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Ellison v. General Iron Industries, Inc.

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

October 12, 2016

RYAN ELLISON, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL IRON INDUSTRIES, INC. and JOHN W. FRANO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles P. Kocoras United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant General Iron Industries, Inc.'s (“General Iron”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Ryan Ellison's (“Ellison”) Complaint (the “Complaint”), with prejudice, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (“Rule 12(b)(6)”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants General Iron's motion as to Count I, and denies the motion for Counts II-IX.

         BACKGROUND

         For purposes of the instant motion, the following well-pleaded allegations derived from the Complaint are accepted as true. Ed Miniat. Inc. v. Global Life Ins. Grp., Inc., 805 F.2d 732, 733 (7th Cir. 1986); Dilallo v. Miller & Steeno, P.C., et al., No. 16 C 51, 2016 WL 4530319, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 30, 2016). This principle, however, does not apply to legal conclusions; the Court will not consider conclusory claims. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court draws all reasonable inferences in Ellison's favor and construes all allegations in the light most favorable to him. Ed Miniat. Inc., 805 F.2d at 733; Dilallo, 2016 WL 4530319, at *1. On June 7, 2016, Ellison filed the Complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Thereafter, on July 21, 2016, General Iron, with co-Defendant John W. Frano's (“Frano”) consent, removed the action from the Cook County Circuit Court to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441, and 1446.

         According to the Complaint, Frano works as a police officer for the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”). Ellison alleges that Frano also works as a security officer for General Iron, and at all times relevant to the Complaint, General Iron employed him as a security officer. At all relevant times, Ellison claims that Frano was simultaneously “acting in the course and scope of his employment” with General Iron and under color of state ordinance, regulation, or law.

         On June 7, 2014, while Ellison and his friend were exploring Chicago on their bikes, Ellison asserts that he paused to take a photograph with a structure near a scrap yard belonging to General Iron at 1909 North Clifton Avenue. At that moment, Ellison contends that Frano drove up to him in a pick-up truck, swearing and yelling at him to leave. Ellison claims that Frano did not reveal to Ellison that he is a Chicago police officer or a security officer for General Iron. Ellison alleges that, in response to Frano's screams, he notified Frano that he was standing on public property. According to Ellison, Frano then “jumped out of the truck and approached [him] aggressively, yelling, swearing, and poking [him] in the chest.” Ellison also claims that Frano drew his CPD-issued gun and pointed it at him. Subsequently, Ellison alleges that, for fear that Frano would shoot, he fled on his bike. As he fled, according to Ellison, Frano continued to pursue him in his pick-up truck “at a high speed, against traffic, through stop lights and signs, and onto the sidewalk, ” leading Ellison to panic that “Frano would hit him or run him over.”

         Ellison claims that, on the basis of Frano's false allegations to the CPD, police officers arrested and charged Ellison with “trespassing, aggravated assault to a police officer, and felony aggravated battery to a police officer.” The state criminally prosecuted Ellison, and Frano testified for the state at the preliminary hearing and at the criminal trial. On October 21, 2015, Ellison was acquitted of all charges.

         Ellison alleges that he did not violate city, state, or federal law, and that Frano had no reason to believe that Ellison was in violation thereof. In support of this assertion, Ellison argues that “Frano did not have an arrest warrant, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, consent, or any other lawful basis to stop, detain, or seize” him. Ellison also claims that “Frano provided a false and incomplete version” of the incident to CPD officers who investigated the event to: (i) “justify and hide the use of force, assault and battery against” Ellison; (ii) “cover-up his illegal, tortious, injurious and unprofessional conduct;” and (iii) “fabricate probable cause to arrest” him. Finally, Ellison contends that Frano's actions, including the commencement of a criminal investigation against him, directly and proximately caused Ellison to suffer damages. Ellison alleges that his damages include his loss of physical liberty, where he was incarcerated in maximum security in Cook County Jail for approximately seven months while he awaited trial, “loss of time, loss of normal life, loss of his beloved pet, and severe emotional distress, and pecuniary damages including attorneys' fees, monies posted for bond, lost wages, and property loss/damage.”

         The Complaint contains nine Counts. Counts I-VIII specify that they pertain to Frano, and contain the same four prayers for relief, asking this Court to: (i) enter judgment in favor of Ellison; and award Ellison (ii) compensatory and punitive damages; (iii) attorneys' fees and costs; and (iv) additional relief the Court finds just and equitable. In Count IX, Ellison asserts that Frano's purported acts “described in the above paragraphs and claims were committed in the scope of employment, ” and “[p]ursuant to respondeat superior, Defendant General Iron is liable for its agents' actions.” It appears, therefore, that Ellison alleges that General Iron is liable for each of Counts I-VIII under a theory of respondeat superior.[1] On July 28, 2016, General Iron moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss “‘tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.'” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., No. 08 C 6105, 2011 WL 1196859, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 29, 2011), aff'd 694 F.3d 873 (2012)). The allegations in a complaint must set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff must “give the defendant ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007)). A plaintiff need not offer “detailed factual allegations, ” but he or she must provide enough factual support “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The pleadings must permit a “court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief” is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         DISCUSSION

         First, to the extent that Ellison alleges that General Iron is liable for Count I, an unreasonable seizure claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under a respondeat superior theory, Count I is dismissed against General Iron. As an initial matter, the doctrine of respondeat superior is a state law concept, not applicable to Count I. See, e.g., Vitaich v. City of Chi., No. 94 C 692, 1995 WL 493468, at *5 n.7 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 16, 1995). For that reason alone, Count I is dismissed against General Iron. Further, as General Iron argues in a footnote, the Seventh Circuit has held that “just as a municipal corporation is not vicariously liable upon a theory of respondeat superior for the constitutional torts of its employees, a private corporation is not vicariously liable under § 1983 for its employees' deprivations of others' civil rights.” Iskander v. Vill. of Forest Park, 690 F.2d 126, 128 (7th Cir. 1982) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)) (emphasis added). In Iskander, the Seventh Circuit extended the United States Supreme Court's holding in Monell, which rejected municipal liability under a respondeat superior theory, to private entities. See Id. More recently, it has questioned its wisdom in doing so, noting that the “Court has not directly said whether Monell applies to private corporations, and there are powerful reasons to say no.” Shields v. Ill. Dep't of Corr., 746 F.3d 782, 794 (7th Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 1024 (2015). Nonetheless, Seventh Circuit case law continues to “extend[ ] Monell from municipalities to private corporations.” Id. at 796; Hahn v. Walsh, 762 F.3d 617, 639-40 (7th Cir. 2014), reh'g and suggestion for reh'g en banc denied (Sept. 9, 2014), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 1419 (2015); Gaston v. Ghosh, No. 11 C 6612, 2016 WL 2986960, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 23, 2016) (“I must follow Seventh Circuit precedent, which immunizes private corporations . . . from § 1983 respondeat superior liability like the claim asserted here, ” dismissing Count III of plaintiff's complaint) (Zagel, J.) (emphasis added). Thus, General Iron is insulated from liability for a § 1983 claim under a respondeat superior theory unless Ellison alleges that “the constitutional violation was caused by an unconstitutional policy or custom of the corporation itself.” Bruce v. Ghosh, No. 11-cv-3138, 2015 WL 1727318, at *14 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 13, 2015) (citation omitted). Ellison has not alleged that General Iron engaged in unconstitutional policies that led to a violation of his rights. Ellison, therefore, has failed to state a claim for relief against General Iron with respect to Count I of the Complaint, and Count I is dismissed against General Iron with prejudice.

         General Iron presents two arguments in moving to dismiss the Complaint with respect to the remainder of the Counts. First, General Iron asserts that Ellison has not pled facts establishing a causal link between its and Frano's claimed conduct and Ellison's purported damages. Ellison, in response, argues that it has sufficiently alleged causation in the Complaint. The Court agrees with Ellison. “Under Illinois law, proximate cause consists of . . . cause in fact and legal cause.” Palay v. United States, 349 F.3d 418, 432 (7th Cir. 2003). “Cause in fact exists when the defendant's conduct ‘is a material element and a substantial factor in bringing about the injury.'” Id. (quoting First Springfield Bank & Trust v. Galman,720 N.E.2d 1068, 1072 (1999)). Legal cause questions “whether the injury is of a type that a reasonable person would see as a likely ...


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