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Demetria Hayes-Newell and v. P.O. M. Trost

April 13, 2012

DEMETRIA HAYES-NEWELL AND
DAVID HAYES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
P.O. M. TROST, #10363, TYRA BROWN, #202, AND
LARRY DRAUS, #485, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila Finnegan United States Magistrate Judge

Finnegan Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Demetria Hayes-Newell and David Hayes filed suit against Chicago Police Officer Mark Trost and Cook County Sheriff Investigators Tyra Brown and Larry Draus, alleging false arrest and unlawful seizure in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and malicious prosecution in violation of Illinois state law. On October 27, 2011, this Court dismissed the claims against Officer Trost with prejudice because Plaintiffs failed to exercise reasonable diligence to serve him with process within the applicable limitations period. Hayes-Newell v. Trost, No. 11 C 4655, 2011 WL 5118441, at *2-3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 27, 2011). The Court also dismissed with prejudice Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claims on the grounds that they were time-barred. Id. at *3. Plaintiffs did not challenge Defendants' arguments for dismissing the remaining false arrest and unlawful seizure claims, and the Court dismissed those as well, but with leave to amend. Id. at *3-4.

On November 21, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), again charging Defendants Draus and Brown with false arrest and unlawful seizure. Defendants now move to dismiss the SAC in its entirety, arguing that they had probable cause to arrest and detain Plaintiffs and seize their property, and that they are shielded from liability by qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth here, the Court rejects both arguments and denies the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND*fn1

On or about the evening of March 23, 2009, Defendant Brown, working undercover, went to Plaintiffs' residence and held herself out as someone interested in purchasing puppies. (Doc. 23 ¶ 8). At that time, she saw that the puppies were "well-nourished, healthy, safe, warm and secure," and she "knew there was no probable cause to suspect that any crime . . . had occurred." (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10). Nevertheless, Brown "[p]articipated or directed other law enforcement officers to prepare criminal complaints against the Plaintiffs" on charges of cruelty to animals and violations of animal owner duties. (Id. ¶ 11c). In that regard, Defendant Draus, who had "no personal knowledge of the conditions of the puppies and dogs," signed an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Plaintiffs' premises attesting to Brown's observation of "wire cages" that were "full of feces," a "very strong" smell of urine, and dogs that appeared "very weak" or "did not move." (Id. ¶¶ 11h, 17, 18; Complaint for Search Warrant, Doc. 26-1).*fn2

When Defendants executed the warrant and entered Plaintiffs' residence on March 24, 2009, Draus "immediately became aware of the well-nourished, healthy, safe, warm and secure conditions of the puppies and dogs." (Doc. 23 ¶ 19). Like Brown, however, Draus disregarded this evidence. (Id. ¶¶ 11e, 11f, 20e, 20f). Both Defendants detained and then arrested Plaintiffs on charges of cruelty to animals and violating animal owner duties, and seized numerous dogs. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 11g, 20g). Plaintiffs insist that Defendants knew they had not committed any crimes but "[w]ithheld information from other Sheriff and City officials and law enforcement officers of the lack of evidence of [any] offenses." (Id. ¶¶ 5, 11a, 20a). Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants "knew or should have known that there was an absence of probable cause to arrest" them, and acted "intentionally and with malice and not for the purpose of bringing the Plaintiffs to justice." (Id. ¶¶ 15, 24).

Plaintiffs were ultimately found not guilty of the animal crimes, and received a judgment of acquittal on November 4, 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 23). In this lawsuit, they seek compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants under § 1983. Defendants dispute the charges and move for complete dismissal.

DISCUSSION

In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must "construe it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in [the nonmoving party's] favor." Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). "To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must do more in the complaint than simply recite elements of a claim; the 'complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Zellner v. Herrick, 639 F.3d 371, 378 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible 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. See also Bausch v. Stryker Corp., 630 F.3d 546, 558 (7th Cir. 2010). Although a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do," id. at 1949, a plaintiff need provide "only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Reger Development, LLC v. National City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 764 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008)).

A. Probable Cause

Defendants first claim that the SAC should be dismissed because they had probable cause for their actions. It is well-established that "[p]robable cause is an absolute defense to a wrongful arrest claim asserted under § 1983 against police officers." Padula v. Leimbach, 656 F.3d 595, 601 (7th Cir. 2011). As the Seventh Circuit recently explained, [a] police officer has probable cause to arrest when, at the moment the decision is made, the facts and circumstances within her knowledge and of which she has reasonably trustworthy information would warrant a prudent person in believing that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense.

Fleming v. Livingston County, Ill., __ F.3d __, 2012 WL 1021179, at *4 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Qian v. Kautz, 168 F.3d 949, 953 (7th Cir. 1999)). The officer's belief need not be "correct or even more likely true than false, so long as it is reasonable." Id.

Defendants argue that they had probable cause to detain and arrest Plaintiffs and seize their dogs because they obtained a valid search warrant signed by a Cook County Circuit Court Judge. (Doc. 26, at 4). To be sure, "[t]he fact that an officer obtains a warrant . . . creates a presumption that he conducted the search or seizure with an objectively reasonable belief that his actions were lawful." U.S. v. Clark, 668 ...


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