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Townsel v. Jimmerson

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

March 6, 2017



          Virginia M. Kendall, U.S. District Court Judge.

         On November 15 2015, Plaintiff Shawn Townsel initiated this Bivens action against Defendants, U.S. Postal Service employee Ellen Spaulding and Postal Inspectors Jason Jamerson and Mark Maskas, [1] for violations of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. Townsel alleges that the Defendants used excessive force (Count I), conducted an unreasonable search and seizure (Counts I and III), and falsely detained him (Count II) during the course of their investigation into claims that he improperly possessed a firearm on Postal Service property For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


         The Court treats the following allegations as true for purposes of evaluating this motion. See Gillard v. Proven Methods Seminars, LLC, 388 F. App'x 549, 550 (7th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff was employed at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) O'Hare Airport International Service Center (ISC). (Dkt. 1 ¶ 21.) On November 23, 2013, three female employees at the ISC informed Defendant Ellen Spaulding, Manager of Distribution Operations, that Plaintiff had threatened a coworker with a firearm and had also threatened them.[2] (Dkt. 1 ¶ 12.)

         The following day, Spaulding interviewed Plaintiff regarding these allegations in the presence of Defendant Jamerson and Postal Inspector Mark Maskas (the Inspectors). (Dkt. 1 ¶ 13.) After the interview, the Inspectors searched Plaintiff's locker and belongings, where they discovered his car key. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 14.) Defendant Jamerson remained with Plaintiff in the ISC while Maskas located Plaintiff's vehicle. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 14.) After his car was located in the ISC parking garage, Plaintiff was placed in handcuffs and driven to his vehicle. (Dkt.1 ¶ 15.)

         The Inspectors searched Plaintiff's vehicle where they found a cased and unloaded 9mm Beretta and a box of 9mm ammunition in violation of federal law.[3] (Dkt. 1 ¶ 15.) After finding the gun, the Inspectors transported Plaintiff to a holding cell at the ISC while paperwork and evidence were processed. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 16.) Plaintiff was then shackled and transported to a different holding facility. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 17.) Plaintiff claims that during his transport all of the Defendants cursed or yelled at him, and that Inspectors Jamerson and Maskas assaulted him. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 16-17.) After six hours at the second holding facility, the Inspectors transported Plaintiff back to the ISC where he was detained and eventually released. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 18, 20.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff was put on off-duty status based on an Emergency Placement recommendation from Ms. Spaulding, and was eventually terminated. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 21.)

         Plaintiff eventually paid a fine for possessing a firearm on USPS property, a misdemeanor in violation of 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(1) (2017) (“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, rule or regulation, no person while on postal property may carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed, or store the same on postal property, except for official purposes.”).


         For a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), it must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible on its face when the complaint contains factual content that supports a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the harm. Id. In making the plausibility determination, the Court relies on its “judicial experience and common sense.” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). The complaint should be dismissed only if the plaintiffs would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Christensen v. Cty. of Boone, IL, 483 F.3d 454, 458 (7th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Yeftich v. Navistar, Inc., 722 F.3d 911, 915 (7th Cir. 2013).


         As Defendants are all federal employees, Plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 374 (1971) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[4] Bivens actions provide “an implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen's constitutional rights.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675. While “[t]he factors necessary to establish a Bivens violation will vary with the constitutional provision at issue”-Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-the Court in Bivens noted that any violation of an individual's right to be secure in their person from unreasonable search and seizure “by a federal agent acting under color of his authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages consequent upon his unconstitutional conduct.” Bivens, 403 U.S. at 389.

         Defendants advance four arguments in support of their motion to dismiss. First, they argue that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Supreme Court's rule in Bush v. Lucas, which precludes Bivens actions by federal employees whose claims could be addressed by a comprehensive statutory scheme that provides for remedies against the United States. Gustafson v. Adkins, 803 F.3d 883, 889 n.5 (7th Cir. 2015); see also Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367, 378 (1983). Second, Defendants contend that because Plaintiff did not invalidate his underlying gun possession conviction, his claims are barred by the Supreme Court's rule in Heck v. Humphrey, that “a constitutional claim that would undermine a criminal conviction if vindicated cannot be brought until the defendant's conviction is nullified.” Wallace v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2006), aff'd sub nom. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007); see also Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). Third, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's suit should be dismissed because he failed to adequately plead his Fourth Amendment claims against each of the Defendants individually. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         I. Bush v. Lucas

         Defendants first argue that the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Lucas and its progeny preclude Plaintiff's suit. (Dkt. 23 at 7.) In Lucas, the Supreme Court determined that federal employees are not entitled to bring constitutional tort suits when comprehensive statutory remedies can address their claims. Lucas, 462 U.S. at 388-89. This reasoning applies to any administrative scheme that “provide[s] meaningful redress and thereby foreclose[s] the need to fashion a new, judicially crafted cause of action.” Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61, 68 (2001). The Seventh Circuit has specifically precluded constitutional tort suits brought by USPS employees pursuant to Bush v. Lucas. See Ellis v. U.S. Postal Serv., 784 F.2d 835, 839-40 (7th Cir. 1986) (noting that “Congress expressly authorized” appropriate civil service remedies).

         Defendants argue that pursuant to Lucas, Plaintiff's suit is barred because, as a USPS employee, the Civil Service Reform Act and the Federal Employees Compensation Act provide comprehensive administrative remedies to address his claims. (Dkt. 28 at 2-3.) Plaintiff contends that, because he is not seeking redress for an employment action, Lucas is inapplicable. (Dkt. 27 at 6-7.)

         A. Civil ...

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