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Hughes v. City of Peoria

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

January 31, 2014

HELBERT HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PEORIA, PEORIA POLICE DEPARTMENT, and SHERIFF DEPARTMENT OF PEORIA, ILLINOIS, Defendants.

ORDER & OPINION

JOE BILLY McDADE, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 11) of the Court's previous denials of his request for counsel, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8), filed by Defendants City of Peoria and Peoria Police Department. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration is denied, and the Motion to Dismiss is granted. The Court also screens the Complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and finds that although Defendant Sheriff Department of Peoria did not move to dismiss and has not yet appeared, the claims against it must also be dismissed. Plaintiff is granted leave to file an amended complaint.

MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

Plaintiff filed a motion explaining he did not understand why his previous requests for counsel were denied, and seeking reconsideration of those denials. Though the Court is sympathetic to the fact that Plaintiff lacks legal expertise, the Court will not request counsel to represent Plaintiff.

As Judge Cudmore previously noted in explaining the Court's denials of Plaintiff's previous requests for counsel, civil litigants are not entitled to court-appointed attorneys. Johnson v. Doughty , 433 F.3d 1001, 1006 (7th Cir. 2006). However, the Court may request an attorney to represent an indigent litigant in some circumstances. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1). Before the Court will recruit counsel, the litigant must first show that he made a reasonable attempt to acquire counsel without court intervention. Pruitt v. Mote , 503 F.3d 647, 654-55 (7th Cir. 2007). If the litigant has made an adequate attempt, the Court then considers whether, "given the difficulty of the case, " he appears able to litigate it himself. Id. at 654. Further, once counsel is denied, the Court is under no obligation to reconsider the decision as the case develops. Id. at 658.

Plaintiff has made the threshold requirement of showing that he contacted attorneys in a reasonable attempt to acquire counsel himself, though not within any of his motions requesting counsel. (Doc. 1-1 at 1). Thus, the relevant inquiry is whether Plaintiff appears competent to litigate the case, considering Plaintiff's abilities and the difficulty of the case. At the time of the denial of Plaintiff's initial request for counsel, he appeared competent to litigate his straightforward claims of police misconduct. Plaintiff does appear to have some difficulties with written communication, but he did not at the time of his initial request for counsel, and does not now, show anything that would prevent him from adequately litigating his claims. The form complaint is adequately filled in, and the attachments, though not in proper form if they were intended to state separate claims, do not show any inability to set forth a plain statement of his claims. Simply because he does not have legal knowledge, or because a lawyer might do better, does not mean the Court must recruit counsel. See Pruitt , 503 F.3d at 655. The Court declines to exercise its discretion to reconsider the denial of counsel.

MOTION TO DISMISS

I. Legal Standards

In ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), "the court must treat all well-pleaded allegations as true and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party." In re marchFIRST Inc. , 589 F.3d 901, 904 (7th Cir. 2009). The complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's complaint must contain sufficient detail to give notice of the claim, and the allegations must "plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level.'" EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc. , 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The plausibility standard requires enough facts "to present a story that holds together, " but does not require a determination of probability. Swanson v. Citibank, N.A. , 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010). Though detailed factual allegations are not needed, a "formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 545.

II. Factual Background

Plaintiff, in a standard form complaint for civil rights claims, alleges against the City of Peoria that "He[1] grabbed [Plaintiff] in a [choke] hold and tried to throw [him] down on the ground." (Doc. 1 at 2). He gives a date of February 19, 2005, for the incident, and alleges Defendants violated his rights by using excessive force. (Doc. 1 at 5). He also attaches a narrative that details numerous allegations of misconduct during traffic stops and when issuing citations and towing his vehicles, and appears to allege malicious prosecution. (Doc. 1-1).

Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on four grounds: the claims are barred by res judicata, malicious prosecution claims are not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the statute of limitations has run, and the Police Department is not an entity that can be sued.

III. Discussion

Taking Defendants' fourth and simplest ground first, it is clear that Defendant Peoria Police Department must be dismissed, as it is an improper party. In Illinois, police departments do not have a legal existence separate from their municipalities, and so cannot be sued under § 1983. Chan v. City of Chicago , 777 F.Supp. 1437, 1442 (N.D. Ill. 1991); see also 65 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-1-1. Because a police department is part of the ...


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