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Lee v. Village of Glen Ellyn

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

May 15, 2017



          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are Defendant United Airlines's motion to dismiss [21] and Plaintiff Breland Barcel Lee's motion for leave to file a first amended complaint [31]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion to dismiss [21] is granted and Plaintiff's motion to amend [31] is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Breland Barcel Lee, a citizen of North Carolina, flew from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago, Illinois on Defendant United Airlines (“United”) on April 13, 2016. Upon deplaning at O'Hare International Airport, Plaintiff alleges that he was “accosted” and “aggressively questioned” by members of a Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) interdiction task force. [1, ¶ 21.] According to Plaintiff, “an unknown employee of United Airlines” works as a “paid confidential informant” for the DEA task force and “regularly provides the entire flight manifests” to task force officers to “personally enrich himself/herself, ” rather than for any legitimate security purpose. Id. ¶¶ 11-13. Purportedly in reliance on this manifest, the task force agents singled out Plaintiff.

         Specifically, the task force officers allegedly demanded Plaintiff's identification and continued to “harass” Plaintiff after he told them that he did not want to answer their questions. Id. ¶ 24. The officers then followed Plaintiff to the gate for his connecting flight. When he reached his connecting gate, an unknown DEA task force officer “had a conversation with the United Airlines gate agent around boarding time * * * to delay plaintiff's boarding.” Id. ¶ 28. The officers were ultimately able to delay Plaintiff from boarding, at which point they “forcefully physically seized his suitcase.” Id. ¶ 29. His suitcase was returned days later “missing approximately $4, 900.” Id. ¶ 30.

         Based on this conduct, Plaintiff filed a four-count complaint against one named DEA task force officer (Anthony Terranova, who is also an officer of the Village of Glen Ellyn Police Department [1, ¶ 5]), three unnamed DEA task force officers, United, and the Village of Glen Ellyn. Counts I, II, and III assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Terranova, the other DEA task force officers, and United for unlawful seizure of Plaintiff's suitcase, person, and currency, respectfully. Count IV is solely an indemnity claim against the Village of Glen Ellyn.

         Defendant United filed a motion to dismiss all claims asserted against it [21]. While that motion was pending, Plaintiff settled with Officer Terranova and the Village of Glen Ellyn, both of whom have been dismissed from this case [39]. Complicating matters, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint [31] the day after United filed its reply brief in support of its motion to dismiss [29]. The proposed amended complaint asserts seven counts. Counts I and II are still 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for seizure of Plaintiff's suitcase and person, but are now asserted against the three unnamed DEA task force officers, United, and the unnamed United employee who allegedly doubles as a confidential informant for the task force (“John Doe”). Under these counts, the claims against United are both for “Respondeat Superior” in its capacity as John Doe's employer and for United's “acts and omissions pursuant to [its] policies and practices.” [31-1, ¶¶ 50, 54.] Count III is for “Conspiracy to Violate [Fourth] Amendment Rights, ” and is asserted against all five Defendants. Id. at 11-12. Count IV is for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED”) under Illinois law and is asserted against all Defendants. Against United, this claim is also asserted on the grounds of “Respondeat Superior” and its “policies and practices.” Id. ¶ 63. Counts V and VI mirror Counts I and II, but are asserted under Section 6 of the Illinois Constitution. Id. at 13-14. Count VII asserts a false imprisonment claim under Illinois law against United only. Id. at 15.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)) (alteration in original). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all of Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007).

         Rule 15 permits a party to amend its complaint once as a matter of course either within 21 days after serving it or 21 days after service of responsive pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Rule 15 also directs that courts “should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “This liberal policy of granting amendments is based in part on the belief that decisions on the merits should be made whenever possible, absent countervailing considerations.” Olech v. Vill. of Willowbrook, 138 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1040 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (citation omitted). A court should give leave to amend “‘[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment.'” Barry Aviation, Inc. v. Land O'Lakes Mun. Airport Comm'n, 377 F.3d 682, 687 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “‘The decision to grant or deny a motion to file an amended pleading is a matter purely within the sound discretion of the district court.'” Soltys v. Costello, 520 F.3d 737, 743 (7th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Defendant United's motion to dismiss raises a host of arguments against Plaintiff's original complaint: (1) claims based on actions taken by the DEA task force are not viable under Section 1983 because that statute applies only to actions taken under color of state law; (2) there is no corresponding cause of action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), against private actors; (3) United was, at best, a bystander who agreed to help law enforcement, which does not expose it to Section 1983 liability; (4) United did not play a role in-let alone cause-the alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights; (5) United cannot be held liable under Section 1983 under a respondeat superior liability theory; and (6) Plaintiff failed to satisfy the procedural requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act. [See 22.]

         Defendant's motion to dismiss is resolved by answering whether the DEA interdiction task force described in the complaint acted under color of federal or state law. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “[A]n action brought pursuant to § 1983 cannot lie against federal officers acting under color of federal law.” Case v. Milewski, 327 F.3d 564, 567 (7th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff contends that the task force acted under state law because it is “comprised primarily of local law enforcement officers working for and being paid by local law enforcement agencies.” [40, ¶ 4.] Plaintiff further argues that “the agent the United employee conspired with [i.e., former Defendant Terranova] is a village of Glen Ellyn police officer acting in the scope of his employment with Glen Ellyn.” [26, at 5.] Defendant responds that the two allegations in the original complaint involving its employees concern interactions with only federal officers. [See 1, ¶ 11 (John Doe “provided the DEA Chicago Field Division with the flight manifest” for Plaintiff's flight); id. ¶ 28 (“One of Defendant Unknown DEA Task Force Officers had a conversation with the United Airlines gate agent around boarding time”).] Moreover, there are no actual allegations in the original complaint that United conspired with former Defendant Terranova.

         These arguments focus too narrowly. “The United States Department of Justice, acting through the [DEA], enters into task force agreements with participating local law enforcement agencies to undertake joint investigations.” Bordeaux v. Lynch, 958 F.Supp. 77, 84 (N.D.N.Y. 1997). “Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 878(b) and 5 U.S.C. § 3374(c), state and local law enforcement officers designated as federal task force members are treated as federal employees for the purposes of any federal tort liability statute.” Aikman v. Cty. of Westchester, 691 F.Supp.2d 496, 498-99 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). “Courts have consistently treated local law enforcement agents deputized as federal agents and acting as part of a federal task force as federal agents.” Colorado v. Nord, 377 F.Supp.2d 945, 949 (D. Colo. 2005). In doing so, these courts have found that Section 1983 does not apply.[1] Courts have even held that Section 1983 claims cannot be pursued against this same DEA task force in Chicago for this same reason. See Amoakohene v. Bobko, 792 F.Supp. 605, 608 (N.D. Ill. 1992) (“[T]he purpose of the joint task force was to stymie drug trafficking. * * * [W]hen the plaintiffs ...

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