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Riles v. City of Chicago

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

November 10, 2014



SARA L. ELLIS, District Judge.

After a traffic stop resulted in Plaintiff Kimberly Whitehead Riles falling and hitting her head on the street, she brought this action against the City of Chicago, Illinois (the "City") and five of its police officers-Andrew Scudella, Ryan Harty, Steve Jarosz, and two unknown officers (collectively, the "Defendant Officers")-alleging that the Defendant Officers violated her constitutional rights during a traffic stop on September 15, 2013 when the Defendant Officers allegedly illegally searched her and her car, illegally arrested her, and applied excessive force by causing her to fall and hit her head on the street. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The motion to dismiss [21] is denied. Whitehead Riles has plausibly alleged that she was subject to an illegal search, a wrongful arrest, and excessive force. She has also plausibly alleged that the City failed to adequately train, supervise, and discipline its police officers, causing the Defendant Officers' misconduct.


On September 15, 2013, Kimberly Whitehead Riles' son Deaven Riles picked her up from work and began driving toward their home in Whitehead Riles' Chevy Cobalt. On the way home, the Defendant Officers pulled the car over. The Defendant Officers approached the car and demanded that both Deaven and Whitehead Riles provide their drivers licenses; Deaven and Whitehead Riles complied. A short time later, the Defendant Officers ordered Deaven and Whitehead Riles to exit the car and to place their hands on the vehicle's trunk. The Defendant Officers proceeded to search the vehicle. The search lasted approximately 20 minutes. During the search, one of the Defendant Officers asked Deaven and Whitehead Riles where he could find drugs in the car. Deaven and Whitehead Riles responded that there were no drugs in the car. One of the Defendant Officers handcuffed Deaven and placed him in the rear of a police car. Unbeknownst to Deaven or Whitehead Riles, Deaven had been driving on a suspended license. While her son was placed in the squad car, Whitehead Riles stood with her hands on the trunk of her car as the Defendant Officers had ordered her to do some time earlier. One of the Defendant Officers then entered the driver's seat of Whitehead Riles' car and drove away. Because Whitehead Riles' hands were on the trunk of the car, she fell forward when the car began moving. Whitehead Riles hit her head on the ground and lost consciousness. Deaven saw his mother fall and alerted the Defendant Officers. Whitehead Riles was transported to a nearby hospital, where she regained consciousness.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


The complaint contains seven counts: false arrest (Count I), unlawful search (Count II), excessive force (Count III), failure to intervene (Count IV), conspiracy (Count V), intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") (Count VI), and respondeat superior and indemnification (Count VII). Although not outlined in its own claim, Whitehead Riles also seeks to hold the City liable via Monell -alleging in Counts I through V that the City maintains policies and practices that caused the Defendant Officers' misconduct. Defendants seek to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. The Court takes each claim in turn.

I. False Arrest

In Count I, Whitehead Riles alleges that the Defendant Officers arrested her without probable cause. Defendants contend that the false arrest claim must be dismissed primarily because the alleged facts do not constitute an arrest. "[A]n arrest-the seizure of a person- occurs when [an] officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.'" United States v. Benjamin, 995 F.2d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) (second alteration in original). Put another way, "a person has been seized' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave." United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 1877, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980). "[T]he crucial test is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.'" Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991) (citation omitted). "Examples of circumstances that might indicate a seizure, even where the person did not attempt to leave, would be the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled." Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554. What begins as a traffic stop "can be converted into a full-blown arrest if it extends beyond the time reasonably necessary to complete the purpose for which the stop was made." Huff v. Reichert, 744 F.3d 999, 1005 (7th Cir. 2014).

Here, Whitehead Riles alleges that her car was pulled over and that she was ordered to step out of the car and to place her hands on the car's trunk. She further alleges that there were as many as five officers on the scene. Whitehead Riles watched the Defendant Officers search her car and responded to an officer who asked where he could find drugs in the car. One of the Defendant Officers then handcuffed Deaven Riles and placed him in a squad car. After observing all this, Whitehead Riles still had her hands on the trunk of the car pursuant to the Defendant Officers' order. The Court finds that Whitehead Riles has plausibly alleged that she was arrested given the presence of as many as five officers, the extended search of the car, the Defendant Officers' order that Whitehead Riles stand with her hands on the trunk, and the fact that the Defendant Officers handcuffed Deaven and placed him in a squad car apparently without explaining what charge he faced. Based on the facts alleged in the complaint, the Court may plausibly infer that a reasonable person would not feel free to walk away from this encounter. See Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554 (noting that facts indicating a seizure include the threatening presence of several officers and the indication that the individual must comply with the officer's request); United States v. Finke, 85 F.3d 1275, 1281 (7th Cir. 1996) (finding that an individual would not feel free to leave a traffic stop after the police informed him that a canine unit had been called to the scene); Jones v. Hileman, No. 07-CV-0606-MJR-DGW, 2008 WL 4482966, at *3 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2008) (finding that a wife plausibly alleged she had been arrested when she was ordered to stand still while her husband was handcuffed and placed in a squad car).

Additionally, the Defendant Officers argue that they had probable cause to pull the car over because one of the car's headlights was out. United States v. Hernandez-Rivas, 513 F.3d 753, 759 (7th Cir. 2008) ("[P]robable cause exists when the circumstances confronting a police officer support the reasonable belief that a driver has committed even a minor traffic offense."). While probable cause would defeat a false arrest claim, Holmes v. Vill. of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 679-80 (7th Cir. 2007), on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim the Court may not consider facts outside the complaint, Jacobs v. City of Chicago, 215 F.3d 758, 766 (7th Cir. 2000). Because the complaint does not indicate that the car's headlight was out or that Deaven or Whitehead Riles had done anything else that might provide probable cause, the Court cannot find, at this stage, that the arrest was justified.

Likewise, at this stage the Court cannot find that qualified immunity protects the Defendant Officers. See Kernats v. O'Sullivan, 35 F.3d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1994) ("A defendant may raise a qualified immunity defense in a motion to dismiss, but at this stage of the proceedings the only facts before us are those alleged in the complaint, which we are obliged to accept as true."). Qualified immunity shields officers from civil liability stemming from discretionary functions so long as their conduct did not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right that a reasonable person would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Stated another way, qualified immunity protects the Defendant Officers from the unlawful arrest claim only if a reasonable officer could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest Whitehead Riles in light of the information the Defendant Officers possessed at the time. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991).

To survive a qualified immunity defense at this stage, the complaint must plausibly allege that the Defendant Officers violated Whitehead Riles' clearly established rights by arresting her without probable cause. Taking the facts alleged in the complaint as true and drawing all inferences in Whitehead Riles' favor, the Court finds that the complaint has satisfied this standard. First, Whitehead Riles plausibly alleges that the Defendant Officers lacked probable cause to arrest her. Nothing in the complaint leads the Court to conclude that the Defendant Officers had even an arguable lawful basis to arrest Whitehead Riles. See McComas v. Brickley, 673 F.3d 722, 725 (7th Cir. 2012) ("In the context of a wrongful arrest, the question turns on whether the arresting officer had "arguable probable cause." (quoting Jones v. Clark, 630 F.3d 677, 684 (7th Cir. 2011))). Second, Whitehead Riles had a clearly established right to be free from arrest without probable cause. Mustafa v. City of Chicago, 442 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 2006). The Court may reasonably infer that a reasonable person in the Defendant Officers' position would have known that probable ...

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