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Koh v. Graf

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 24, 2013

HYUNG SEOK KOH and EUNSOOK KOH, Plaintiffs,
v.
M. GRAF, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Hyung Seok and Eunsook Koh brought this suit against Northbrook police officers Graf, Ustich, Wernick, Eisen, Johnson, Dunham, Meents, Celia, and other unknown officers, as well as Wheeling police officer Sung Phil Kim (when referred to all together, the Defendant Officers), alleging violations of their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] R. 40, First Am. Compl. The Kohs also name the Villages of Northbrook and Wheeling as defendants. Id. The Northbrook officers and the Village of Northbrook have moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [R. 48], as have Officer Kim and the Village of Wheeling [R. 51]. For the reasons below, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

In evaluating this motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true the complaint's factual allegations and draws reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2079 (2011). At around 3:30 a.m. on April 16, 2009, Eunsook Koh discovered her son, Paul Koh, lying in a pool of his own blood in their family home. First Am. Compl. ¶ 12. Paul had been a troubled young man; before his death, he had reported to family members and others that he had begun hearing voices and had become increasingly erratic. Id. ¶ 10. Sometime that night, Paul committed suicide. Id. ¶ 11. Upon discovering her son's body, Eunsook immediately woke her husband, Hyung Seok Koh, who hysterically called 911. Id. ¶ 13.

About fifteen minutes later, Northbrook police officers Eisen, Johnson, Meents, and Celia arrived at the Koh family home and found Paul Koh lying in the foyer. Id. ¶ 14. At the time, there was no valid reason to suspect that either of the Kohs were responsible for Paul's death. Id. ¶ 15. Mr. Koh, who was shorter, older, and weighed significantly less than Paul, had no wounds, cuts, bruises, or abrasions on his body. Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Nor was there any other sign of trauma anywhere on Mr. Koh. Id. ¶ 17. And there was no significant amount of visible blood on Mr. Koh's body, no bloody clothing (other than Paul's) recovered from the Kohs' home, and no evidence to suggest that any blood had been cleaned up in any way. Id. ¶ 19. Yet the Northbrook officers, who did not conduct any interviews with neighbors, friends of the victim, or anyone else, immediately decided that Mr. Koh had stabbed Paul to death. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. Because of this suspicion, Officer Johnson refused the Kohs' pleas to allow them to follow Paul's body to the hospital. Id. ¶ 21. Instead, Northbook police officers (including Johnson, Meents, and Celia) immediately detained the Kohs and then took them to the Northbrook police station and placed them under arrest. Id. ¶ 22. The Kohs were each confined in a room, alone, for a long period of time, and Eunsook Koh was detained for about 32 hours in total and strip-searched without justification under the authorization of Defendant Wernick (the Watch Supervisor of the Northbrook Police Department). Id. ¶¶ 23-24.

Meanwhile, at about 7:30 a.m. that same morning, Hyung Seok Koh was subjected to the first of three videotaped interrogations. Id. ¶ 25. Mr. Koh, who emigrated from South Korea, does not speak English very well and had significant difficulties understanding the police officers' questions and expressing himself accurately. Id. ¶¶ 8, 26. But rather than supply Mr. Koh with a proper interpreter, the Northbrook Police Department provided Mr. Koh with interpretation "assistance" from Officer Kim, a Wheeling police officer of Korean descent. Id. ¶ 27. By Officer Kim's own admission, he was not fluent in Korean. Id. And Officer Kim's job was not to serve merely as a passive translator, but as an additional interrogating police officer. Id. ¶ 28.

