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Harris v. Ruthenberg

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

August 5, 2014

CORD HARRIS, Plaintiff,

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Cord Harris, Plaintiff, Pro se, Chicago, IL.

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Cord Harris is a pre-trial detainee, charged with aggravated domestic battery, and is currently housed at Cook County Jail. He brought a lawsuit, pro se, charging various defendants with a violation of his due process rights and malicious prosecution. [Dkt. #1]. He claims that a security videotape from a convenience store that would have exonerated him in the attack on his wife, Toni Harris, was destroyed. Mr. Harris attributes the spoliation to Detective Ryan Ruthenberg of the Streamwood Police Department. Mr. Harris then filed an amended complaint and petition to proceed in forma pauperis. [Dkt. # 11].

Judge Coleman, to whom the case had been assigned prior to the parties having consented to jurisdiction here, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), reviewed the amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and dismissed all defendants except for Det. Ruthenberg and all claims other than the charge that the detective's destruction of evidence violated Mr. Harris's due process rights. [Dkt. # 13, 14, at ¶ 16]. Det. Ruthenberg has filed a motion to dismiss. Judge Coleman recruited counsel for Mr. Harris, and he responded to the motion.


To survive a motion to dismiss, a claim must be plausible rather than merely conceivable or speculative, see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), meaning that a plaintiff must include " enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together." Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404-05 (7th Cir. 2010). The proper question to ask remains, " could these things have happened, not did they happen." Id. And, it must be remembered

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that, even after Twombly and Iqbal, pro se complaints like Mr. Harris's are to be construed liberally. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013).

In the context of a motion to dismiss, the well-plead allegations of a complaint must be taken as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. Kathrein v. City of Evanston, Ill., 752 F.3d 680, 685 (7th Cir. 2014); Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841 (7th Cir. 2012). And, so it is with Mr. Harris's allegations.

In addition, documents attached to a complaint and referred to in it, are considered as part of the pleadings. Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2013); Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745-46 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2012). In this instance, Mr. Harris has attached a " Narrative Supplement" from Dt. Ruthenberg's case report, and a transcript from a state court proceeding in which Mr. Harris's criminal defense counsel was afforded the opportunity to question Det. Ruthenberg about the videotape. [Dkt. # 14]. That does not necessarily mean that Mr. Harris is vouching for the veracity of Det. Ruthenberg's report or of his testimony, however. Anderson v. Randle, 451 F.App'x 570, 571 (7th Cir. 2011); Simpson v. Nickel, 450 F.3d 303, 306 (7th Cir. 2006); Guzell v. Hiller, 223 F.3d 518, 519 (7th Cir. 2000).


On December 10, 2011, Mr. Harris's wife, Toni, called the Streamwood Police Department (" SPD" ) and reported a " physical altercation" had occurred between her and Mr. Harris in the parking lot of a 7-11 convenience store. [Dkt. #14, ¶ 7; Ex. B].[1] Det. Ruthenberg was assigned to the investigation, and he spoke to the manager of the 7-11 store and viewed the store's surveillance videotape from the time of the incident. [Dkt. #14, ¶ 8; Ex. B].

Mr. Harris alleges that the VHS tape " turned out to be exculpatory for the defense because it showed that all injuries that Toni Harris reported to Streamwood Police was[sic] caused by her own actions." [Dkt. #14, ¶ 9]. Mr. Harris goes on to claim that " Detective Ryan viewed this video and discovered that Mr. Harris Did [sic] not commit the crimes that he is being prosecuted for." [Dkt. #14, ¶ 9]. Then, according to Mr. Harris, the detective destroyed the tape. [Dkt. #14, ¶ 9].

If the tape had been presented to the grand jury, Mr. Harris contends it would have resulted in no indictment, as it proved beyond all doubt his innocence. Mr. Harris alleges that Det. Ruthenberg lied under oath in a February 27, 2013 evidentiary hearing -- Mr. Harris attaches the transcript of that testimony. Det. Ruthenberg must have forgotten that he wrote a narrative of the videotape's content, ...

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