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Castro v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 30, 2013

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court are Plaintiff's amended motion for leave to file an amended complaint [173] and Defendant City of Chicago's motion to bifurcate § 1983 Monell claim against it and to stay trial on that claim [158]. As explained more fully below, Plaintiff's motion [173] is denied and Defendant City of Chicago's motion [158] is denied as moot. This matter is set for status at 9:00 a.m. on October 16, 2013.

I. Background

On February 16, 2007, Plaintiff Anthony Castro filed a nine-count complaint [1] against the City of Chicago ("the City"); four former Chicago Police Officers, Jerome Finnigan, Keith Herrera, Carl Suchocki, and Thomas Sherry; Unknown Chicago Police Officers; and Cheryl Hurley, as administrator of the estate of former Chicago Police Officer John Hurley. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that on July 27, 2004, the police officer Defendants illegally searched his home, robbed him of approximately $12, 000, arrested him on false charges of violating a city ordinance, and threatened him with reprisal if he failed to comply with their future demands for money, drugs, or names of other individuals they could rob. Plaintiff alleged that he was afraid of what the officers were going to do to him when he was released from custody. Plaintiff alleged that he was so afraid that he immediately began planning a move to Mississippi and in fact moved there "within days" of his release from custody. Plaintiff returned to Chicago eleven months later, after Hurricane Katrina struck Mississippi. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office contacted Plaintiff upon his return to the city, and he participated in its investigation of the police officer Defendants that eventually culminated in their arrests in late 2006. The ordinance violation against Plaintiff was dismissed on February 23, 2006.

Defendants moved to dismiss as time-barred Plaintiff's federal § 1983 claims. See [129] & [131]. The Court granted the motions after concluding that neither equitable estoppel nor equitable tolling operated to save Plaintiff's untimely claims, which were filed some six months after the lapse of Illinois' applicable two-year statute of limitations. See [169] at 7-14. Specifically, the Court concluded that Plaintiff's complaint did not allege that Defendants took any active steps to stop Plaintiff from bringing a lawsuit above and beyond the wrongdoing that formed the basis of Plaintiff's claims. See id. at 7-11. The Court also concluded that even if Plaintiff had alleged the requisite "above and beyond" conduct, his move to Mississippi more than two years before he filed suit undermined the potency of the threats against him and removed any barriers to suit. See id. at 13. The Court declined to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims. See id. at 14-15. The Court granted Plaintiff twenty-one days in which to cure the deficiencies in his complaint. See id. at 14, 16.

Plaintiff initially indicated his inclination to stand on his complaint and appeal the Court's dismissal of his claims. See [170]. He later had a change of heart and filed the instant motion for leave to file an amended complaint [173]. Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint seeks to bolster Plaintiff's allegations about the Defendant officers' threatening behavior. See [173-1]. He seeks to add allegations that Defendant Herrera coerced him to sign a consent-to-search form by telling him that if he declined he would "have problems"; that Defendant Herrera threatened him that the officer Defendants would come back and "take care of him"; that Defendant Herrera told him that the officer Defendants worked citywide, without supervision, and could destroy his life; and that the other officer Defendants generally echoed these comments "[t]hroughout the incident." [173-1] ¶¶ 79-86. Plaintiff also proposes to add allegations that he "felt kidnaped, " id. ¶ 71, was fearful that the officer Defendants would physically harm him or his family, id. ¶ 89, that the officers' "threats, combined with the Defendants' illegal conduct and apparent lack of fear of getting caught * * * made [him] fear for his safety, " id. ¶ 90, and that the officer Defendants "promised to return and seemed capable of anything." id. ¶ 91. Plaintiff additionally seeks to expand his allegations regarding the police's interaction with his neighbor. In his original complaint, he alleged only that while he was packing to move to Mississippi, "a neighbor told him that the police had come by the house looking for him." [1] ¶ 34. The proposed amended complaint identifies the neighbor as R.F., clarifies that R.F. "recognized the officers as the same officers that had taken Castro away in handcuffs, " alleges that the officers had a picture of Plaintiff, and avers that "this subsequent incident [] confirmed Castro's decision to leave and to not return to Chicago." [173-1] ¶¶ 94-98. It further alleges that Castro was still fearful of Defendants when he returned to Chicago after Hurricane Katrina and had to be "persuaded" by the State's Attorney's Office to participate in their investigation. Id. ¶¶ 101-02. It also adds additional facts relating to three additional counts Plaintiff seeks to add: a Fourth Amendment claim on behalf of his minor son, A.C.; a civil conspiracy claim on behalf of A.C.; and a RICO claim against all Defendants. The proposed amended complaint does not contain any state law claims and does not name any unknown Defendants. See [173-1].