These interrogations, the Kohs allege, were unduly coercive and confrontational. Throughout the lengthy interrogations, Mr. Koh was in shock and grieving at the loss of his son. Id. ¶ 29. Mr. Koh, moreover, was a diabetic with numerous medical conditions, including high blood pressure, and had no access to any of his medications and did not eat or drink properly. Id. He was also sleep deprived. Id. Knowing that Mr. Koh was in a vulnerable condition, the complaint[2] alleges that the Defendant Officers repeatedly yelled at him, lied to him, manipulated him, and repeatedly accused him of his son's murder. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. Without having conducted any meaningful investigation, and lacking physical evidence of any kind suggesting that Paul Koh had even been murdered at all, Detective Graf fabricated a motive for the killing and repeatedly badgered Mr. Koh to adopt Graf's explanation as true. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. During the interrogations, the Defendant Officers physically and mentally intimidated Mr. Koh by unjustified physical touching and the presence of an armed police officer in the room. Id. ¶ 34. And at no point was he free to leave the station, or was allowed to consult with his family, friends, or pastor despite his repeated requests to do so. Id. ¶ 33. Indeed, after a number of hours of interrogation, Detective Graf learned that the Kohs had a lawyer in the police station who was trying to reach them. Id. ¶ 37. The attorney was not allowed into the interrogation room to speak to Mr. Koh within a reasonable period of time. Id. ¶ 38. Instead, Detective Graf urged Mr. Koh to "hurry up" and confess "right now... let's be done, fast." Id. (ellipses in amended complaint). Eventually, the Kohs' attorney got access to the interrogation room and ended the interrogation. Id. ¶ 39.

The Kohs allege that as a result of this coercive interrogation, Mr. Koh made statements that the Defendant Officers believed were self-incriminating. Id. ¶ 36. And at the conclusion of the interrogation, the Defendant Officers fabricated a statement and falsely attributed it to Mr. Koh, and told prosecutors from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office about the statement. Id. ¶ 40. The Defendant Officers (including Defendants Wernick, Eisen, and Dunham, who allegedly turned a blind eye to all of this alleged misconduct) also withheld exculpatory evidence. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. As a result of the alleged misconduct, Assistant State's Attorneys used Mr. Koh's custodial statements, plus Detective Graf's allegedly false grand jury testimony, to charge Mr. Koh with Paul's murder. Id. ¶¶ 36, 40-41. Mr. Koh's bond was set prohibitively high, and he spent more than three years in Cook County Jail awaiting trial. Id. ¶ 43. At Cook County Jail, he endured harsh and brutal conditions, which were compounded by his age, medical issues, and English difficulties. Id. ¶ 44. Finally, in December 2012, Mr. Koh went on trial for his son's murder, where the only evidence implicating him were his custodial statements. Id. ¶ 45. At the conclusion of the three-week trial, he was acquitted after less than two hours of deliberation. Id. ¶¶ 45-46.

As a result of this alleged police misconduct, the Kohs bring several constitutional and state-law claims in their First Amended Complaint. In Count One, the Kohs allege that the Defendant Officers arrested them without probable cause (or, in Officer Kim's case, allegedly extended Mr. Koh's unlawful detention) in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 47-51. They also contend that the Defendant Officers improperly subjected Mr. Koh to physical and psychological abuse and subjected Mrs. Koh to an unnecessary strip search. Id. ¶ 49. In Count Two, the Kohs allege that the Defendant Officers deprived Mr. Koh of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Id. ¶¶ 52-55. In Count Three, the Kohs allege that the Defendant Officers violated Mr. Koh's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, including the right to avoid self-incrimination. Id. ¶¶ 56-59. Count Four alleges that the Defendant Officers failed to intervene to prevent these constitutional violations, id. ¶¶ 60-64, Count Five alleges that the Defendant Officers were acting pursuant to Northbrook's policy and practice (pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978)), id. ¶¶ 65-67, and Count Six alleges that the Defendant Officers conspired to violate the Kohs' civil rights, id. ¶¶ 68-72. Those are the Kohs' federal constitutional claims.

The Kohs also bring several Illinois state-law claims. Count Seven alleges that the Defendant Officers committed malicious prosecution by fabricating evidence, withholding exculpatory information, and subjecting Mr. Koh to criminal proceedings without probable cause. Id. ¶¶ 73-77. Count Eight alleges that the Defendant Officers intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the Kohs. Id. ¶¶ 78-82. Count Nine alleges loss of consortium on behalf of both of the Kohs. Id. ¶¶ 83-86. Finally, Counts Ten and Eleven allege respondeat superior and indemnification against the Villages of Northbrook and Wheeling for these state-law torts. Id. ¶¶ 87-95.

In response to the First Amended Complaint, all Defendants have moved to dismiss most of these claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). R. 48; R. 51.

II. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), 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. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 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). "[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. 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 678-79.

III. Analysis

A. Northbrook's Motion ...


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