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Christian v. City of Springfield

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

March 6, 2014

CALVIN CHRISTIAN III, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

COLIN S. BRUCE, District Judge.

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion to Dismiss (#9) filed by Defendants City of Springfield, Michelle Awe, Christopher Vollmer, Burton Brown, Eric Copelin, Mark Mitchell, Michael Egan and Unknown Springfield Police Officers, John Does and Jane Roes 1-10. This court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint (#1) and the arguments of the parties. Following this thorough review, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (#9) is GRANTED as to Count XIII, which Plaintiff has withdrawn, and DENIED as to the remaining counts of the Complaint.

BACKGROUND

On May 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (#1) against Defendants. Plaintiff alleged that he filed a lawsuit against Defendant City of Springfield in July 2010 seeking access to disciplinary files of Springfield police officers. Plaintiff alleged that the State Journal Register published multiple articles about the lawsuit and that the Judge ruled in Plaintiff's favor and required certain disciplinary files to be disclosed in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Plaintiff alleged that officers in the Springfield Police Department, including the named and unnamed Defendants, began to systematically harass Plaintiff by issuing him numerous traffic citations and stopping his vehicle without probable cause or any other legal justification. Plaintiff alleged that he was stopped by various Defendants on May 9, 2011, June 2, 2011, July 17, 2011, June 3, 2012, July 13, 2012, and October 22, 2012. Plaintiff alleged that there was no probable cause or other legal justification for these stops. Plaintiff alleged that the June 3, 2012, traffic stop was made by Defendants Brown and Awe. Plaintiff alleged that he had previously filed a citizen complaint against Awe which resulted in disciplinary measures against Awe just a few months prior to this incident. Plaintiff alleged that, during the illegal stop, Defendant Brown violently grabbed Plaintiff and yanked him out of his vehicle. Plaintiff alleged that he was taken to St. John's Hospital for treatment of his injury sustained during the arrest. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Awe issued traffic citations to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff also alleged that, on August 2, 2011, he was followed by two unknown Springfield police officers for more than six blocks and that the officers pointed at him and tried to intimidate him. Plaintiff alleged that, on January 30, 2013, he was at the drive-thru at a McDonald's restaurant and was approached by a police officer who began to write him a ticket. Plaintiff alleged that, once he took a picture of the officer, the officer left the scene without issuing the ticket. Plaintiff further alleged that many of the charges resulting from the traffic stops were dismissed or not pursued.

In Counts I, II, III, IV, V and VI, Plaintiff claimed that he was entitled to recover under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unreasonable seizure based upon the six traffic stops alleged in the Complaint. In Count VII, Plaintiff claimed that he was entitled to recover under § 1983 for excessive force by Defendant Brown. In Count VIII, Plaintiff claimed that Defendant Awe had an opportunity to intervene when Plaintiff was subjected to excessive force but failed to do so. In Count IX, Plaintiff claimed civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Count X, Plaintiff alleged a violation of his equal protection rights as a class of one. In Count XI, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant City of Springfield was liable under § 1983 based upon Monell. In Count XII, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Awe was liable under state law for malicious prosecution. In Count XIII, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Mitchell was liable under state law for malicious prosecution. In Count XIV, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant City of Springfield was liable for the actions of Awe and Mitchell under respondeat superior. In Count XV, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant City of Springfield was liable for any judgments for compensatory damages arising from the Defendant Officers' actions under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act.

On July 2, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (#9) and a Memorandum in Support (#10). Citing Iqbal v. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), Defendants argued that Plaintiff has formulaically recited elements with bare assertions and that many of the paragraphs of the Complaint are conclusory with no factual support. Defendants argued that Plaintiff's claims of unreasonable seizure in Counts I through VI are conclusory and not entitled to be presumed true because Plaintiff has given no facts upon which to base his legal conclusion that there was no probable cause for the traffic stops. Defendants asserted that Plaintiff needed to answer such questions as "Was he not driving? Was he obeying the traffic laws of the State of Illinois? Was he not playing the music too loud?" As far as Counts VII and VIII, Defendants argued that Plaintiff failed to claim that the alleged force was unreasonable and failed to plead facts that show Awe had an opportunity to intervene or acted with deliberate indifference. Citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007), Defendants argued that Count IX is insufficient because Plaintiff's allegation of a conspiracy is an unsupported legal conclusion. Defendants also argued that Count X is insufficient to state a "class of one" equal protection claim and that Count XI does not state a Monell claim. Defendants also argued that Counts XII and XIII are not ripe because the malicious prosecutions he is claiming have not yet terminated. Defendants asked this court to dismiss Counts I to XIII.