Defendants contend that the Court should deny Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend. The officer Defendants argue that the additional facts alleged in the proposed amended complaint are insufficient to support equitable estoppel. See [183] at 4-7. They also challenge Plaintiff's standing to assert claims on behalf of A.C. and the viability of the proposed RICO claim. See id. at 7-14. The City adopts all of the officer Defendants' arguments and further contends that, as a matter of law, Plaintiff cannot state a RICO claim against the City or proceed with his Monell claim. See [182] at 2-3.

II. Legal Standard

Leave to amend a complaint should be freely given "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). "Although leave to amend should be freely given, that does not mean it must always be given." Hukic v. Aurora Loan Servs., 588 F.3d 420, 432 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). "District courts have broad discretion to deny leave to amend where there is undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies, undue prejudice to the defendants, or where the amendment would be futile." Id. Proposed new claims are considered futile if they would not withstand a motion to dismiss. Vargas-Harrison v. Racine Unified Sch. Dist., 272 F.3d 964, 974 (7th Cir. 2001).

III. Discussion

A. Equitable Estoppel

Defendants contend that the facts alleged in the amended complaint fail to support Plaintiff's position that equitable estoppel should operate to permit his untimely § 1983 claims.[1] Thus, they contend, the proposed amendment would be futile because Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint establishes on its face that the claims are barred by the statute of limitations. See Vargas-Harrison, 272 F.3d at 974; Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012) ("[W]hen a plaintiff's complaint nonetheless sets out all of the elements of an affirmative defense, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate.").

As the Court explained in its previous opinion, "equitable estoppel comes into play if the defendant takes active steps to prevent the plaintiff from suing in time." Shropshear v. Corp. Counsel of City of Chi., 275 F.3d 593, 595 (7th Cir. 2001). It "prevents a party from asserting the expiration of the statute of limitations as a defense when that party's improper conduct has induced the other into failing to file within the statutory period." Ashafa v. City of Chi., 146 F.3d 459, 462 (7th Cir. 1999). Equitable estoppel "springs from basic considerations of fairness" and "denotes efforts by the defendant, above and beyond the wrongdoing upon which the plaintiff's claim is founded, to prevent, by fraud or deception, the plaintiff from suing in time." Mitchell v. Donchin, 286 F.3d 447, 450 (7th Cir. 2002) (quotations omitted). "Any deliberate or otherwise blameworthy conduct by the defendant that causes the plaintiff to miss the statutory deadline can be the basis for a defense of equitable estoppel in federal limitations law, " which governs even in cases such as this in which this Court "borrows" the statute of limitations from state law. Shropshear, 275 F.3d at 597-98.

Equitable estoppel is a broad equitable remedy, but it is not boundless. The Seventh Circuit has emphasized that equitable estoppel cannot apply unless there is a causal link between the conduct alleged as the basis for the estoppel and the plaintiff's delay in filing suit. See, e.g., Barry Aviation Inc. v. Land O'Lakes Mun. Airport Comm'n, 377 F.3d 682, 689 (7th Cir. 2004); Flight Attendants Against UAL Offset (FAAUO) v. Comm'r, 165 F.3d 572, 577 (7th Cir. 1999) ("It is implicit in the doctrine that the conduct alleged as the basis for the estoppel have been the cause of the plaintiff's not suing in time."). Similarly, a plaintiff seeking the benefit of equitable estoppel must demonstrate that he actually and reasonably relied upon the defendant's improper conduct. Smith v. Potter, 445 F.3d 1000, 1010 (7th Cir. 2006), overruled in part on other grounds by Hill v. Tangherlini, 724 F.3d 965, 967 n.1 (7th Cir. 2013); Hentosh v. Herman M. Finch Univ. of Health Sciences/The Chi. Med. Sch., 167 F.3d 1170, 1174 (7th Cir. 1999); Ashafa, 146 ...

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