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Alonzo Fells v. E. Trooper Adams

July 11, 2012

ALONZO FELLS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
E. TROOPER ADAMS, ILLINOIS STATE TROOPER #6117, ILLINOIS OFFICE OF EXECUTIVE
INSPECTOR GENERAL, AND WILL COUNTY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Alonzo Fells filed a complaint against defendants Illinois State Trooper

E. Adams, the Illinois Office of Executive Inspector General (OEIG) and Will County alleging that Trooper Adams violated his constitutional rights during a traffic stop on the Stevenson Expressway in Will County, Illinois. Trooper Adams and the OEIG have moved to dismiss, arguing that Mr. Fells has failed to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth herein, their motion (Dkt. #30) will be granted.

BACKGROUND*fn1

On February 22, 2010, Mr. Fells was driving a friend's vehicle on Interstate 55 in Will County. Mr. Fells was accompanied by his ten-year-old son. Mr. Fells alleges that in order to comply with traffic laws he had set the vehicle's cruise control at fifty miles per hour. According to Mr. Fells, Trooper Adams initiated a pretextual traffic stop despite the fact that he was travelling fifty miles per hour. Trooper Adams issued Mr. Fells warning citations for driving at a rate below the posted minimum speed limit of forty-five miles per hour in violation of 625 ILCS 5/11-606 and for improper lane usage in violation of 625 ILCS 5/11-709.

During the stop, Trooper Adams discovered that Mr. Fells had been driving while his license was revoked and issued a citation for that offense. In order to avoid a prolonged wait on the shoulder of the expressway, Trooper Adams instructed Mr. Fells to drive to a nearby exit and wait for the owner of the vehicle to pick it up. While Mr. Fells was parked at a gas station near the exit, Trooper Adams asked to search the vehicle, explaining that if Mr. Fells refused Trooper Adams would handcuff him while they waited for the owner of the vehicle to arrive. Mr. Fells consented to the search, which uncovered no evidence of criminal behavior.

Mr. Fells pleaded not guilty to driving while his license was revoked. In criminal proceedings before the Circuit Court of Will County, he moved to quash his arrest and to suppress all evidence obtained in connection with the arrest. Mr. Fells argued that Trooper Adams lacked probable cause to stop him because he was not violating any law when Trooper Adams first stopped him. During a suppression hearing, Mr. Fells testified that he had set the vehicle's cruise control to fifty miles per hour and therefore could not have been traveling at a rate of forty-four miles per hour, as Trooper Adams had indicated on the warning citation. Trooper Adams testified, however, that his radar indicated Mr. Fells was traveling forty-four miles per hour and that he had calibrated his radar when he began his shift. During cross-examination, Mr. Fells questioned Trooper Adams's calibration technique. In addition, Mr. Fells questioned Trooper Adams concerning the cursory nature of the warning citation for improper lane usage, suggesting that Trooper Adams's testimony was merely a post hoc explanation for the citation. After hearing all of the testimony, the state court denied Mr. Fells's motion to suppress.

The gravamen of Mr. Fells's complaint is that Trooper Adams stopped him only because he is African American. He implies that Trooper Adams must have stopped him because of his race because he was in fact traveling at fifty, not forty-four, miles per hour. In support of his claim, Mr. Fells again alleges that he used the vehicle's cruise control to set his speed and that Trooper Adams committed perjury during the state court suppression hearing. Although Mr. Fells does not raise any legal theory in support of his claims, the court construes Mr. Fells's allegations liberally and deems him to raise claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based upon an alleged false arrest and an alleged unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges a complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841 (7th Cir. 2012). In addition, attachments to the complaint become a part of the complaint for all purposes. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c); Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 312-13 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must provide a defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis and plead sufficient facts to raise the right to relief above the speculative level. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).

ANALYSIS

Initially, the court grants the OEIG's motion to dismiss. Mr. Fells's amended complaint fails to state any facts or allegations regarding any act taken by the OEIG. Moreover, the OEIG is entitled Eleventh Amendment immunity as an arm of the state. Under the Eleventh Amendment, "a state may claim immunity from suit in federal court and must be dismissed from the litigation unless there exists one of two well-established exceptions," which are not applicable here.*fn2 Kroll v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 934 F.2d 904, 907 (7th Cir. 1991). It is well settled law that "[s]tate agencies are treated the same as states" for purposes of sovereign immunity. Id.; see Benjamin v. Ill. Dep't of Fin. & Prof'l Reg., 837 F. Supp. 2d 840, 852 (N.D. Ill. 2011) ("A state agency . . . is treated the same as the state where, as here, money damages are sought."). Accordingly, Mr. Fells's claim against the OEIG must be dismissed. See, e.g., Butler v. Ill. Dep't of Trans., 533 F. Supp. 2d 821, 826 (N.D. Ill. 2008) (dismissing a § 1983 claim against a state agency); accord Robbins Resource Recovery Partners, L.P. v. Edgar, 947 F. Supp. 1205, 1208 (N.D. Ill. 1996).*fn3

I. False Arrest Claim

The defendants argue that collateral estoppel bars Mr. Fells from arguing that Trooper Adams lacked probable cause and therefore Mr. Fells cannot state a claim that Trooper Adams falsely arrested him. To determine whether collateral estoppel bars a plaintiff's ยง 1983 claim, courts apply the state's rules of collateral estoppel. Brown v. City of Chicago, 599 F.3d 772, 774 (7th Cir. 2010). Under Illinois law, an issue litigated in a prior proceeding may not be relitigated if (1) the issue decided in the prior litigation is identical with the one presented in the suit in question; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior litigation; and (3) the party against whom estoppel was asserted was a party to or was in privity with a party to the prior litigation. Herzog v. Lexington Twp., 657 N.E.2d 926, 929-30, 167 Ill. 2d 288, 212 Ill. Dec. 581 (Ill. 1995); see also Talarico v. Dunlap, 685 N.E.2d 325, 328-29, ...


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