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Bradford v. City of Chicago

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

May 15, 2017

Linda Bradford, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Develt Bradford, deceased, and Linda Bradford, Individually, Plaintiffs,
City of Chicago, a Municipal Corporation, Chicago Police Officer Phyllis Gill, Chicago Police Officer John Otto, and Detention Aide Darrin West, Defendants.



         Before this Court is the City of Chicago's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the recently added Monell claim to the above-captioned suit. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See, e.g., Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Mann v. Vogel, 707 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mann, 707 F.3d at 877. Moreover, “when evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, ” the Court may also consider “facts alleged by a plaintiff in a brief in opposition to a motion to dismiss . . . so long as they are consistent of the allegations in the complaint.” Smith v. Dart, 803 F.3d 304, 311 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[A] party opposing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion may submit materials outside the pleadings to illustrate the facts the party expects to be able to prove” and “may find it prudent to do so”) (citations omitted).


         The factual allegations in this case are simple, but serious. On November 15, 2011, Devalt Bradford was arrested and charged with first degree murder. R. 44 (Complaint) ¶¶ 9, 12. After some shuffling between interview rooms and lineups, on November 16, 2011, Bradford was placed in a holding cell in the Fifth District lockup beyond the sight and hearing of the police officer and detention aide on duty. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13, 18-19. The cell was outfitted with a security camera, but the camera was broken, and had been for years before. Id. ¶¶ 14-17, 23. Despite numerous complaints from officers, the camera was never repaired. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Plaintiff alleges that it is common knowledge that arrestees charged with serious felonies like murder are a suicide risk. R. 64 (Response) at 6. She further alleges that city employees knew of safer places in the lockup to hold “at-risk detainees” than the cell where Bradford was placed. Id.

         On duty that night were one police officer and one detention aide, though previously the standard had been to have three or four employees on lockup duty in the cellblock where Bradford was detained. Id. The detention aide on duty had complained to his superiors on more than one occasion before that shift that “two people is not enough to work lockup.” R. 64-2 at 6. No staffing adjustments were made in response to his complaints. Id.

         In the early hours of November 17, 2011, Bradford hanged himself by his pants. R. 44 ¶ 21. Three days later, again with only two employees on lockup duty and no functioning security cameras, another arrestee held at the Fifth District also committed suicide, hanging himself by his underpants. See Woods v. City of Chicago, No. 16 C 1671, slip op. at 1 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 23, 2016) (order denying motion for judgment on the pleadings).[1] According to Plaintiff, several other “extraordinary occurrences” such as deaths or serious injuries took place in city lockup cells beyond the sight and hearing of on-duty staff and without functioning cameras between 2006 and 2011.[2] R. 64 at 6-7.

         This case was brought by Bradford's wife on his behalf and in her individual capacity. It alleges that the continuous and systematic understaffing of city lockups and the City's ongoing failure to repair security equipment installed to ensure inmate safety created constitutionally unreasonable conditions of confinement for inmates at risk of suicide. R. 44 ¶¶ 53-56. She seeks to hold the City responsible for failing to adequately supervise her husband, who had been charged with murder, and thus to prevent his untimely death. Id. (Count IV). The City moves to dismiss the Monell claim “for boilerplate pleading.” R. 56.


         When the government takes people into its custody, the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment requires the government not to act with deliberate indifference to serious threats to prisoners' health and safety. Daniel v. Cook Cnty., 833 F.3d 728, 733 (7th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted); see also Cavalieri v. Shepard, 321 F.3d 616, 623 (7th Cir. 2003) (recognizing the right to be free from deliberate indifference to suicide).[3] For pre-trial detainees like Bradford, “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment imposes at least as robust a duty on government custodians.” Id.

         To hold the City liable in an unreasonable conditions of confinement case, Plaintiff must show that an “‘official policy, widespread custom, or action by an official with policy-making authority was the ‘moving force' behind [Bradford's] constitutional injury.'” Daniel, 833 F.3d at 734; see also Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Here, Plaintiff alleges that Bradford's death was the consequence of a widespread custom at the Fifth District lockup of inadequately supervising at-risk arrestees. Monell claims like Plaintiff's are typically proven by reference to four elements: (1) a widespread municipal practice so permanent and well-settled that it constitutes a custom; (2) a harm or risk of harm to the plaintiff that is sufficiently serious to implicate the Constitution; (3) the defendant municipality's deliberate indifference to that harm or risk; and (4) a causal link between the policy or custom of the municipality and the constitutional injury by the plaintiff. See Woodward v. Corr. Med. Servs. of Illinois, Inc., 368 F.3d 917, 926-27 (7th Cir. 2004). There is no question that the harm alleged in this case is serious. See Id. at 926 (finding the “serious harm” element “obviously satisfied” by an inmate's suicide). The City argues that as to each of the other elements, however, Plaintiff's allegations are inadequate to state a plausible claim for relief.

         As a preliminary matter, the Court has indicated its skepticism during status hearings in this case that a constitutional right to cameras in jail cells exists. Having now reviewed the case law, the Court remains skeptical.[4] This does not settle the matter, however, as to whether Plaintiff has stated a Monell claim against the City. In the Court's view, the right Plaintiff claims here is not to functioning surveillance cameras, but to constitutionally adequate care and supervision. If, as Plaintiff alleges, the security cameras were part of the City's system for supervising detainees, and if that system failed in a way that caused a deprivation of Bradford's constitutional rights, then the problem with the cameras may be an important part of Plaintiff's case for deliberate indifference. So while the broken camera does not, in itself, support a constitutional claim, it may nevertheless provide support for Plaintiff's broader argument that official indifference to systemic problems with supervision at the Fifth District lockup created unreasonable conditions of confinement leading to Bradford's suicide. See Daniel, 833 F.3d at 736-37 (finding no constitutional right to a grievance procedure but finding systemic problems with the jail's grievance procedure relevant to whether the government was deliberately indifferent to the plaintiff's medical needs).

         A. De ...

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