United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
DERRY M. STONE, JR., Plaintiff,
VILLAGE OF BROADVIEW, VILLAGE OF BROADVIEW POLICE DEPARTMENT, JUDY ABRAHAM, DAVIS #90, and CARLSON # 89, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.
Before the Court is a motion to dismiss  Plaintiff's complaint, filed by Defendants Village of Broadview, Broadview Police Department, Officer Davis #90, and Officer Carlson #89. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.
Pro se plaintiff Derry Stone, Jr. ("Stone") alleges, in a six-page, single-spaced narrative, that Defendants violated his constitutional rights. Although his complaint does not specifically delineate counts or lay out precise causes of action, Stone sums up his claims in the complaint's last paragraph, complaining that Village of Broadview Trustee Judy Abraham ("Abraham") "made false reports" against him, "had [him] falsely arrested, " and used officers "Davis and Carlson to do her dirty work." He also complains that Abraham and the Village of Broadview Police Department have harassed and subjected him to police brutality, and that he "cannot get a fair and unbiased trial in the Broadview court." Consequently, he is "suing Village of Broadview for 2 million dollars, Carlson #89 and Davis #90 for 2 million dollars, Judy Abraham for 2 million dollars, and the Broadview Police Dept. [sic] 4 million."
The Stone family's problems with the Village of Broadview ("the Village") began on April 23, 2012, when - after 14 years without incident - the police came to Stone's house to harass his father, Derry Stone Sr., about an incident that occurred in neighboring Brookfield about which Stone's father knew nothing. When Stone Sr. tried to report the harassment at the police station later that day, "he was arrested on sight due to false allegations." The case against Stone Sr., however, was dropped the following month. Four months later, the police harassed Stone Sr. again, this time for his alleged failure to pay outstanding municipal code violations totaling $1, 080 that, according to the complaint, "had nothing to do with... [him or] his family." After numerous unsuccessful attempts to contest the balance in the Broadview court system, Stone's father finally was able to compel the Village to correct the error on his credit score by filing suit in the Northern District of Illinois in July 2013. See Stone v. Village of Broadview, 13-cv-4823. According to Stone, his father's federal lawsuit also complained about tickets that the Village's building commissioner unfairly had issued to his father on June 3, 2013 due to "high grass and weeds" on the home's lawn - a ticket that Stone now alleges that Abraham (the Village Trustee) ordered the building commissioner to dole out. But more relevant to this suit is the altercation between Stone and Abraham that occurred later that day.
According to Stone, he and his friend, Gabrielle Martinez, were walking Stone's dog in their neighborhood around 9pm on the evening of June 3, 2012, when Abraham drove by in a van and cursed at them through her window as she passed. Abraham then - consistent with the way she had harassed young African American males in his neighborhood for years, Stone alleges - followed the pair in her van, while continuing to shout at them from her car window. Abraham's husband then arrived and tried to provoke Stone to fight him, just as Officer Carlson appeared on the scene in response to Abraham's call to the Broadview Police Department complaining that Stone's dog was unleashed on the couple's walk. Stone says that he explained to Carlson how the altercation began and that he had done nothing wrong, and that, in response, Carlson informed Stone that he regrettably had "to make it look like [Stone] did something because [Abraham] is the village trustee." The Police Incident Report, which Stone attached to his complaint, reflects that Carlson issued Stone a local ordinance ticket for disorderly conduct after detaining Stone in his squad car for a period of time. Stone says that later that week he complained to the Village about Abraham's harassing behavior and filed a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed that, a week after the dog incident, Abraham filed a false report, alleging that Stone had come to her house on both June 4 and 5 to "intimidate her for the prior incident that happened with the dog off the leash."
Village drama then seems to have cooled off for a few weeks until the evening of June 30, 2013, when - as Stone tells it - Officer Davis came to Stone's house around 9pm to harass him. Stone, who was sitting on his front porch with his friends when Officer Davis approached, claims that he politely asked Davis to get off his property, but that Davis instead began "mimicking the way young African American males tend to talk" and spoke to Stone in a derogatory manner. Officer Carlson then showed up in an SUV and, upon exiting the car, announced: "we should just take him in." Stone describes the scene as follows:
Carlson #89 then pushed me off of the stairs from the top step, as Davis #90 grabbed my right arm and pulled me at the same time. The actions of both officers caused me to fall into the grass of my front lawn. I was laid out face down on the ground. Then Davis #90 wrapped his arm around my neck, not allowing me to breath [sic]. At the same time, Carlson #89 put his knee in the middle of my back, putting a lot of his weight directly on my spinal cord as he put handcuffs on me. This whole time I had not said a word. Both officers grabbed me, took me to the car, and slammed my head into the car about 2 times.
