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Moss v. Singleton

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

June 18, 2015

ADRIENNE MOSS, as administrator of the Estate of Montrell Moss, deceased, and SHIMEKA ROBINSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
EDGAR SINGLETON, JR., TOM DART, COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, and COOK COUNTY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

On August 8, 2013, off-duty Cook County correctional officer Edgar Singleton, who was wearing his work uniform and carrying a work-issued gun, fatally shot twenty-three year old Montrell Moss after the two men exchanged words through the open windows of their vehicles while stopped at a traffic light in Hammond, Indiana. Adrienne Moss (Moss' mother and the administrator of his estate) and Shimeka Robinson (who was in the passenger seat of Moss' car when he was shot) filed this action asserting federal and state law claims arising from Moss' death against Singleton, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the Cook County Sheriff's Office, and Cook County. Singleton and the Cook County defendants have filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

In August 2013, defendant Edgar Singleton was employed as a Cook County correctional officer. In this capacity, he was authorized to carry a Glock semi-automatic pistol and "utilize that firearm in the enforcement of the law." (Compl. ¶ 3, Dkt. 1-1.) Defendant Tom Dart, who has been sued in his official capacity, is the Cook County Sheriff. He is responsible for operating the Cook County Department of Corrections, where Singleton worked, as well as the Cook County Sheriff's Office, which is also named as a defendant in this case. Defendant Cook County has financial responsibility for the obligations of the Cook County Department of Corrections and the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

On August 8, 2013, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Singleton and Moss were operating vehicles in the vicinity of the 1000 block of Indianapolis Boulevard.[2] Plaintiff Shimeka Robinson was traveling in Moss' car in the front passenger seat, and both were unarmed. Singleton was wearing a Cook County Sheriff's Office Department of Corrections uniform and was armed with his Cook County Sheriff's Office-issued gun. According to the plaintiffs, on the day of the shooting, Singleton was "acting under color of law, ordinance, and statute." (Id. ¶ 6.)

After Singleton cut Moss off by driving in front of Moss' vehicle, the cars stopped at a traffic signal. The two men "exchanged words" through the open windows of their cars. (Id. ¶ 11.) Moss "perceived a threat to his safety and that of the public he was sworn to protect; so, while acting to enforce the law, he drew his Sheriff-issued sidearm and fired a single shot" towards Moss and Robinson. (Id. ) The bullet struck Moss in the neck; Robinson was uninjured. Singleton then pointed his gun towards Moss and Robinson again but did not open fire. Moss did not survive.

In their seven-count complaint, the plaintiffs allege the following claims:

Count Claim Brought By Brought Against I Illinois Wrongful Death Act Adrienne Moss Singleton II Illinois Survival Act Adrienne Moss & Singleton Robinson III Illinois Wrongful Death Act Adrienne Moss Dart, the Cook County Sheriff's Office & Cook County IV Illinois Survival Act Adrienne Moss & Dart, the Cook County Sheriff's Robinson Office & Cook County V § 1983 - Excessive Force Adrienne Moss & Singleton Robinson VI § 1983 - "Battery" Adrienne Moss & Singleton Robinson VII Indemnification Adrienne Moss & Cook County Robinson

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim satisfies this standard when its factual allegations "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010) ("[P]laintiff must give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together."). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court takes all facts alleged by the plaintiff as true and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, although conclusory allegations that merely recite the elements of a claim are not entitled to this presumption of truth. Virnich v. Vorwald, 664 F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011).

III. DISCUSSION

Singleton seeks to dismiss the § 1983 claims against him (Counts V and VI, brought by both plaintiffs based on the alleged use of excessive force and Singleton's "battery"). In the Cook County defendants' motion to dismiss, they argue that: (1) the Sheriff's Office is not a proper party because the plaintiff sued Dart in his official capacity, which equates to a claim against the Sheriff's Office; (2) Cook County cannot be held liable for the actions of the Sheriff of Cook County under a theory of respondeat superior; (3) Robinson lacks standing to pursue a Survival Act claim; (4) the claims against Dart fail to state a claim because the complaint does not adequately allege that Singleton acted under color of state law or that he was acting within the scope of his employment when he shot and killed Moss; and (5) the indemnification claim against Cook County should be dismissed since the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against Dart or Singleton.

A. Claims Against the Cook County Sheriff's Office

In their motion to dismiss, the Cook County defendants argue that the claims against the Sheriff's Office duplicate the official capacity claims against Dart, who was sued in his official capacity. "Actions against individual defendants in their official capacities are treated as suits brought against the government entity itself." Walker v. Sheahan, 526 F.3d 973, 977 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991)). Thus, claims against the Cook County Sheriff's Office and Dart are "really a suit against the office of the Cook County Sheriff, who has statutory responsibility for operating the [Cook County] Jail." Hudson v. Preckwinkle, No. 13 C 8752, 2015 WL 1541787, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 31, 2015) (citing 55 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5-3-15003). The plaintiffs' response to the motion to dismiss does not address the defendants' arguments about the Cook County Sheriff's Office. As a claim against the Cook County Sheriff's Office duplicates the official capacity claim against Dart, the claims against the Cook County Sheriff's Office are dismissed.

B. Respondeat Superior Claims Against Cook County

Counts III (Illinois Wrongful Death Act) and IV (Illinois Survival Act) both contain allegations that defendant Cook County is liable for Moss' death based on Singleton's actions. The defendants seek to dismiss any respondeat superior claim against Cook County, arguing that Cook County cannot be held liable for the actions of the Sheriff of Cook County under this theory. This is correct, Franklin v. Zaruba, 150 F.3d 682, 685-86 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Moy v. Cnty. of Cook, 640 N.E.2d 926, 929 (Ill. 1994)), and the plaintiffs do not respond to this portion of the motion to ...


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