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Polk v. Dent

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

August 28, 2014

HIWANA POLK, et al., Plaintiffs,
SHEROD DENT, et al., Defendants.


MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge.

Presently before us are two motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' first amended complaint in its entirety, filed respectively by Defendant Sherod Dent and Defendant City of Chicago pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, we grant Defendant Officer Dent's motion in its entirety. We also grant the City of Chicago's motion with the exception of three state claims against Unknown Officers, which we remand to state court.


Plaintiffs Hiwana Polk, Individually ("Polk") and as Administrator of the Estate of Bejian Booker, Deceased ("Booker"), and Cornel Dawson, Jr., by Parent Sherrice Rainey ("Dawson"), allege in their amended complaint that on the night of December 31, 2011, Polk and her son Booker and nephew Dawson left an unidentified hospital, where Booker, who had leukemia, had been admitted to clear a clogged IV line. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-19.) Polk alleges that she observed Defendant officer Dent, whom she had previously come into contact with while she was working as a community watcher for the Chicago Public Schools, driving behind her and staring at Polk's vehicle. ( Id. ¶¶ 14, 21.) At some point thereafter, seven to eight marked and unmarked police cars near West Division Street and North Long Street in Chicago, Illinois "came at her from all directions" and "unknown officers jumped out of their vehicles, with guns drawn." ( Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Polk does not contend that any of these officers were Dent. According to the amended complaint, Plaintiffs were told that the officers had received a call informing them that a man in Polk's car might have a gun. ( Id. ¶ 25.) The City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communication, however, has no records of any call to the police about Polk's vehicle. ( Id. ¶ 26.) According to Polk, Unknown Officers forced Polk out of the car at gunpoint as she held out the hospital discharge papers and insisted that she had a sick boy who was just coming home from the hospital. ( Id. ¶ 28.) The Unknown Officers also pulled Dawson and Booker out of the car and searched all three Plaintiffs, pulling on Booker's IV line. ( Id. ¶¶ 29-33.) Finding nothing illegal, the officers permitted Plaintiffs to leave. ( Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) Thereafter, Polk sent Dent an angry text message to which he responded with a text that read "Happy New Year." ( Id. ¶ 44.) The City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communication reports that Dent and the other officers did not report this incident to the dispatcher, there were no communications between police officers over the police communication network regarding this incident, and no police officer reported police activity involving Polk, her vehicle, Booker, or Dawson. ( Id. ¶ 47.)

Exactly two years later, on December 31, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their initial ten count complaint in this matter against officer Dent, Unknown Officers, and the City of Chicago, alleging both federal and state claims. The amended complaint does not identify particular officers present at the scene or which of the officers committed the particular violations alleged.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is meant to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Specifically, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 540 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). The plausibility standard "is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Thus, while a complaint need not give "detailed factual allegations, " it must provide more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 540 U.S. at 545, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65; Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618-19 (7th Cir. 2007). The statement must be sufficient to provide the defendant with "fair notice" of the claim and its basis. Twombly, 540 U.S. at 545, 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102 (1957)); Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, we must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Reg., 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002).


A. Federal claims

In order for a § 1983 claim to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must identify the specific constitutional rights that he alleges have been violated and identify with reasonable particularity the individuals who are alleged to have violated those rights. Choyce v. Friar, No. 08 C 202, 2008 WL 2567037, at *3 (N.D. Ill. 2008). Moreover, the claims must be timely. Dismissal of a claim is warranted if the "complaint plainly reveals that an action is untimely under the governing statute of limitations." United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Leavell v. Kieffer, 189 F.3d 492, 495 (7th Cir. 1999)).

1. Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims against Unknown Officers are time-barred

The statute of limitations for § 1983 claims is the same as the limitations period for personal injuries in the forum state. Wexler v. City of Chicago, No. 93 C 1425, 1994 WL 268632, at *3 (7th Cir. 1994) (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1947 (1985)). Because Illinois has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injuries, any § 1983 claim not filed within two years of the alleged constitutional injury is barred. Wexler, 1994 WL 268632, at *3 (citing Smith v. City of Chicago Heights, 951 F.2d 834, 839 (7th Cir. 1992)). Furthermore, the individual defendants must be named within that time period unless the relation-back doctrine, codified in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), applies. Klebanowski v. Sheahan, 540 F.3d 633, 639 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 735 ILCS 5/13-202); Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c).

For the relation-back doctrine to apply, plaintiffs must know the identity of the officers on the date they initiated the action. Klebanowski, 540 F.3d at 639 (citing Worthington v. Wilson, 8 F.3d 1253, 1257 (7th Cir. 1993).[1] The relation-back doctrine "permits an amendment to relate back only where there has been an error made concerning the identity of the proper party and where that party is chargeable with knowledge of the mistake, but it does not permit relation back where, as here, there is a lack of knowledge of the proper party." Worthington, 8 F.3d at 1256 (quoting Wood v. Woracheck, 618 F.2d 1225, 1229-30 (7th Cir. 1980)). In other words, while the relation-back doctrine permits us to correct the name of the proper defendant, a new defendant cannot be substituted or added by amendment after the statute of limitations has run. Wood, 618 F.2d at 1229-30; Hiraldo v. City of Chi., No. 08 CV 3369, 2013 WL 3455787, at *6 (N.D. Ill. July 9, 2013); see Copeland v. Northwestern Mem. Hosp., 964 F.Supp. 1225, 1234 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (quoting Collier v. Rodriguez, No. 96 C 0023, 1996 WL 535326, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 18, 1996) ("Claims against unknown persons are meaningless and uncompensable.")).

Here, Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint on December 31, 2013, precisely two years after December 31, 2011, the date on which the events that gave rise to Polk's individual § 1983 claims took place. Because Plaintiffs did not know the identity of the Defendant officers at the time they initiated the action, their § 1983 claims are barred. ...

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