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Maisha Imani Hamilton v. Village of Oak Lawn

July 25, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning United States District Judge


Dr. Allan Lorincz lives in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Plaintiff Maisha Imani Hamilton, who is currently represented by appointed counsel, contends that on May 20, 2010, she arrived at Dr. Lorincz's home "to assist him due to his Parkinson's disease." According to Ms. Hamilton, Dr. Lorincz agreed to pay her $10,000 to compensate her for her services. Alice Dale and Donald Lorincz are two of Dr. Lorincz's children. Upon learning of the financial arrangement between Ms. Hamilton and Dr. Lorincz, Ms. Dale called the Oak Lawn police and asserted that Ms. Hamilton was taking advantage of her father. Donald Lorincz later joined the fray by arriving at Dr. Lorincz's home on May 30, 2012. It is unclear whether the police arrived at the home on both May 20th and May 30th, but on at least May 20th, they came to Dr. Lorincz's house to investigate the allegations of criminal exploitation of the elderly, told Ms. Hamilton to stay while they investigated, and approximately two hours later, directed Ms. Hamilton to leave.

This § 1983 action against the Village of Oak Lawn, all of the police officers involved in the incident, Alice Dale, and Donald Lorincz followed. Ms. Dale filed an answer but the Oak Lawn defendants (the Village and the officers) and Mr. Lorincz filed motions to dismiss, which are presently before the court. For the following reasons, the federal claims against the Village of Oak Lawn defendants are dismissed, the lack of an actionable federal claim against the officers dooms the conspiracy claims against Alice Dale and Donald Lorincz, and the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim for tortious interference with contract.

I. Background

As noted above, this case flows from a dispute between Dr. Lorincz and his family about the propriety of paying Ms. Hamilton $10,000 for healthcare services. The second amended complaint, filed by counsel, contains five counts: (1) a § 1983 claim against the police officers based on their "unlawful detention" of Ms. Hamilton at Dr. Lorincz's house, their allegedly unlawful actions which prevented her from contracting with Dr. Lorincz, and their command that Ms. Hamilton had to leave the house (Count I); (2) a false imprisonment claim against the officers based on the alleged "wrongful confinement and unreasonable seizure of [Ms. Hamilton's] person for more than two (2) hours" at Dr. Lorincz's home (Count II); (3) conspiracy to violate § 1983 against Ms. Dale and Mr. Lorincz based on their conversations with the defendant officers regarding their belief that Ms. Hamilton was taking advantage of Dr. Lorincz (Counts III and IV); and (4) tortious interference with contract against all of the defendants based on the actions they took to thwart Dr. Lorincz's desire to pay $10,000 to Ms. Hamilton (Count V).

II. Discussion

A. Standard for a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint's request for relief must be "'plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint meets this standard when the alleged facts "allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "[N]aked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" are insufficient. Id. at 1949 (internal quotation marks omitted).

B. The Officers' Motion to Dismiss

Counts I and II are based on the Fourth Amendment and are directed at the defendant officers. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. "A seizure of the person within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments occurs when, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business." Kaupp v. Texas, 538 U.S. 626, 630 (2003) (internal quotations omitted). The defendants assert that Ms. Hamilton's allegations that she was ordered to remain in the home for two hours do not show that she was detained in a way that amounts to a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The court cannot resolve this issue at this point in the proceedings given Ms. Hamilton's allegation that she was specifically told she could not leave the house. It thus turns to the defendants' alternative arguments about the two alleged seizures: the command to "sit down and not leave" and the subsequent command, about two hours later, to leave.

1. The Command to "Sit down and Not Leave"

According to the Oak Lawn defendants, Ms. Hamilton's Fourth Amendment claim fails as a matter of law as probable cause allowed them to detain Ms. Hamilton for approximately two hours while the police investigated the charge of criminal exploitation of the elderly. The defendants contend that their order to Ms. Hamilton to "sit down and not leave" while they questioned Dr. Lorincz and his relatives is an investigatory detention that must be evaluated under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Because the officers detained Ms. Hamilton and then allowed her to leave after questioning others regarding the $10,000 charge, the court agrees that Terry provides the proper framework for evaluating Ms. Hamilton's Fourth Amendment claim.

Under Terry, an officer may conduct "a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000), citing Terry, 392 U.S. at 30. "The determination of whether the officer had reasonable suspicion is an objective inquiry based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the encounter." United States v. Hicks, 531 F.3d 555, 558 (7th Cir. 2008). Moreover, "[i]n this circuit the allocation of the burden of persuasion in a § 1983 case claiming a Fourth Amendment violation is clear: a plaintiff claiming that [s]he was arrested without probable cause carries the burden of establishing the absence of probable cause." McBride v. Grice, 576 F.3d 703, 706 (7th Cir. 2009).

Here, the police received a call from Dr. Lorincz's daughter alleging that Ms. Hamilton was trying to take advantage of Dr. Lorincz by charging him $10,000 -- a very significant amount of money -- for healthcare services. "[I]nformants' tips doubtless come in many shapes and sizes from many different types of persons." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983). Thus, tips "vary greatly in their value and reliability" so "[o]ne simple rule will not cover every situation." Id., quoting Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 147 (1972). The court must thus consider the totality of the circumstances, which is based on an informant's reliability and the basis of her knowledge. Id. at 233. ...

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