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Purnell v. McCarthy

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

February 6, 2017

CORNELIUS PURNELL, Plaintiff,
v.
McCARTHY, CITY OF CHICAGO, MARCUS McGRONE, and TIFFANY MEEKS, each sued in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA R. PALLMEYER United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Cornelius Purnell has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants, two Chicago police officers, used excessive force against him and falsely arrested him. Plaintiff claims that the officers fired twenty-two shots at him, striking him eight times, even though he was unarmed, had not violated the law, and did not resist. To justify their action, the officers allegedly filed “trumped up” charges. Plaintiff contends, further, that all of this conduct is consistent with the Chicago Police Department's de facto policy and practice of allowing and even fostering police abuse by failing to properly train officers and by turning a blind eye to widespread instances of such misconduct. Both sides have moved for judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motions [63 and 64] are denied, and Defendants' motion [60] is granted.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standards for Judgment on the Pleadings

         Rule 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Such a motion is evaluated under the same standards that govern a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss: the court accepts as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construes all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Lodholtz v. York Risk Servs. Grp., 778 F.3d 635, 639 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Vesely v. Armslist LLC, 762 F.3d 661, 664-65 (7th Cir. 2014)); Hayes v. City of Chicago, 670 F.3d 810, 813 (7th Cir. 2012). In considering this motion, the court may rely on the pleadings, documents attached to or referred to in the pleadings, or information subject to judicial notice. See Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012) (addressing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)) (citations omitted); Lodholtz, 778 F.3d at 639 (explaining that the same standards govern Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(c) (citing Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2014)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted “only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief.” Buchanan-Moore v. Cty. of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998)).

         The court may take judicial notice of matters of public record. See Wigod v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 673 F.3d 547, 556 (7th Cir. 2012); Palay v. United States, 349 F.3d 418, 425 n.5 (7th Cir. 2003); Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). Such matters include public court documents, see White v. Keely, 814 F.3d 883, 885 n.2 (7th Cir. 2016), as well as “proceedings in other courts related to the matter presently before it.” Coexist Found., Inc. v. Fehrenbacher, No. 11 CV-6279, 2016 WL 4091623, at *3 n.1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 2, 2016) (Coleman, J.) (citing Opoka v. I.N.S., 94 F.3d 392, 394 (7th Cir. 1996)); see also United States v. Hope, 906 F.2d 254, 260 n.1 (7th Cir. 1990) (court may consider “proceedings in other courts, both within and outside of the federal judicial system, if the proceedings have a direct relation to matters at issue”) (citation omitted). To the extent that judicially-noticed facts contradict the allegations of the complaint, the court will not accept those allegations. Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1363 at 464-65 (3d ed. 2013); see also Goode v. PennyMac Loan Servs., LLC, No. 14 CV 1900, 2014 WL 6461689, at *3-4 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 18, 2014) (Chang, J.) (concluding that information in the public record, including a foreclosure action, mortgage documents, and assignments, rendered the allegations in the complaint “implausible”).

         II. Factual Allegations and Plaintiff's Guilty Plea

         Plaintiff alleges that on March 23, 2012, he was attending a birthday party in Chicago, Illinois, when he went outside to smoke a cigarette and make a call on his mobile telephone. Suddenly, he alleges, Defendants McGrone and Meeks, two Chicago police officers, appeared and “confronted” Plaintiff for no apparent reason. (Compl. ¶ 3.) At the time, Plaintiff asserts, he was not violating the law, was not carrying a weapon, and did not brandish anything that looked like a weapon in the officers' direction. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-7.) Nevertheless, Defendants pulled out their weapons and fired twenty-two rounds at him. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Eight bullets struck Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff heard McGrone remark, “He should be dead after all that.” (Comp. ¶ 5.)

         Defendants transported Plaintiff to Christ Hospital for treatment of his multiple gunshot wounds. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Afterwards, Plaintiff alleges, Defendants filed numerous “trumped up” charges against Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 10.) In the ensuing months, Plaintiff had to undergo several surgeries. (Compl. ¶ 11.) He suffered excruciating pain and mental anguish. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that the use of excessive force by Chicago law enforcement officers is so persistent and widespread that the Chicago Police Department has an effective policy and practice of allowing police mistreatment to continue unabated. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-17.) According to Plaintiff, police investigators turn a blind eye to citizen reports of police abuse. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff additionally maintains that the Chicago Police Department does not properly train its officers. (Compl. ¶ 16.)

         All of these allegations ordinarily would be presumed true for purposes of this motion, but as explained above, the court is also free to take judicial notice of matters of public record, even at the pleadings stage. In their motion, Defendants have demonstrated that Plaintiff pleaded guilty to charges arising from the March 2012 police encounter. Specifically, on April 29, 2015, he pleaded guilty pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement to unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. (See Defs.' Ex. B, Report of Proceedings in the Circuit Court of Cook County [60-2].) Plaintiff acknowledged in those proceedings that he was guilty of knowingly possessing on his person a .45 caliber handgun on March 23, 2012, after having previously been convicted of a felony offense. (Id. at 7-8). Plaintiff also pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated assault, admitting that he had pointed a handgun at Defendant McGrone. (Id.)

         The transcripts from the change-of-plea proceeding in the Cook County Circuit Court shed additional light on the circumstances surrounding the police encounter. The Cook County State's Attorney explained that Defendants were in the area in response to a call about a man with a gun. (Id. at 12.) When Defendants arrived at the address of the distress call, a woman exited a door yelling, “He's in the back yard!” (Id.) Plaintiff, through counsel, expressly stipulated that Defendants discovered him standing near a garage with a semi-automatic handgun in his hand. (Id. at 12-13.) Plaintiff also conceded that, when police ordered him to drop the gun, he instead raised the handgun and pointed it at the officers, at which point the officers fired their own weapons. (Id. at 13.) When the trial judge asked Plaintiff, “All right, is that, in fact, what happened?” Plaintiff responded, “Yes.” (Id. at 14.) The trial court found that there was a “factual basis for [Plaintiff's] guilty pleas to the charges of unlawful use and possession of a weapon by a felon, [and] to the charge of aggravated assault . . . .” (Id. at 14-15.)

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff's current account of the events of March 23 is wholly incompatible with both of his convictions. “[W]hen a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994); see also Viramontes v. City of Chicago, 840 F.3d 423, 427-28 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Heck). Until the sentence has been invalidated, the cause of action for damages simply “does not accrue.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 490. Whether or not the plaintiff intends to challenge his conviction is “irrelevant”: “if he makes allegations that are inconsistent with the conviction's having been valid, Heck kicks in and bars his civil ...


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