The Police Incident Report, attached to the complaint, notes that the officers arrived at Stone's home that evening in response to a call from a concerned citizen over Stone's use of alcohol and loud profanity. And, consistent with that report, Stone has attached a police dispatch transcript of the call from that citizen, who complained that Stone and his friends were "on the front of their porch using extremely loud profanity, just swearing, M and F this, M and F that." The caller, apparently a neighbor, informed the dispatcher that "the people next door has [sic] three kids and I know they don't want to call because it will create problems." The Police Incident Report states that Stone was drinking alcohol and using profanity when the officers arrived, and that Stone immediately told them to "get off my fucking property" while walking towards the officers at a fast pace. When Stone refused to comply with Davis's order to back away, the officers attempted to arrest Stone for disorderly conduct, and Stone resisted. The officers subdued Stone and then transported him to the police department, where they issued him local ordinance tickets for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
All three of Stone's local ordinance tickets were adjudicated in (presumably municipal) court in the Village of Broadview by Judge Paula Harris, who seems to have presided over a two-day trial that spanned November 25 and December 23, 2013. At trial, Village prosecutor Michael Connelly examined Abraham and officers Davis and Carlson about both the June 3 dog incident and the June 30 porch profanity incident. According to Stone, they all lied, falsely painting him as the instigator on both occasions, and Judge Harris deprived him of a fair trial by giving him "no chance to prove [his] case." Among other things, Stone protests the lack of testimony from the "anonymous caller" who allegedly made the complaint of Stone's drunken and profane behavior on June 30, and Judge Harris's decision to "decode" the dispatch tapes relating to both incidents to hide the identity of the callers. Stone's reply brief notes that he "believe[s] that a jury trial will help [him] get a fair trial and prove [his] truth to the fact that the Village Trustee and Officers Carlson #89 and Davis #90 violated [his] rights."
Stone surmises that all of his problems in the Village have "evolved" from Abraham's "ongoing issue with [his] father, into a race issue with [Stone]." Case in point, Stone alleges that when his father refused to support Abraham's mayoral campaign in the last election, Abraham sent the water department to "make a big hole" in their yard to spite them. According to Stone, her disdain for his father has morphed into full-fledged racism towards young African American ("fucking drug dealers, " as she allegedly calls them), whom she now harasses all over the Village. At bottom, Stone complains that Abraham "wrongly accused" him, gave "Carlson #89 and Davis #90 the wrong impression" of him, and led "them to emotionally and physically endanger" him.
Defendants (the Village, the Police Department, and officers Carlson and Davis) now move to dismiss Stone's pro se complaint. They argue that the complaint violates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8's directive to plead a "short and plain statement" of his claims, complaining that it is not practical to answer Stone's allegations in their current format (that is, six pages of single-spaced text without the use of numbered paragraphs). Alternatively, they argue that Stone's complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). But "length alone is generally insufficient to justify rejecting a complaint" and Stone's complaint is not "unintelligible, " "vague, " or "confusing" - reasons which might justify the dismissal of a pro se complaint on Rule 8(a) grounds. See Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792, 798 (7th Cir. 2011). In fact, Defendants read Stone's complaint as stating three claims against them - (1) false arrest (that is, arrest without probable cause), (2) excessive force, and (3) failure to intervene - and Stone does not oppose (or even comment on) their interpretation in his opposition brief. Because Stone therefore appears to agree with Defendants' characterization of his claims, the Court accepts that articulation for the purposes of their motion to dismiss and rejects Defendants' argument that the complaint is violative of Rule 8(a)(2). Moreover, because the Court agrees with Defendants that Stone has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, Defendants' Rule 8 argument is moot.
II. Motion to Dismiss Legal Standard
The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is not to decide the merits of the case; a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). As previously noted, reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court takes as true all factual allegations in Plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Killingsworth, 507 F.3d at 618. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the claim first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the claim must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level, " assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson ...