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Collier v. Rock Island Police Officers Phillip Ledbetter

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

September 30, 2016




         Plaintiff Mikail Collier is suing Defendants City of Rock Island (“the City”), Officer Phillip Ledbetter, Officer Michael Wood, and unknown officers for the exercise of excessive force during an arrest. Collier brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees. Before the Court are the City and Ledbetter's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 31, and Wood's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 32. For the following reasons, the motions are GRANTED IN PART and, in part, MOOT.


         On July 14, 2014, Collier and his cousin were walking along Sixteenth Avenue in Rock Island, between Ninth and Seventh Streets. There was no sidewalk, and Collier walked on the street. After Collier and his cousin turned into an alleyway, they were approached by Officer Ledbetter, who had been following them for a few blocks. When Collier asked why Officer Ledbetter had been following him, Ledbetter replied “because you were walking in the street back there.” Officer Ledbetter proceeded to arrest Collier by twisting Collier's wrist behind his back, grabbing him under the arm and slamming him to the ground. Collier's head struck the pavement. Officer Ledbetter held Collier down by pushing a knee into his neck, while other officers who had arrived on scene, including Michael Wood, assisted with the arrest. Collier did not resist. As Ledbetter placed Collier in a squad car, he stated “I owned your ass.”

         Collier filed suit on December 18, 2014. See Compl., ECF No. 1. In addition to state and federal claims against Officers Ledbetter and Wood, he brought multiple constitutional claims against the City of Rock Island, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the municipal liability doctrine of Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Collier alleged that the City maintained a “practice and custom of failing to adequately train, supervise, control, discipline and dismiss” officers who commit excessive force arrests as well as “a policy of inadequately reporting, reviewing and investigating” purported excessive force incidents. Compl. ¶ 44. Collier also alleged that his injury was caused by the City's “practice and custom” of employing too few African-American police officers to patrol African-American neighborhoods and by a “code of silence” endorsed by final city policy-makers. Id. ¶¶ 56, 59.

         The Court dismissed Collier's complaint in its entirety. See Sept. 15, 2015 Order, ECF No. 25. With regard to his Monell claim against the City, the Court noted Collier's failure to plead “non-conclusory facts even remotely suggesting a pattern or practice” of police misconduct and granted him leave to amend his complaint. Id. at 8. Collier filed an amended complaint, ECF No. 27, adding to his new complaint factual accounts of four allegedly excessively forceful arrests of African-American individuals by Rock Island police officers in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Am. Compl. 8-13.

         On October 14, 2015, the defendants filed their motions to dismiss.


         Collier's amended complaint, although it attempts to remedy some of the deficiencies noted in the Court's September 15, 2015 order, is still confusing. See Order 4 (“Plaintiff appears to misunderstand the difference between a claim for relief, which arises from a distinct transaction or occurrence, and the legal underpinnings of such a claim. The former should, per Rule 10(b), be separated into distinct counts; the latter should not.”). The Court will attempt to summarize it.

         Count I of the Amended Complaint appears to allege four separate claims against two separate defendants. It alleges that Ledbetter used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and alleges that the city was responsible for that use of excessive force; as to the former, on the basis of his actions on July 14, 2014, and as to the latter, on the basis of its failure to properly train or supervise Ledbetter pursuant to Monell. Am. Compl. 13-14. To make matters more complicated, although the Count is titled “excessive force, ” it also states that “Officer Ledbetter's false arrest and false imprisonment of plaintiff also violated his Fourth Amendment rights, ” id. at 13, thus apparently also alleging Ledbetter falsely arrested Collier, and again that this was a consequence of the City's policies and procedures. Count II appears to allege a Monell claim as to the City for unnamed officers' failure to intervene in Ledbetter's arrest as a consequence of deficient supervision or training, and possibly also a similar claim against Officer Wood in his individual capacity.[2] Id. 14-15. Count III is a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against both the City and “defendant officers”- presumably, Ledbetter, Wood, and the unknown officers. Id. at 15-16. Count IV asserts (perhaps[3]) state and federal law claims of assault and battery against the City, and Ledbetter and Wood “in their individual and[, ]” redundantly, “official” capacities. Id. at 16-17. See Sept. 15, 2015 Order 3 n.2 (“[O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” (quoting Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991))). Count V comprises (perhaps) state and federal false arrest and false imprisonment claims against both the City and Ledbetter and Wood (this time just individually). Am. Compl. 17. Count VI is a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the same parties. Id. at 18.

         Ledbetter and the City's motion to dismiss argues (1) that, to the extent that Counts I-VI seek to bring federal constitutional claims against the City under Monell, they still fail to allege sufficient facts to support the inference that the city could be liable for any violations, City Mot. Dismiss 4; (2) that insufficient facts are pleaded to support the inference that any individual defendant failed to intervene under Count II, id. at 8-9; (3) that equal protection is an inappropriate basis upon which to bring a claim for excessive force in an arrest, id. at 9-10; (4) that the false arrest claims contained in Counts I and V fail because the claim was previously dismissed, Collier admits in his pleadings that Ledbetter had probable cause to arrest Collier, Ledbetter has qualified immunity in any case, and the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), forbids Collier from challenging his arrest, City Mot. Dismiss 11-14.

         Wood's motion to dismiss (1) repeats the previous motion's argument that insufficient facts are alleged to support a failure to intervene claim in Count II, Wood Mot. Dismiss 3-5; (2) repeats the previous motion's argument that equal protection is an inappropriate basis upon which to bring an excessive force arrest claim, id. at 5-6; (3) argues that Wood cannot be sued under Counts IV-VI because the statute of limitations bars the claims against him, id. at 6-8; (4) repeats the previous motion's multiple arguments against the false arrest claims in Counts I and V, id. at 8-11.

         It is not surprising that the two motions to dismiss duplicate each other at times, since counsel for all defendants is the same, and the issues as between the City and Ledbetter on one hand, and Wood on the other, similar. In an attempt at clarity, the Court will first explain why the renewed federal claims against the City pursuant to Monell fail, and will then address Defendants' other arguments in turn, to the extent that they address non-Monell issues.

         I. Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841 (7th Cir. 2012). A court will dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In determining whether such a claim has been stated, a court should first identify pleadings that “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). It should then take the remaining, well-pleaded factual allegations, “assume their veracity[, ] and . . . determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. This means that a complaint must provide “allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1084 (7th Cir. 2008).

         II. Analysis

         a. Monell Liability: Counts I-VI

         i. Legal Standard

         A municipality cannot be held liable for a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. Rather, liability may only be ascribed to a municipality “if the unconstitutional act complained of is caused by: (1) an official policy adopted and promulgated by its officers; (2) a governmental practice or custom that, although not officially authorized, is widespread and well settled; or (3) an official with final policy-making authority.” Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 604 F.3d 293, 303 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690). An “allegation of a single incident of unconstitutional conduct by a municipal employee usually does not establish a sufficient basis for suing [a] municipality, ” ...

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