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Chriswell v. Village of Oak Lawn

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 4, 2013

VILLAGE OF OAK LAWN, et al., Defendants.


JOHN J. THARP, Jr., District Judge.

The plaintiff, Erica Chriswell, brought this case against the Village of Oak Lawn, Oak Lawn police officers Brian Duffy and James O'Brien, and other unknown Oak Lawn police officers under 18 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The case arises from three encounters between Chriswell and Oak Lawn police officers that occurred between December 2009 and May 2011. She contends that the defendants violated her constitutional rights and should additionally be liable for related state claims. The defendants move to dismiss the case in its entirety; in addition to opposing their motion, Chriswell moves to add defendants. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to add defendants is denied.


In evaluating this motion to dismiss, the Court is required to accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in Chriswell's favor. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Wigod v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 673 F.3d 547, 555 (7th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, the facts here are drawn from the third amended complaint, which describes the three encounters between Chriswell and Oak Lawn police officers that form the basis of the case.

The first encounter occurred on or around December 2, 2009, when Officer James O'Brien of the Oak Lawn police stopped Chriswell's vehicle. He did not radio in her driver's license or license plate numbers because he had called in the plate number prior to pulling her over. The two had a conversation: Officer O'Brien told Chriswell that she had to wear her seatbelt, to which she replied that she had been. After Chriswell gave Officer O'Brien her insurance card and a "ticket she was driving on, " he returned to his vehicle, called her insurance company to verify coverage, and printed traffic citations. When O'Brien subsequently returned to Chriswell's vehicle, he stated that her license was suspended and instructed her to get out of the car. Chriswell denied the suspension and indicated that she had paperwork that would show that the suspension had been thrown out. O'Brien asked to see the paperwork, and Chriswell looked through her glove box as O'Brien returned to his vehicle. Approximately three minutes later, Chriswell found the paperwork and waived it out her car window while honking the horn to call Officer O'Brien back. He first ignored Chriswell, then returned to her car two minutes later.

At that point, the encounter turned physical. Chriswell had initiated a phone call to the "Elmhurst Prosecutors Office" so that Officer O'Brien could verify the paperwork, but O'Brien "snatched open [Chriswell's] car door, " stood in her doorway, and told her to get off the phone. O'Brien then grabbed Chriswell, who was still strapped into her seatbelt. His foot against her car door for leverage, O'Brien knocked her phone out of her hand, pulled on her clothing and body, and attempted to throw her from the vehicle while she yelled for help. He then unsnapped his gun holster and went to draw his weapon. Chriswell, afraid for her life, drove away. O'Brien and others then arrested her and transported her to the Oak Lawn Police Department in handcuffs.

Once in the station lock-up area, an unknown officer slammed Chriswell into a concrete wall and patted her down forcefully. She pleaded with the officers, telling them that she is a community member with a college degree and an insurance license, that she cares for her elderly grandmother and father, and that she would never have driven away from Officer O'Brien if he hadn't "attempted to kill [her]." Officer Brian Duffy responded, "You ain't no insurance agent. Black equals Crack." The other officers laughed. They took her to a cell, where she was strip searched in the presence of two officers, at least one of whom was, according to the complaint, a male officer. Over the course of the nineteen-hour encounter, Chriswell was never read her rights nor was she permitted to make a phone call.

Based on this encounter, Chriswell was charged with two counts of aggravated battery of a police officer, three counts of aggravated fleeing and attempting to elude a peace officer, and resisting or obstructing a police officer. On September 17, 2010, she pled guilty to aggravated battery of a police officer and aggravated fleeing and was sentenced to 24 months of probation with 240 hours of community service and fined $650.[1]A month later, Chriswell moved to withdraw her guilty plea, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. See People v. Chriswell, No. 1-11-0135, 2012 WL 6955430, at *2 (Ill.App.Ct. March 1, 2012), leave to appeal denied, 968 N.E.2d 1068 (Ill. May 30, 2012) (Table). Chriswell amended her motion twice and the court continued the case four times while she considered whether to represent herself or retain counsel. Chriswell's motion was eventually dismissed with prejudice for want of prosecution when she failed to appear in court. The court denied her request to vacate the dismissal when she appeared several days later. Id. at *3. She appealed and lost, and the Illinois Supreme Court denied her subsequent petition for leave to appeal. During the proceedings on the criminal charges against her, Chriswell alleges that the defendants bribed her attorney and suppressed evidence. She contends that the police and her attorney covered up, among other things, the existence of several dashboard camera videos that would corroborate her account of the incident. Just as she previously argued before the state appellate court, Chriswell now contends that for all of these reasons, her plea was involuntary.

