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Bean v. Public Defender's Office of St. Clair County

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 25, 2014




This pro se action was filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by three pretrial detainees at St. Clair County Jail, including Daryl Bean, Jeremy Mosby, and James Butler (Doc. 1). In the complaint, Plaintiffs claim that they were provided with ineffective assistance of counsel in their criminal cases by Thomas Philo, who is employed by the Public Defender's Office in St. Clair County, Illinois (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiffs now sue Thomas Philo (assistant public defender), John O'Gara (public defender), and the Public Defender's Office for violations of their federal constitutional rights. They seek declaratory judgment and monetary damages (Doc. 1, pp. 11-12).

At the time of filing this action on June 2, 2014, Plaintiffs failed to pay a filing fee or file a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP Motion"). On June 3, 2014, the Court mailed each Plaintiff a letter advising him of his obligation to pay the fee or file an IFP Motion within thirty days, i.e., by July 2, 2014 (Doc. 4). Plaintiffs were warned that failure to take action by this deadline would result in dismissal of the case. On June 13, 2014, the Court entered a formal order to this effect, which also required all Plaintiffs, except "lead" Plaintiff Bean, to advise the Court in writing of their intentions to proceed in this group action (Doc. 5).

The deadline for taking action has now passed. Plaintiffs Bean and Mosby complied with the Court's orders in a timely manner (Docs. 8-10). Accordingly, Plaintiffs Bean and Mosby shall continue as Plaintiffs in this action.

However, Defendant Butler shall be dismissed. He has not signed any pleadings filed in this action to date. The Court has received no communications from him, and all communications that the Court sent to him have been returned as undeliverable (Docs. 6, 12). By all indications, Defendant Butler has had no involvement in this case, beyond being listed as a party in the case caption on all pleadings and included in the allegations of the complaint. Under the circumstances, he shall be DISMISSED from this action without prejudice, and no filing fee shall be assessed against Defendant Butler.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

The complaint is now subject to preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility." Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows 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). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009). After fully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court concludes that it fails to state any cognizable claim and shall be dismissed.

The Complaint

At the time of filing this action, Plaintiffs Bean and Mosby were pretrial detainees at St. Clair County Jail (Doc. 1, p. 5). Thomas Philo, who is employed by the Public Defender's Office in St. Clair County, Illinois, represented both Plaintiffs in their criminal cases (Doc. 1, p. 6). Defendant Philo allegedly provided Plaintiffs with inadequate legal representation (Doc. 1, pp. 5-11).

According to the complaint, Defendant Philo is a former prosecutor, who was personally involved in prosecuting the criminal defendants he now represents. He is allegedly so biased that he "allow[s] the states attorneys (sic) office to prosecute defendants without resistance" (Doc. 1, p. 14). He undermined Plaintiffs' cases by providing what the complaint describes as "[d]rive-[t]hru [c]ourthouse representation, " aimed at pressuring Plaintiffs into pleading guilty (Doc. 1, p. 7).

When Plaintiffs refused, Defendant Philo allegedly undertook few efforts to defend them. According to the complaint, he misled Plaintiffs about their criminal charges, requested continuances while pressuring them to plead guilty, failed to investigate their cases, refused to interview witnesses, and failed to prepare them for trial, among other things. In Plaintiff Bean's case, Defendant Philo also failed to provide representation of Plaintiff at his preliminary hearing, neglected to challenge police and prosecutorial misconduct, failed to address conflicts of interest, filed only one motion on Plaintiff's behalf, and failed to request a special prosecutor (Doc. 1, pp. 8, 13-17). In Plaintiff Mosby's case, Defendant Philo also allegedly failed to file motions to suppress evidence (Doc. 1, p. 10).

Plaintiffs informed Defendant Philo's direct supervisor, John O'Gara, about their concerns (Doc. 1, p. 6). However, Defendant O'Gara did not admonish Defendant Philo or otherwise deter him from providing substandard legal representation. The complaint goes on to allege that the Public Defender's Office discriminates against clients with criminal histories, fails to communicate with them, and pressures them into pleading guilty (Doc. 1, p. 11).

Plaintiffs Bean and Mosby now sue the Public Defender's Office, John O'Gara, and Thomas Philo under the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments (Doc. 1, p. 12). They seek ...

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