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Tonya Harshaw v. Officer A. Sarabia

January 19, 2011

TONYA HARSHAW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER A. SARABIA, ACTING CHIEF DENARD EAVES, CITY OF HARVEY, AND UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Officer A. Sarabia, Chief Denard Eaves, and the City of Harvey (collectively, "defendants") have moved to dismiss Tonya Harshaw's amended complaint. In the alternative, the defendants have moved for a more definite statement. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I.BACKGROUND

Harshaw brought this suit against the City of Harvey, its police chief, and several named and unnamed police officers seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries she sustained when Officer Sarabia allegedly attacked her, falsely arrested her, then worked with other officers in an attempt to cover up his misdeeds. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-20.)

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) enables a defendant to seek dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must "tak[e] all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and view[] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Santiago v. Walls, 599 F.3d 749, 756 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting Zimmerman v. Tribble, 226 F.3d 568, 571 (7th Cir. 2000)). Legal conclusions, however, are not entitled to any assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ---U.S. ----, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" so as to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957)). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, the plaintiff must provide enough factual allegations to state a claim for relief that is not only conceivable, but "plausible on its face." Id. at 555 & 570; see Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 403 (7th Cir. 2010) ("a plaintiff must do better than putting a few words on paper that, in the hands of an imaginative reader, might suggest that something has happened to her that might be redressed by the law.") "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

In addition, Rule 12(e) enables a defendant to seek "a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). A Rule 12(e) motion must identify the "defects complained of and the details desired." Id.

III.ANALYSIS

A. Whether Counts I, II, III, IV, and VIII should be dismissed for failure to set forth each legal theory in a separate count.

The defendants argue that Counts I, II, III, IV, and VIII of Harshaw's amended complaint should be dismissed because she violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) by including multiple theories of liability within each of those counts. In the alternative, the defendants move for a more definite statement under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e).

The defendants do not cite any cases for the proposition that Rule 8(a)(2) requires each legal theory to be pled within a different count. United States v. Holm, 326 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Berkowitz, 927 F.2d 1376, 1384 (7th Cir. 1991), and noting, "We have repeatedly warned that 'perfunctory and undeveloped arguments, and arguments that are unsupported by pertinent authority, are waived . . . .'") And for good reason. Rule 8(a)(2) does not require as much. Rather, Rule 8(a)(2) only requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) does not require Harshaw to separate her legal theories into different counts. Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992) ("Although it is common to draft complaints with multiple counts, each of which specifies a single statute or legal rule, nothing in the Rules of Civil Procedure requires this. To the contrary, the rules discourage it."); cf. Tompkins v. Central Laborers' Pension Fund, No. 09-cv-4004, 2009 WL 3836893, at *2 (C.D. Ill. Nov. 16, 2009) ("[T]he language of Rule 10(b) clearly requires only that claims under 'separate transactions and occurrences' be set forth in separate counts."). As a result, the defendants' motion to dismiss is denied insofar as it requests dismissal of Counts I, II, III, IV, and VIII on this basis. In addition, the defendants' motion for a more definite statement is denied since Harshaw, with some exceptions which will be discussed below, has provided the defendants with enough information to enable them to prepare a response. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-20.)

B. Whether Counts III and IV should be dismissed for failure to state a § 1983 conspiracy claim.

The defendants further argue that Counts III and IV must be dismissed because Harshaw fails to state a § 1983 conspiracy claim in either count. In the alternative, the defendants move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e).

To state a claim for § 1983 conspiracy, a plaintiff must allege: "(1) an express or implied agreement among defendants to deprive plaintiff of his or her constitutional rights and (2) actual deprivation of those rights in the form of overt acts in furtherance of the agreement." Scherer v. Balkema, 840 F.2d 437, 442 (7th Cir. 1988). As the defendants correctly argue, "[C]courts require the plaintiff to allege the parties, the general purpose, and the approximate date of the conspiracy." Loubser v. Thacker, 440 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1007-08 (7th Cir. 2002); Ryan v. Mary Immaculate Queen Ctr., 188 F.3d 857, 858-60 (7th Cir. 1999)). A plaintiff should also identify the nature of the alleged conspiracy to "enable [the defendant] ...


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