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Keller v. Finks

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

March 31, 2014

COREY KELLER, individually, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of MELISSA KELLER, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS FINKS, individually and in his official capacity as CHRISTIAN COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY, CHRISTIAN COUNTY, CHRISTIAN COUNTY ADULT PROBATION DEPARTMENT, AMY CALVERT WINANS, individually and in her official capacity as CHRISTIAN COUNTY CORONER, Defendants.

OPINION

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

Defendants Thomas Finks, individually and in his official capacity as Christian County State's Attorney, Christian County, the Christian County Adult Probation Department, and Amy Calvert Winans, individually and in her official capacity as Christian County Coroner, have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint that is now before the Court (d/e 3). Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (d/e 3) is GRANTED. Plaintiff Corey Keller, individually, and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Melissa Keller, deceased, has failed to plead facts in Count I that Defendants Finks, Christian County, and the Christian County Probation Department violated Decedent Melissa Keller's constitutional rights. Additionally, after death, Decedent was no longer a person within our constitutional and statutory framework and, therefore, had no rights of which she may have been deprived. Based on this reasoning, Plaintiff cannot state claims for an alleged violation of Decedent's First and Fourth Amendment rights by Defendant Winans in Counts III and IV respectively. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims in Counts I, III, and IV are DISMISSED without prejudice and with leave to replead. Because Plaintiff has not alleged claims for relief under federal law in the instant Complaint, the Court does not address Plaintiff's state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). Plaintiff may, however, replead his state law causes of action along with his constitutional claims.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint. On April 27, 2012, Decedent was riding as a passenger in a vehicle operated by Katie McKenna. (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 26.) Before this date, Ms. McKenna had been under the supervision of Christian County and the Christian County Adult Probation Department. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 20.) While serving her term of probation, Ms. McKenna had violated the terms of her probation, resulting in a revocation. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 22.) Despite having had her term of probation revoked, however, Ms. McKenna was not in custody. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 22.)

On the morning of April 27, 2012, Ms. McKenna was driving the vehicle in which Decedent rode at a rate of 70 miles per hour in a 10-miles-per-hour zone. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 27.) The vehicle struck a tree at this speed, tragically killing Decedent and two other passengers in the vehicle. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 20.) Following the accident, Defendant Amy Calvert Winans, the Christian County Coroner, drew Decedent's blood and performed an autopsy. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 28.)

Following these events, Plaintiff Corey Keller, as special administrator of Decedent's estate, filed a five-count Complaint in this Court. In Count I, Plaintiff brings claims against Christian County, the Christian County Adult Probation Department, and the Christian County State's Attorney, Thomas Finks, in his official and individual capacities. Plaintiff alleges in Count I that these Defendants' actions violated Decedent's constitutional rights by depriving her of life without due process of law, thereby subjecting the Defendants to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also alleges that these Defendants are liable for their actions pursuant to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act.[1]

In Count II, Plaintiff brings claims against Christian County, the Christian County Adult Probation Department, and the Christian County State's Attorney, Thomas Finks, in his individual and official capacities. Plaintiff alleges in Count II that these Defendants are liable under Illinois law for spoliation of evidence because the Defendants failed to preserve Ms. McKenna's probation file.

In Counts III and IV, Plaintiff brings claims against the Christian County Coroner, Amy Calvert Winans, in her individual and official capacities. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges in Count III that Defendant Winans is liable under § 1983 for violating Decedent's First Amendment rights. Plaintiff bases this claim on her allegation that the autopsy performed by Defendant Winans violated Decedent and her family's religious beliefs. In Count IV, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Winans is also liable under § 1983 for violating Decedent's Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff's claim in Count IV is based on Plaintiff's allegation that the autopsy of and removal of blood from Decedent by Defendant Winans constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. Lastly, Plaintiff alleges in Count V that Defendant Winans battered Decedent. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 8.)

On May 30, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts I through V of the Complaint.

II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

The Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's constitutional claims in Counts I, III, and IV. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims in Counts I, II and V because those claims arise out of the same transaction or series of transactions as Plaintiff's constitutional claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Venue is proper in this Court because the events or omissions giving rise to the claims at issue took place in this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. Christensen v. Cnty. of Boone , 483 F.3d 454, 458 (7th Cir. 2007). To state a claim for relief, a plaintiff's complaint need only provide a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and giving the defendant fair notice of the claims. Tamayo v. Blagojevich , 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting all well-pleaded allegations as true and construing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Id . The complaint must set forth facts that plausibly demonstrate a claim for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). Plausibility means alleging factual content that allows a court to reasonably ...


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