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Swanigan v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 9, 2015

RASHAD B. SWANIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant-Appellee

Argued May 30, 2013.

Page 954

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 08 C 4780 -- Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

For Rashad B. Swanigan, Plaintiff - Appellant: Irene K. Dymkar, Attorney, Chicago, IL.

For City of Chicago, Defendant - Appellee: Sara K. Hornstra, Attorney, City of Chicago Law Department, Chicago, IL; Ruth F. Masters, Attorney, Oak Park, IL.

Before SYKES and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges, and STADTMUELLER, District Judge.[*].


Page 955

Sykes, Circuit Judge.

Rashad Swanigan was arrested and jailed for more than 50 hours by Chicago police officers who mistakenly thought he was a serial bank robber known as the Hard Hat Bandit. Following his release, Swanigan filed suit against a number of individual officers and the City alleging various constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and several state-law claims. After some procedural maneuvering, Swanigan's Monell policy-or-practice claim against the City became a separate lawsuit, which was consolidated before the same judge and stayed while the suit against the individual officers proceeded. A jury found for Swanigan against seven individual officers on one of the constitutional claims, awarding $60,000 in damages.

Swanigan then turned his attention back to the Monell suit. He moved to lift the stay and advised the court that he intended to amend his complaint in light of the jury's verdict. The judge interpreted the motion as a waiver of all but two of Swanigan's theories of Monell liability and held that the two remaining aspects of the claim were not justiciable. This ruling was based on the City's promise to indemnify its officers in the first suit and to pay nominal damages of $1 for any Monell liability. The judge also held--sua sponte--that one of the two Monell claims failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. For these reasons, the judge denied Swanigan's motion to lift the stay and dismissed the Monell suit in its entirety. Swanigan appealed.

Several procedural missteps require a remand here. First, the judge wrongly assumed that Swanigan was waiving all but two theories of Monell liability and dismissed the entire suit based on that mistaken premise. Moreover, under Rule 15(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Swanigan was entitled to amend his complaint within 21 days of a responsive pleading or motion to dismiss, which would have been the next step after the stay was lifted, as it should have been. And a sua sponte dismissal for failure to state a claim--a merits adjudication--is improper.

Swanigan's Monell suit may indeed face some jurisdictional and merits hurdles, but the judge jumped the gun in dismissing it. The case was stayed in its infancy while the claims against the individual officers proceeded, and Swanigan was entitled to revive it and amend his complaint to try to plead a justiciable claim once the court and the parties returned to it.

I. Background

On the afternoon of August 22, 2006, Chicago police officers Robert Trotter and Thomas Muehlfelder were patrolling the city's north side and saw a man later identified as Swanigan standing outside a bank on Elston Avenue and Pulaski Road. The officers had been told to be on the lookout for a serial bank robber known as the Hard Hat Bandit, who was wanted for robbing several banks while wearing a yellow hard hat. Swanigan wasn't wearing a hard hat, but the officers believed that he matched the general description of the Hard Hat Bandit. They watched as he entered the passenger side of a car. A computer check of the car's license-plate number revealed that the car's registration was suspended based on an insurance violation, so the officers approached Swanigan and asked for his insurance card.

Swanigan told the officers that the car was insured but could not produce proof of insurance. So the officers arrested him and searched the vehicle. In the back seat they discovered several hard hats (one was yellow) and also a knife. Thinking that they'd just cracked the Hard Hat Bandit

Page 956

case, the officers sought and received approval to book Swanigan for traffic violations and for unlawful use of a weapon. As it turned out, however, Swanigan was not the Hard Hat Bandit but an innocent construction worker who was at the bank cashing some checks.

The officers wanted to investigate whether Swanigan was responsible for a recent robbery of a Popeye's Chicken restaurant that was linked to the Hard Hat Bandit. Swanigan would have been released fairly quickly on the offenses for which he was arrested, so the officers put a " hold" on him to ensure that they would have time to investigate him for the robberies they suspected him of committing. The hold prevented his release from custody and also delayed his appearance in court for a probable-cause determination.

Over the course of the next day, Swanigan was placed in lineups to determine if any witnesses could implicate him in the Popeye's Chicken robbery. A few witnesses initially identified Swanigan as the robber. Swanigan claimed that he was placed in other lineups and treated poorly throughout his detention. He spent another night in jail.

On August 24, 2006, an Assistant State's Attorney reviewed Swanigan's case. She interviewed the witnesses in the Popeye's Chicken robbery and learned that their identifications were shaky; one retracted the identification altogether. The Assistant State's Attorney declined to charge Swanigan with the Popeye's Chicken robbery, and he was released from custody that evening. All told, he had been in custody for about 51 hours with no judicial determination of probable cause.

After Swanigan's release, the police department's Case Supplementary Report for the Popeye's Chicken robbery was marked " Cleared--closed other exceptional." According to Swanigan, that designation--along with the accompanying narrative--identifies him as the robber, states that employees of the restaurant picked him out of a lineup, and indicates that the police closed the investigation because the prosecutor refused to approve charges, due in part to unreliable witness identifications. Swanigan contends that the report is available to law-enforcement personnel and the general public and causes him harm because it misidentifies him as the robber.

In October 2006 Chicago police apprehended the real Hard Hat Bandit. The traffic and weapons charges against Swanigan were dropped.

Swanigan filed suit in the Northern District of Illinois alleging constitutional claims under § 1983 and several state-law causes of action stemming from his arrest and extended detention. After two amendments, the complaint alleged nine counts against 20 named police officers, an unknown number of unnamed police officers, and the City of Chicago. Swanigan moved to amend his complaint a third time to add a § 1983 policy-or-practice claim against the City under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). The district court disallowed the amendment, reasoning that it represented a significant shift in focus too late in discovery.

Swanigan then filed a second lawsuit against the City containing the Monell claim that he'd tried unsuccessfully to add to the first. He alleged in the second suit that the constitutional violations stemming from his arrest and detention were caused by one or more of nine city policies, customs, or practices. The Monell suit also alleged that the officers had failed to ...

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