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Rivera v. Sheriff of Cook County

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 21, 2014

ANGELICA RIVERA and TORIANO WATSON Plaintiffs,
v.
SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY, and COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Angelica Rivera and Toriano Watson sued defendants Sherriff of Cook County ("Sheriff") and Cook County, Illinois ("Cook") for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.[1] Plaintiffs assert a single Monell claim against both defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs allege that defendants poorly administered and analyzed unreliable field tests that erroneously indicated that both plaintiffs had used illegal substances. Defendant Sheriff[2] has moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for improper joinder and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In the alternative, defendant has moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b) for separate trials of each plaintiff's claim. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion to dismiss and motion for separate trials are denied.

BACKGROUND [3]

During October, 2012 Rivera was participating in the Sherrif's Department of Women's Justices Services Sheriff Female Furlough Program ("SFFP"). The SFFP required that Rivera spend the day at Cook County Jail but allowed her to leave every night. On October 31, 2012, Rivera produced a urine sample that was subjected to a field test for illegal drugs. The test erroneously indicated that Rivera had consumed an illicit substance. Based on this result, plaintiff was continuously kept in jail for several days until an additional test proved that she had not consumed an illicit substance.

Rivera sued defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court dismissed Rivera's first amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because she had alleged no more than one "isolated incident" of a constitutionally defective field test. Order, p. 4, Dkt. #. 20. Less than a month later, plaintiffs filled their second amended complaint, which added Watson as a plaintiff.

During May 2013, Watson was participating in the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program Offender Processing and Tracking System ("OPTS"). While in OPTS, Watson was administered a field test at Markham Courthouse when a Cook County Deputy Sheriff found a bag of powdered aspirin in his wallet. The test indicated that the aspirin was cocaine and Watson was held in custody at Cook County Jail for about a month.[4]

DISCUSSION

Defendant has moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss plaintiffs' second amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court accepts the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive such a motion, the complaint must allege sufficient facts that, if true, would raise a right to relief above the speculative level, showing that the claim is plausible on its face. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. To be plausible on its face, the complaint must plead facts sufficient for the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

Joinder

Defendant first incorrectly claims that the complaint should be dismissed because Watson is not properly joined. "Federal policy favors joinder and the district court has wide discretion when deciding whether joinder of parties is proper." Hawkins v. Groot Indus. Inc., 210 F.R.D. 226, 230 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (internal citations omitted). Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(1) allows permissive joinder of plaintiffs when, (1) their claims arise "out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, " and (2) there is "any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs [that] will arise in the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(1).

The phrase "transaction or occurrence'... comprehend[s] a series of many occurrences, depending not so much upon the immediateness of their connection as upon their logical relationship." Lozada v. City of Chicago, 2010 WL 3487952, *2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 30, 2010) (quoting Mosley v. Gen. Motors Corp., 497 F.3d 1330, 1333 (8th Cir. 1974)). This phrase is "interpreted broadly" and courts "determine the logical relatedness of separate occurrences by considering a variety of factors, including whether the alleged conduct occurred during the same general time period, involved the same people and similar conduct, and implicated a system of decision-making or widely-held policy." Robinson v. Dart, 2014 WL 222711, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 21, 2014).

Robinson v. Dart is analogous to the instant case. In Dart, three inmates contracted the same disease while assigned to the same area of a jail during roughly the same time period. Id. at *4. They sued the Sherriff of Cook County and Cook County, Illinois for violating the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to provide adequate conditions of confinement. Id. at *1. The inmates alleged "the existence of a widespread policy or practice of failing to adequately treat detainees with infectious disease, thereby exposing them to an increased risk of serious harm." Id. at *4. The court found that the inmates' claims arose out of the series of occurrences because "they are challenges to the Jail's health and sanitation policies to which... [they] were subjected[.]" Id.

Likewise, in the instant case, plaintiffs clearly allege that they were separately subjected to conduct that was driven by the same policies. Plaintiffs allege that they underwent the same unreliable field test that was administered in the same deficient manner by employees of the same office who received the same deficient training. Plaintiffs allege that the same policies directed the officers' training for, administration of, and use of the field test to which they were subjected. The tests occurred only seven months apart. The two tests are occurrences. Both tests were conducted pursuant to defendant's policies, creating a rational relationship. Thus, plaintiffs' claims constitute a "series of occurrences."

In response, defendant does not argue that plaintiffs were subjected to different tests, that the tests were administered differently, that the administering officers were trained differently, or that any policies changed during the elapsed seven months. Instead, defendant emphasizes that different officers conducted the tests in different cities for different reasons, and that plaintiffs made different admissions during and following the tests. Defendant argues that these distinctions are relevant to the issue of probable cause. Plaintiffs are alleging, though, that they were wrongly incarcerated based on the erroneous results of deficient field tests. They are not claiming that the administering officers lacked probable cause to conduct the tests. Thus, the factual distinctions noted by defendant are largely irrelevant to plaintiffs' claims. Further, minor factual differences between claims, such as the location of the occurrences or the identity of the actors, are common and, in claims based on unified policies, do not make joinder improper. See Ahern v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 1992 WL ...


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