On July 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (#13). Plaintiff stated that, in his present Complaint, he has alleged a pattern of police harassment by members of the Springfield Police Department. He stated that the harassment arises from Plaintiff's public and persistent pursuit of his FOIA requests for disciplinary files of Springfield police officers. Plaintiff stated that he has been successful in his pursuits, winning multiple legal rulings against the Springfield Police Department because of its stubborn refusal to follow the law. Plaintiff stated that, not surprisingly, he has found himself in the cross hairs of local law enforcement. Plaintiff stated that, following the filing of a FOIA lawsuit against the Springfield Police Department in 2010, he has been subjected to numerous unpleasant and unreasonable police encounters. Plaintiff argued that he was left with no choice but to file this lawsuit.

Plaintiff then argued that he has properly and completely addressed all requirements for every one of the counts in his 13-page, 116-paragraph Complaint. Plaintiff stated that the six counts for unreasonable seizure relate to six separate instances where he was stopped in his vehicle. Plaintiff argued that the allegations put Defendants on notice of which particular stops were unreasonable by providing the date and the name of each individual Defendant involved. Plaintiff argued that his Complaint stated that these particular traffic stops lacked probable cause and the individual Defendants did not have a reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulable facts, that Plaintiff was involved in criminal activity. Plaintiff stated that he also alleged that the individual Defendants involved did not have any other legal justification to seize Plaintiff for each stop, thereby stating that he did not commit the alleged traffic violations that Defendants stated was the justification for the stop. Plaintiff argued that he met the requirement to plausibly allege the deprivation of a constitutional right. Plaintiff also argued that he properly pled a claim for excessive force because he alleged that Defendant Brown "violently grabbed Plaintiff and yanked him out of his vehicle" and violated his right "to be free from the use of excessive and unreasonable force." Plaintiff further contended that he has properly pled a claim for failure to intervene because he did, in fact, allege that Awe had an opportunity to intervene and was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's right to be free from excessive and unreasonable force.

Plaintiff also argued that he has properly pled a claim for civil conspiracy because of the many facts alleged in his Complaint which undergird the civil conspiracy count as well as the rest of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff argued that, taken as true, the specifically-pled allegations regarding the series of events in this case suggests coordinated conduct by several officers intended to harass Plaintiff. Plaintiff further argued that he has properly pled a "class of one" equal protection claim and a Monell claim. As far as Count XII, Plaintiff argued that he sufficiently alleged that the criminal proceedings were terminated in his favor and has stated a claim for malicious prosecution. Plaintiff agreed with Defendants, however, that a part of the underlying criminal matter alleged in Count XIII is still pending. Plaintiff stated that he would voluntarily withdraw Count XIII until the criminal case has concluded.ANALYSIS

In considering Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, this court must presume the truth of the facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 746 (7th Cir. 2012). 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 state a cognizable claim, the complaint must provide enough detail to give defendants fair notice of the nature of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests and to show that relief is plausible. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-56 (2007). Conclusory statements or the mere recitation of the elements of the cause of action are insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include sufficient factual allegations 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. A claim for relief is plausible if the "plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751-52 (7th Cir. 2011), quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint "must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, by providing allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original).

This court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint under the applicable standard. This court agrees with Plaintiff that his claims of unreasonable seizure regarding the six specified traffic stops are sufficient to plausibly allege that the stops were unreasonable and violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights.[1] This court also agrees with Plaintiff that his claims of excessive force and failure to intervene include sufficient factual content to allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Arnett, 658 F.3d at 751-52.

This court further agrees with Plaintiff that he has properly pled a cause of action for civil conspiracy. In Geinosky, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the plaintiff's civil conspiracy claim should not have been dismissed by the district court. The Seventh Circuit stated:

While the complaint makes only rather conclusory direct allegations of conspiracy, the complaint also alleges a pattern of harassment by several officers over a period of months. It is a challenge to imagine a scenario in which that harassment would not have been the product of a conspiracy.... If several members of the same police unit allegedly acted in the same inexplicable way against a plaintiff on many different occasions, we will not dismiss a complaint for failure to recite language explicitly linking these factual details to their obvious suggestion of collusion. ...

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