Chriswell's second encounter with the Oak Lawn police occurred between September 17, 2010, and January 12, 2011. An unknown Oak Lawn police officer pulled Chriswell over, she alleges, because of the color of her skin. The officer let her go after running her license and checking to see if she had insurance. Finally, the third encounter occurred on May 24, 2011, when an unknown Oak Lawn police officer pulled Chriswell over while she was ordering coffee in a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru. The officer, who is also alleged to have pulled Chriswell over because of the color of her skin, falsely claimed he saw her commit a traffic offense and gave her a speeding ticket. Exhausted from being targeted, she paid the ticket. Chriswell explains that the racial discrimination shown collectively in these incidents is "customary" and "due to poor training and supervision" by the Village of Oak Lawn. The complaint excerpts quotations that people have left on an online petition that demands an end to racial profiling in Oak Lawn.

On January 25, 2011, Chriswell filed this suit in federal court seeking damages for the civil rights violations that she alleges occurred in the first two of these encounters. After being permitted to proceed in forma pauperis, she amended her initial complaint to include, at first, the names of individual Oak Lawn police officers and, later, the Village of Oak Lawn. Dkts. 1, 6, 12, 13, 15. In October 2011, the Court on its own motion appointed counsel to represent Chriswell and gave her leave to file a third amended complaint. Dkt. 30. After the Court granted motions for relief from appointment by the first and second appointed attorneys, a third was appointed. Dkts. 33, 54. Chriswell, however, promptly directed this attorney to file a motion to withdraw, and requested counsel skilled in civil rights and constitutional matters. Dkts. 55, 59-61. After cautioning Chriswell that further counsel would not be appointed, she persisted in her motion. The Court therefore granted the motion to withdraw but declined to appoint further counsel. Dkt. 61. Thereafter, Chriswell filed the third amended complaint pro se on November 6, 2012. Dkt. 68. In it, she includes eleven counts, for unreasonable seizure (Counts I, I(A), and I(B)), excessive force (Count II), an illegal strip search (Count III), due process violations (Counts IV, IV(A), and IV(B)), malicious prosecution (Count V), bribery (Count VI), and racial profiling (Count VII). She seeks $1.5 million for her injuries, which include humiliation and defamation, a loss of current and future income, and mental and emotional suffering.

The defendants now move to dismiss the third amended complaint in its entirety. Dkt. 76. In her response to the defendants' motion, Chriswell includes additional factual assertions that she requests be incorporated into the third amended complaint; she also moves to add additional defendants. Dkts. 80, 82.


The plaintiff, Erica Chriswell, endeavors to mount many claims against the Village of Oak Lawn, Officers Brian Duffy and James O'Brien, and others. For the following reasons, three survive this motion to dismiss: those for unreasonable seizure and excessive force against Officer O'Brien and a state law indemnification claim against the Village of Oak Lawn.

I. Chriswell's Request to Incorporate Material into the Third Amended Complaint

In view of the contents of Chriswell's response brief, it is necessary to first define the scope of the Court's consideration. In addition to her response to the substance of the defendants' motion, Chriswell includes seventeen pages of factual assertions that she hopes will clarify the third amended complaint in the face of the defendants' criticism that it is confusing. Pl.'s Mot. Opp. 1-17, Dkt. 82. Some of the assertions in this passage somewhat mirror those in the third amended complaint, but others are ...

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