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Sanders v. City of Chicago Heights

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

November 7, 2014

CITY OF CHICAGO HEIGHTS, et al., Defendants.


AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff Rodell Sanders brought the present First Amended Complaint alleging deprivations of his constitutional rights, along with state law claims, against Defendant City of Chicago Heights ("Chicago Heights") and certain Chicago Heights police officers.[1] See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367(a). Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion. Specifically, the Court dismisses with prejudice Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as alleged in Count VIII, as well as Plaintiff's stand alone supervisory liability claim in Count VII. Otherwise, the Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss.


"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted." Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, 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, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true, Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013), and draw "reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs." Teamsters Local Union No. 705 v. Burlington No. Santa Fe, LLC, 741 F.3d 819, 823 (7th Cir. 2014).


In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was wrongfully convicted of murder and attempted murder-crimes that he did not commit. (R. 48, ¶ 1.) Plaintiff spent approximately twenty years in prison, during which his conviction was vacated on January 14, 2011. ( Id. ¶ 40.) The Illinois Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court's ruling overturning Plaintiff's conviction and vacating his sentence on May 30, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 42.) The State of Illinois re-tried Plaintiff, and on July 22, 2014, a jury acquitted him of all of the charges against him. ( Id. ¶ 43.)

As to the underlying offenses, in 1995, a jury convicted Plaintiff of the murder of Phillip Atkins, attempted murder of Stacy Armstrong, and armed robbery. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges that the only evidence introduced against him at trial were false witness identifications. ( Id. ¶¶ 2, 37.) The facts underlying the offenses include that on December 15, 1993, Armstrong and Atkins were sitting in a parked car around two in the morning and, after being abruptly awoken, a group of men accosted them and took them to an abandoned garage. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 13.) While robbing the victims, the perpetrators shot and killed Atkins and shot Armstrong leaving her for dead. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officers Jeffrey Bohlen and Robert Pinnow knew him and bore a grudge against him, and that despite the lack of evidence against him and Armstrong's description of the perpetrators, Defendant Officers framed him as a perpetrator of the shooting. ( Id. ¶¶ 18, 21-23.) To that end, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Officers concocted a flawed photo line-up designed to improperly implicate him, after which Armstrong identified him as one of the perpetrators. ( Id. ¶¶ 25, 26.)

Thereafter, in January 1994, Defendant Officers arrested Plaintiff's acquaintance Germaine Haslett on unrelated charges. ( Id. ¶ 28.) Haslett had been cooperating with the Chicago Heights Police Department regarding an individual named Bernard Ellis. ( Id. ) On the day of his arrest, Haslett confessed to his role in the Atkins murder. ( Id. ¶ 29.) To protect Haslett as their main witness against Ellis, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officers sought to minimize Haslett's complicity in the Atkins shooting by allowing him to claim that he was simply the "lookout" in exchange for pointing the finger at Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 30.) More specifically, in exchange for implicating Plaintiff, Haslett pleaded guilty to armed robbery in the Atkins and Armstrong case instead of facing murder and attempted murder charges. ( Id. ¶ 31.) In addition, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Officers conferred other benefits to Haslett, including terminating his probation in an unrelated drug case. ( Id. ¶¶ 32-36.)

Plaintiff further alleges that the Chicago Heights Police Department has a history of police misconduct. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff, for example, points to Defendant Officer Sam Mangialardi's 1993 arrest and subsequent 1994 conviction for racketeering, witness tampering, and extortion. ( Id. ¶¶ 45-48.) According to Plaintiff, the corruption within the Chicago Heights Police Department was so widespread that the Mayor enlisted a retired Supreme Court of Illinois Justice to investigate the department. ( Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff points out that a total of six police officers and fifteen public officials were convicted and sentenced based on this systemic corruption. ( Id. ¶ 48.)


I. Constitutional Violations - Counts I, III, and V[2]

In Count I of his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officers violated his due process rights by deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence and fabricating false reports and other evidence, thereby misleading and misdirecting Plaintiff's criminal prosecution. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963); Fields v. Wharrie, 740 F.3d 1107, 1117 (7th Cir. 2014). In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that prior to arresting him, Defendant Officers reached an agreement to frame him for murder and attempted murder and deprive him of his constitutional rights, including withholding exculpatory materials to which he was lawfully entitled. See Thompson v. City of Chicago, 722 F.3d 963, 979 (7th Cir. 2013). In Count V, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officers failed to intervene to prevent the violation of his constitutional rights. See id.

In the present motion, Defendant Officers argue that Plaintiff's due process, conspiracy, and failure to intervene claims fail under the federal pleading standards because Plaintiff refers to Defendant Officers collectively, instead of identifying each Defendant Officers' individual actions underlying these claims. In other words, Defendant Officers contend that Plaintiff's group or collective pleading cannot ...

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