuit. His First Amended Complaint asserts a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force (Count I) and state law claims for battery (Count II), malicious prosecution on the aggravated assault charge (Count III) and false arrest (Count IV).*fn1

The defendants ask the Court to dismiss Cox's malicious prosecution (Count III) and false arrest (Count IV) claims because the facts pled demonstrate he is not entitled to relief as a matter of law. Cox maintains he is able to prove his claims.

III. Analysis

The parties have merged the malicious prosecution and false arrest analyses in their briefing. However, since each question requires examination of a separate cause of action with different elements, the Court addresses each separately.

A. Count III: Malicious Prosecution

Cox claims Renth maliciously prosecuted him because Renth lacked probable cause to commence criminal proceedings against him for aggravated assault. The tort of malicious prosecution has five elements: "(1) the commencement or continuance of an original criminal or civil judicial proceeding by the defendant; (2) the termination of the proceeding in favor of the plaintiff; (3) the absence of probable cause for such proceeding; (4) the presence of malice; and (5) damages resulting to the plaintiff." Joiner v. Benton Comty. Bank, 411 N.E.2d 229, 232 (Ill. 1980); accord ...

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