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Dennis Freeman v. Dorothy Brown

August 29, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang


Plaintiff Dennis Freeman sued Cook County and a group of Cook County deputy sheriffs, as well as Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown and two Clerk's office employees, Melvin E. Darby, and Jerry Davis (collectively, "Clerk Defendants"). Freemen alleges that the defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 Freeman also asserts a state-law malicious prosecution claim against the Clerk's Office Defendants and the Cook County deputies. The Clerk Defendants have moved to dismiss Freeman's complaint for failure to state a claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). R. 15. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is denied.


At this stage of the litigation, we accept Freeman's allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences in his favor. On November 3, 2009, during a 31/2 -hour time span, from 11:49 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Freeman called Clerk Brown's officially-published phone number and left six voicemail messages. R. 1, Compl. ¶ 12. Freeman left his name and telephone number with each message. Id. According to Freeman, none of the messages contained any threats. Id. ¶ 13. Freeman alleges that the messages expressed his dissatisfaction with Brown and her office, and that the First Amendment protected the statements he made.*fn2 Id.

On December 3, 2009, Freeman left his home and entered his vehicle, which was then disabled by law enforcement with an electronic device. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10. After disabling Freeman's vehicle, law enforcement approached Freeman, removed him from his vehicle, and took him into custody. Id. ¶ 9. Freeman was then interrogated about the six telephone messages he left on Clerk Brown's office number. Id. ¶ 12. Freeman was held in custody for over 48 hours, and was not brought before a magistrate judge. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

On December 5, 2009, after listening to the telephone messages, the State's Attorney's Office chose not to pursue felony charges. Id. ¶ 16. But Darby, who is employed by the Clerk's Office as Director of Security, signed a complaint against Freeman for a state-law misdemeanor, specifically, Harassment by Telephone. Id. ¶¶ 4, 16. The criminal complaint named Brown as the alleged victim of the harassment. Id. ¶ 16. Davis allegedly also claimed that the phone messages were threatening; Davis works for the Clerk's Office as Chief Investigator. Id. ¶¶ 4, 22. Freeman was charged with a Class A Misdemeanor for Harassment by Telephone under the Illinois Harassing and Obscene Communications Act, 720 ILCS 135/1-1. Id. ¶ 17. Freeman was released from custody on the same day as his arrest (December 5). Id. On September 16, 2011, all charges against Freeman were dismissed. Id. ¶ 18. Freeman contends that all charges were resolved in his favor. Id.

Freeman filed this lawsuit in December 2011. He alleges that the Clerk Defendants-Dorothy Brown, Melvin E. Darby, and Jerry Davis-among others, deprived him of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizure, arrest, and restraint by having him arrested without probable cause. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. He alleges that the Clerk Defendants caused the deprivation, in part, by claiming that Freeman had harassed and threatened Clerk Brown when he had not. Id. ¶¶ 45-46. Freeman also alleges that the Clerk Defendants engaged in malicious prosecution without probable cause by signing a criminal complaint that charged him with Harassment by Telephone. Id. ¶¶ 20-25. Freeman contends that the Defendants knew they were making false allegations because they had listened to, or had the opportunity to listen to, the six voicemail messages. Id. ¶ 23. Freeman alleges that the Defendants were motivated by malice because of the insulting nature of the messages. Id. ¶ 25. The Clerk Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which is now before this Court. R. 15.


Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint generally need only include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule "reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to 'focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007); McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 637 (7th Cir. 2010) (courts accept factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor). A "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. And the allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679-80.



Section 1983 provides a cause of action against a person, who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132 (1994) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). It provides the procedural vehicle for bringing suit as a "method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). The plaintiff must identify the specific constitutional right that was infringed. Id. at 394. Here, Freeman's federal claim against Defendants Brown, Darby, and Davis alleges that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, arrest, and restraint.

R. 1 ¶¶ 41-47. In moving to dismiss Freeman's § 1983 claim, the Clerk Defendants advance several arguments, ...

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