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Laba v. Chicago Transit Authority

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

November 10, 2014

DUANE LABA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, a municipal corporation and UNKNOWN CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY EMPLOYEES, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendant Chicago Transit Authority ("CTA") to dismiss the amended complaint brought by Plaintiffs Duane Laba, Duffy McCann ("McCann"), Julia Berkowitz, Steve Affarano and Robert Schak (collectively "Plaintiffs") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedures 12(b)(6). In response to CTA's motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs filed a motion for sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. For the reasons set forth below, CTA's motion to dismiss is granted. Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions is denied. Plaintiffs are given thirty days from the entry of this opinion to refile their amended complaint.

BACKGROUND

For the purposes of the instant motion, the following well-pleaded allegations derived from Plaintiffs' first amended complaint are accepted as true. The Court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs are Illinois residents and prior to October 2013, they worked as electricians for CTA at the Harlem and Lake Green Line CTA station ("Harlem Yard") in Forest Park, Illinois. CTA is a municipal corporation with its principal place of business located at 567 West Lake Street in Chicago, Illinois. The unnamed individual defendants (the "Individual Defendants") were also employees of CTA. During the course of their employment at Harlem Yard, Plaintiffs used a room entitled Electrical Room' (the "Electrical Room") where Plaintiffs stored their personal belongings in lockers and changed their clothes. In addition to three lockers, the Electrical Room also had a computer and a desk in it. Plaintiffs allege that the Individual Defendants were aware that Plaintiffs changed their clothes in the Electrical Room because Plaintiffs received explicit permission to do so by certain Individual Defendants.

Prior to September 2013, an "investigation team" (the "Investigation Team") was assembled and included the Individual Defendants that served as supervisory employees of CTA. The Investigation Team requested a key from CTA, which was tendered, and they entered the Electrical Room. The Individual Defendants then installed a video camera in the Electrical Room. The video camera was not visible to people using the Electrical Room and Plaintiffs were never informed that it was installed. Plaintiffs did not consent to the recordings and no warrant was obtained to record them. Plaintiffs submit that there was no probable cause for CTA or the Individual Defendants to believe that Plaintiffs were engaged in criminal activity. From at least September 2013 into October 2013, four of the five Plaintiffs[1] were videotaped changing their clothes in the Electrical Room. As a result of the footage seen by the Individual Defendants, Plaintiffs were terminated for "theft/stealing of company time." Plaintiffs also allege that the Individual Defendants conspired to violate 720 ILCS 5/26/4(a), which constitutes a felony in Illinois, by knowingly videotaping Plaintiffs in the Electrical Room without their consent. Plaintiffs also state that CTA, through the Individual Defendants, had a duty not to deprive Plaintiffs of their rights under the laws of the State of Illinois and the United States Constitution, but that CTA breached this duty and violated their Fourth Amendment "Right to Privacy."

On July 24, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a four-count amended complaint alleging that: (i) CTA, through the actions of the Individual Defendants, violated Plaintiffs' state law right of privacy (Count I); (ii) the Individual Defendants violated Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to privacy under the United States Constitution (Count II); (iii) CTA is required to pay any judgment against the Individual Defendants pursuant to state law indemnification principles under Section 9-102 of the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Count III); and CTA, as principal, is liable for the actions of its agents, the Individual Defendants, under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the state law violations (Count IV). Plaintiffs ask this Court to enter judgment against the Individual Defendants for Counts I and II and against CTA for Counts III and IV, including attorneys' fees, costs and any other appropriate relief. On August 25, 2014, CTA moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On September 23, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion for sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against CTA for submitting a "baseless" motion to dismiss.

LEGAL STANDARD

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and not the merits of the case. McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012). The allegations in a complaint must set forth a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not provide detailed factual allegations but must provide enough factual support to raise her right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A claim must be facially plausible, meaning that the pleadings must allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the purported misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The claims must be described "in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." EEOC v. Concentra Health Services, 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, " are insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Id. at 678.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss

A. Federal Claim (Count II)

Under Count II, Plaintiffs assert their federal claim-that the Individual Defendants were acting as governmental actors, under the color of law, and violated Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to privacy under the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs also re-allege paragraphs 1-81 in Count II as support for their federal claim. After thoroughly reading the amended complaint, the Court has uncovered several fatal issues with how Plaintiffs presently assert their federal cause of action. These pleading deficiencies, collectively, require the Court to dismiss Count II.

The overarching issue with Plaintiffs' amended complaint is that it fails to specifically notify the defendants, and consequently the Court, of the exact federal claim that Plaintiffs attempt to plead. First, when the Court isolates the allegations of Count II, it is unclear if Plaintiffs are bringing a federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") or a standalone Fourth Amendment claim. The Court acknowledges that Plaintiffs reference that "the federal claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983" in the jurisdictional section of their amended complaint, but it is also true that Section 1983 is never cited again. Any mention of Section 1983 is most notably absent in the allegations listed under Count II. Section 1983 is not an independent source of tort liability, it creates a cause of action for "the deprivation, under color of [state] law, of a citizen's rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and law of the United States." Ledford v. Sullivan, 105 F.3d 354, 356 (7th Cir. 1997) (internal citation omitted). As explained in Ledford, since Section 1983 cannot stand alone, it needs to be paired with a constitutional violation. How Plaintiffs elected to structure their amended complaint, physically separating Section 1983 in the jurisdictional section from the allegations of a Fourth Amendment violation in Count II, does not create a harmonious federal cause of action under Section 1983 for the Court to consider. This alone is not enough for the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' federal claim, but it is this deficiency along with others described below that render a dismissal of Count II.

Additionally, Plaintiffs' threadbare recitation of the elements of a Section 1983 cause of action, including "[t]he actions of the INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS were actions of a governmental actor, under color of law, and proximately caused a violation of the Fourth Amendment. .." are insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (emphasis added). For instance, without specific details as to how the Individual Defendants were acting under the color of law when they allegedly videotaped Plaintiffs without their consent, these allegations remain conclusory. Plaintiffs may argue that these specificity issues are adequately resolved because they incorporate the fact-intensive allegations from paragraphs 1-81 of the amended complaint into Count II, such as paragraph 7 which states, "... [t]he INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS, are being sued in their individual capacity, acted as governmental actors and in the scope of their employment and under color of law at all relevant times, " however this is not enough. By blankly re-alleging paragraphs 1-81, Plaintiffs not only fail to clarify the germane issue of how the Individual Defendants acted as state actors under the color of law, but they actually muddle their federal cause of action even more. In Count II, Plaintiffs request relief only from the Individual Defendants. However, by incorporating ...


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