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Stokes v. P.O. Ewing #8653

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

May 22, 2017

CHARLES STOKES, Plaintiff,
v.
P.O. EWING #8653, P.O. ORTIZ #9748, and the CITY OF CHICAGO, a Municipal Corporation, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant City of Chicago's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Monell claim [ECF No. 16]. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Charles Stokes (“Stokes”) filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 to address alleged constitutional violations visited upon him by Chicago Police Officers Ewing and Ortiz (the “Defendant Officers”). The following facts are drawn from Stokes' Complaint and are, for purposes of this Motion, accepted as true, with all inferences drawn in his favor. See, e.g., Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2015).

         On September 2, 2015, Stokes was leaving the home of his mother-in-law when Defendant Officers searched his car without cause and falsely arrested him for possessing a firearm. (ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 5-10.) Stokes claims that they and Defendant City of Chicago (the “City”) proceeded with baseless charges, which were ultimately resolved in his favor. (Id. ¶¶ 14-17.) On November 21, 2015, Stokes was again leaving his mother-in-law's home when Defendant Officers stopped him without cause. (Id., Count III, ¶¶ 5-7.) They searched his person, took his car keys, and then searched his car. (Id., Count III, ¶¶ 9-10.) Despite finding nothing in his car, Defendant Officers claimed they had discovered “some weed/marijuana somewhere near the house, ” and subsequently arrested Stokes. (Id., Count III, ¶¶ 11-12.)

         After arresting Stokes, Defendant Officers informed him and a co-arrestee that they were going to jail for narcotics possession “unless they came up with a gun.” (Compl., Count VI, ¶ 13.) Both Stokes and his companion-in-misfortune told Defendant Officers that they did not have or own a gun. (Id., Count VI, ¶ 14.) At that point, “[o]ne or both” of Defendant Officers told them that they could only avoid jail by furnishing the police with a gun. (Id., Count VI, ¶ 15.) Because neither of them had a gun, Stokes' co-arrestee “arranged to obtain a gun.” (Id., Count VI, ¶¶ 16-17.) Once “a gun was tendered” to Defendant Officers, Stokes was released and requested that the other individual be released as well. (Id., Count VI, ¶¶ 18-19.) Defendant Officers replied that Stokes' co-arrestee would be released only if Stokes found them another gun. (Id.) Because he did not have a gun, “Stokes was ordered to hit the streets and obtain or buy an illegal gun and turn it over.” (Id., Count VI, ¶¶ 20-22.) Both were released once this second gun was found and presented to Defendant Officers. (Id., Count VI, ¶ 27.)

         With respect to the City, Stokes alleges that both Defendant Officers were acting within the scope of their employment and pursuant to “a custom practice and policy to arrest people on false charges and then in turn, have them conduct illegal felonious acts for the Chicago Police.” (Compl., Count VI, ¶¶ 22-23.) This “unwritten practice, customs [sic] and policy was done to keep a point/score for police officers in certain districts and reward officers accordingly for bringing in illegal guns off the street(s).” (Id., Count VI, ¶ 24.) Ultimately, Stokes attributes his false arrest to this “custom, practice and policy, ” which “promoted illegal arrests of innocent individuals.” (Id., Count VI, ¶¶ 25-26.)

         The City now seeks to dismiss Stokes' Monell claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint “must state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Adams, 742 F.3d at 728 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim enjoys “facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads sufficient factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.” Adams, 742 F.3d at 728 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A plaintiff must allege that all elements of his claim are satisfied, but cannot survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss by alleging only legal conclusions. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1147 (7th Cir. 2010). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Specific to Monell claims for municipal liability, the plaintiff must allege “that an official policy or custom not only caused the constitutional violation, but was the moving force behind it.” Estate of Sims ex rel. Sims v. Cnty. of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 514 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord, Teesdale v. City of Chicago, 690 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2012). To state such a claim, the plaintiff must allege that: (1) he suffered a deprivation of a federal right (2) as a result of either an express municipal policy, widespread custom, or deliberate act of a decision-maker with final policy-making authority for the city, which (3) was the proximate cause of his injury. See, Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978); accord, Gonzalez v. Vill. of West Milwaukee, 671 F.3d 649, 664 (7th Cir. 2012). The plaintiff must also plausibly point to the existence of an underlying constitutional violation. Houskins v. Sheahan, 549 F.3d 480, 493-94 (7th Cir. 2008).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In essence, Stokes is suing the City for instituting an implicit policy, custom, or practice that rewards officers in proportion to the number of guns confiscated and licenses the arrest of individuals on false charges unless they can obtain and turn over a gun. (ECF No. 23 (“Pl.'s Br.) at 3-4.) This policy, as applied to him, allegedly violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Compl. ¶ 28.)

         The City contends that Stokes' Complaint fatally lacks the requisite specificity to allege a plausible Monell claim. Conclusory and boilerplate allegations, the City points out, leave a complaint stranded. Further, the City argues that Stokes has not provided facts permitting an inference that the alleged policy was the driving force behind his injury - “that a widespread reward system directed or even influenced the Defendant Officers' actions” - or that the City was deliberately indifferent to the effects of its policy. (ECF No. 24 (“Reply”) at 5-6.) In addition, the City maintains that the Complaint fails to elevate what happened to Stokes and his co-arrestee above a “random event, ” because it does not identify other instances of the conduct claimed to be “widespread.” (Id. at 3-4.) (The City does not claim that Stokes fails to allege ...


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