United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JADE V. GREEN, Plaintiff,
CHRIS QUICK, RUSSELL ADAMS, JACK HOWSER, and ANGELA HOWSER, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge
matter is now before the Court on Defendants Jack and Angela
Howsers' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 56) seeking dismissal
from the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The
underlying dispute is a claim by Plaintiff, Jade Green, that
the Howsers conspired with Defendants Chris Quick and Russell
Adams to deprive her of custody of her child (Doc. 1).
Plaintiff relies on 18 U.S.C. Section 1983 as a basis for
federal jurisdiction. The Court already denied Motions to
Dismiss filed by Defendants Quick and Adams (Docs. 30, 31),
finding that they did not carry the burden of establishing
that they were entitled to qualified immunity for their
actions (Doc. 43). For reasons detailed below, this Court
hereby denies the Howsers' Motion to Dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction or failure to state a claim
because under controlling circuit precedent the allegations
in the complaint are sufficient to move beyond a Rule
12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
facts set forth in this Court's Order (Doc. 43) denying
Defendants Quick and Adams' Motion to Dismiss are
incorporated by reference. In essence, Plaintiff's
complaint alleges that the Howsers acted in conspiracy with
Quick and Adams to deprive her of custody of her child.
Plaintiff alleges that the Howsers developed a plan with
Quick and Adams as an end-run around state court custody
proceedings that were proving unsuccessful as a mechanism for
the Howsers to secure custody of Plaintiff's child.
motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction,
brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)
requires the Court to assess the jurisdictional basis for
hearing a case. A challenge may be either factual or facial.
A factual challenge contends that there is in fact
no subject matter jurisdiction, even if the pleadings are
formally sufficient. In reviewing a factual challenge, the
Court may look beyond the pleadings and view any evidence
submitted to determine if subject matter jurisdiction exists.
In contrast, a facial challenge argues that the plaintiff has
not sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter
jurisdiction. In reviewing a facial challenge, the court must
accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.
Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173 (7th Cir.
2015) (emphasis in original, internal citations omitted). A
12(b)(1) motion may be properly construed as a facial
challenge if it alleges that plaintiffs lack sufficient
factual allegations to establish standing, or if the
pleadings are otherwise somehow plainly deficient. See
Court accepts all factual allegations as true when reviewing
a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). At the motion to dismiss stage the
Court is evaluating the sufficiency of the complaint, not the
merits of the case. Gibson v City of Chicago, 910
F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To avoid dismissal for
failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain a short
and plain statement of the claim sufficient to show
entitlement to relief and to notify the defendant of the
allegations made against him. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). In
order to meet this standard, a complaint must describe the
claims in sufficient factual detail to suggest a right to
relief beyond a speculative level. Id.; Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); EEOC v. Concentra
Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). A
complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations,
Scott v. Chuhak & Tescon, P.C., 725 F.3d 772,
782 (7th Cir. 2013), but it must go beyond “mere labels
and conclusions” and contain “enough to raise the
right to relief above the speculative level, ”
G&S Holdings, LLC v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 697
F.3d 534, 537-38 (7th Cir. 2012). Put another way, to survive
a motion to dismiss “the plaintiff must give enough
details about the subject-matter of the case to present a
story that holds together [. . .] the court will ask itself
could these things have happened, not did
they happen.” Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614
F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010).
conspiracy claim need not be pled with Federal Rule 9(b)
particularity, but conspiracy claims have historically been
held to a higher pleading standard than others. See
Cooney v. Rossiter, 583 F.3d 967, 971 (7th Cir. 2009)
(discussing the conspiracy pleading standard in the context
of an alleged conspiracy to deprive a parent of custody of
her children); Loubser v. Thacker, 440 F.3d 439,
442-43 (7th Cir. 2006) (discussing the conspiracy pleading
standard in the context of a Section 1983 claim). The
heightened standard requires the plaintiff to allege the
parties, the general purpose, and the approximate date of the
conspiracy. Loubser, 440 F.3d at 443. The Seventh
Circuit has found a conspiracy claim to be sufficiently
stated even where the complaint was disjointed and the
allegations of conspiracy were scattered throughout.
the Seventh Circuit has found that a general allegation of
conspiracy against various participants in child custody
proceedings was insufficient where the plaintiff simply
alleged that a conspiracy existed without providing more
specifics. Cooney, 583 F.3d at 971 (“The
complaint in this case…is bereft of any suggestion,
beyond a bare conclusion, that the remaining defendants were
leagued in a conspiracy with the dismissed defendants. It is
not enough that the complaint charges that ‘Bischoff
and Dr. Lyle Rossiter, with the aid of Judge Nordquist, Dan
Cain, and Brian Klaung continued the ongoing violations of
Plaintiff Deborah's Constitutional rights.' That is
Brokaw v. Mercer, the Seventh Circuit considered a
case with striking factual similarities to the case at bar
where a child was suing local law enforcement, human services
officials, court officials, and private citizens for
conspiring to remove him from the custody of his parents.
Brokaw v. Mercer Cnty.,235 F.3d 1000 (7th Cir.
2000). The child relied on Section 1983, and specifically
asserted theories for relief under the Fourth Amendment, and
based on substantive and procedural due process. Id.
The Brokaw Court noted that, “[w]hile a
private citizen cannot ordinarily be held liable under
Section 1983 because that statute requires action under color
of state law, if a private citizen conspires with a state
actor, then the private citizen is subject to Section 1983
liability.” Id. at 1016. Brokaw
defined the following elements for a Section 1983 conspiracy
claim: ”that (1) a state official and private
individual(s) reached an understanding to deprive the
plaintiff of his constitutional rights, ...