United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
LOREN W. BUCHMEIER and CHRISTOPHER W. ERFFMEYER, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF BERWYN, MAYOR ROBERT LOVERO, and UNIT COMMAND OFFICER LT. JAMES SASSETTI OF THE BERWYN POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JAMES B. ZAGEL, District Judge.
On September 2, 2014, Plaintiffs Loren Buchmeier and Christopher Erffmeyer (together, "Plaintiffs") filed a complaint against Defendants City of Berwyn, Mayor Robert Lovero, and Unit Command Officer Lt. James Sassetti of the Berwyn Police Department (the "BPD") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging that Defendants conspired to deprive them of their right of access to the courts (Count I) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs have further alleged state law claims against City of Berwyn officials and members of the BPD for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") (Count II) and conspiracy to inflict emotional distress (Count III). Counts II and III are the basis for two further state law claims against Defendant City of Berwyn under respondeat superior liability (Count IV) and indemnification liability (Count V). Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted on all Counts.
The following facts are adopted from Plaintiffs' complaint and are accepted as true for the purpose of evaluating Defendants' motion to dismiss.
Plaintiffs' allegations stem from an incident (the "Incident") on September 2, 2012 inside a pub in Berwyn, Illinois. Plaintiff Buchmeier, who is a City of Berwyn police officer, was off duty while patronizing the pub with his cousin, Plaintiff Erffmeyer. In the late evening hours, the Plaintiffs were beaten by known assailants ("Assailants"), including the niece of Defendant Mayor Lovero. Plaintiffs characterize the attack as severe and claim that it constituted criminal aggravated assault and criminal aggravated battery. The BPD dispatched numerous officers to the scene, where they arrested seven individuals whom Plaintiffs identified as their Assailants. The supervising officer that evening was Sergeant Ramon Ortiz. Plaintiff Buchmeier indicated to Ortiz that he wanted to sign criminal complaints against the Assailants, and he confirmed this desire with another police officer at the scene. Plaintiffs were then transported to MacNeal Hospital for treatment of their injuries.
Meanwhile, Ortiz was contacted on his cell phone by Defendant Sassetti. After learning what happened and who had been arrested, Sassetti informed Ortiz that the arrested individuals were political allies and friends of Mayor Lovero. Sassetti instructed Ortiz to convince Plaintiffs-through the offer of monetary restitution, if necessary-to agree not to sign criminal complaints against Assailants. Ortiz went to the hospital and followed Sassetti's instructions, but Buchmeier refused to accept monetary compensation from Assailants' families in exchange for his renunciation of criminal charges. Sassetti then took matters into his own hands. He went to the hospital in the early morning hours of September 3, 2012 and pressured Plaintiffs into signing criminal refusal forms under duress. Once the forms were signed, the BPD immediately released all of the arrested individuals with no charges filed. All investigations of the matter ceased.
In an attempt to redress what he viewed as a conspiracy to cover up the Incident, Buchmeier retained legal counsel. His attorney communicated with the BPD Police Chief, who said that an internal investigation was open regarding any crimes that may have taken place with respect to the Incident. The Chief promised to keep the attorney apprised of the investigation and indicated that all communications from the City of Berwyn would come through him. Notwithstanding this promise, Buchmeier's attorney was contacted separately by Mayor Lovero, who invited him to a meeting with two other attorneys, ostensibly the Mayor's own counsel and counsel for the Assailants. At the meeting, Mayor Lovero implied that if Buchmeier were to press criminal charges against the Assailants, Buchmeier might also be charged criminally on the basis of racist remarks he allegedly said on the night of the Incident. Buchmeier's attorney then attempted to negotiate a civil damages resolution with the attorney seemingly representing the Assailants, but an agreement could not be reached. Buchmeier's attorney reiterated that his client was not interested in exchanging money for his refusal to press criminal charges.
The BPD Chief failed to contact Buchmeier's attorney to share the results of the internal investigation. Via a Freedom of Information Act request, Buchmeier learned that the Assailants would not be charged criminally and that Sassetti was found to be responsible for the investigation and documentation of the Incident. The BPD file indicated that Sassetti delayed the investigation; allowed arrested individuals to be released without proper interviews or documentation; and attempted to negotiate monetary deals without adequate justification for his or his subordinate BPD officers' conduct. In October 2013, Buchmeier's attorney sent the BPD a letter requesting that an independent investigative agency be appointed to look into the criminal culpability of the Assailants. In response, the City of Berwyn officially rescinded Plaintiffs' signed refusals to prosecute and invited them to file a complaint with the BPD. As a result of the Incident and his resultant injuries, Buchmeier had to call in sick for five days, was placed on extended medical leave for 33 days, and was assigned to light duty for 102 days.
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test the merits of a claim; rather, it tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. at 1521. To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, "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 (2009). "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." Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679.
I. Denial of Access to Courts Claim (Count I)
Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, individually, jointly and in conspiracy covered up the criminal and civil culpability of the Assailants by intimidating Plaintiffs into signing criminal refusals, obstructing a proper investigation of the Incident, and falsely and/or incompletely documenting evidence of the Incident. Plaintiffs plead that Defendants thereby violated their constitutional rights to judicial redress for their alleged injuries under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
A plaintiff may bring a valid claim for relief under § 1983 if he can show that someone acting under color of state law deprived him of a right protected by the Constitution. Rossi v. City of Chicago, No. 13-3795, 2015 WL 3827324, at *3 (7th Cir. June 22, 2015). The Supreme Court has affirmed that the First and Fourteenth Amendments safeguard an individual's right to seek legal redress for claims that have a reasonable basis in law and fact. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 414-15 (2002). Accordingly, efforts by state actors to interfere with an individual's right of court access may be actionable as a deprivation of constitutional rights under § 1983. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 822 (1977). Based on the requirement that judicial access be "adequate, effective, and meaningful, " id. at 822, the Seventh Circuit has held that "when police officers conceal or obscure important facts about a crime from its victims rendering hollow ...