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Riggs v. Sonney

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

July 10, 2017

STEVEN RIGGS, Plaintiff,
DEPUTY SHERIFF JON SONNEY, #7718, Individually & COOK COUNTY, Defendants.



         The issues before the Court arise from Plaintiff's emergency motion asking this Court to dismiss his claims without prejudice. (Pl.'s Mot at 1, ECF No. 100.) The claims in this action stem from a 2013 altercation at the Cook County Jail between Officer Sonney (“Defendant”) and Steven Riggs (“Plaintiff”), a former inmate at the jail. Defendant now asks this Court to reconsider its decision granting Plaintiff's emergency motion. For the reasons explained below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         After the 2013 incident, Plaintiff, pro se at the time, filed a complaint against Defendant for, among other things, excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because Plaintiff was incarcerated at the time he filed his complaint, his claims were governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). Shortly after Plaintiff filed his complaint, he was charged criminally with aggravated battery from the altercation that gave rise to this action. (Def. Mot. Recons. at 2, ECF No. 103.) This action was stayed from March 2015 to May 2016 during the pendency of Plaintiff's criminal case. The stay was lifted after Plaintiff was found not guilty and released from custody. (Id.) In September of that year, four months after the stay was lifted, this case was dismissed for want of prosecution after Plaintiff failed to appear, but was reinstated a month later. (See ECF Nos. 66 & 81.) In March of this year, Plaintiff retained counsel and amended his complaint to include a malicious prosecution claim.

         On the morning the statute of limitations for the malicious prosecution claim was set to run, Plaintiff asked this Court to dismiss his complaint without prejudice so he could refile his claims to circumvent the constraints of PLRA. In short, Plaintiff argued that if his motion is denied he would be prejudiced in this action because the PLRA limits damage recovery and attorney's fees for his claims. Defendant, on the other hand, argued that Plaintiff is improperly attempting to avoid the constraints of the PLRA.

         This Court granted Plaintiff's emergency motion and noted that Defendant could file a motion to reconsider. From the Court's vantage point, this essentially created a period of status quo. Plaintiff could file a new action (effectively amending the complaint) and Defendant could brief the legal merits of his position opposing the voluntary dismissal. This court could then resolve the issues after more fully considering the parties' arguments and the implications of Plaintiff's motion.

         II. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2), “an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2). It is within the district court's discretion whether to grant a motion for voluntary dismissal. Wojtas v. Capital Guardian Trust Co., 477 F.3d 924, 927 (7th Cir. 2007). The district court's decision will only be reversed upon a showing of abuse of discretion. Tyco Labs., Inc. v. Koppers Co., 627 F.2d 54, 56 (7th Cir. 1980) (citing Stern v. Barnett, 452 F.2d 211, 213 (7th Cir. 1971)). “[I]t is an abuse of discretion for the district court to permit the voluntary dismissal of an action where the defendant would suffer ‘plain legal prejudice' as a result.” (Id.) (quoting United States v. Outboard Marine Corp., 789 F.2d 497, 502 (7th Cir. 1986)). While there is no bright line rule as to what amounts to plain legal prejudice a “showing of injury in fact, such as the prospect of a second lawsuit or the creation of a tactical advantage” will not be sufficient to justify the plaintiff's motion to dismiss. Quad/Graphics, Inc. v. Fass, 724 F.2d 1230, 1234 (7th Cir. 1983).

         The Seventh Circuit has set forth factors a court should consider when ruling on a motion to voluntary dismiss. The factors include:

[The] defendant's effort and expense of preparation for trial, excessive delay and lack of diligence on the part of the plaintiff in prosecuting the action, insufficient explanation for the need to take a dismissal, and the fact that a motion for summary judgment has been filed by the defendant.

Pace v. S. Express Co., 409 F.2d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1969) (citing 5 Moore's Federal Practice, § 41.05 [1] (2d ed. 1968)).

         While the Pace factors serve as a helpful framework in assessing the parties' arguments, the ultimate decision is within the court's discretion. See Tyco, 627 F.2d at 56 (“The enumeration of the factors to be considered in Pace is not equivalent to a mandate that each and every such factor be resolved in favor of the moving party before dismissal is appropriate. It is rather simply a guide for the trial judge, in whom the discretion ultimately rests.”).

         “Legal prejudice may arise where dismissal would strip a defendant of a defense in potential litigation in an alternative forum.” Futch v. AIG, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43553, No. 07-402-GPM, at *18 (S.D. Ill. June 15, 2007.) Compare Kovalic v. DEC Int'l, Inc., 855 F.2d 471, 474 (7th Cir. 1988) (“DEC must establish concrete prejudice beyond the mere self-inflicted deprivation of a federal forum. The prospect of facing a subsequent lawsuit in a state rather than a federal court does not constitute prejudice when, as here, the defendant-appellant fails to take advantage of the opportunity to remove the case to federal court.”). The Seventh Circuit has expressly held that plain legal prejudice occurs when the dismissal will result in the loss of a valid statute of limitations defense by the nonmoving party. Wojtas, 477 F.3d at 928. In Wojtas, the plaintiff sought to dismiss the case under Rule 41(a)(2) in order to refile it in a jurisdiction with a longer statute of limitations period. Id. at 925-26. The district court denied plaintiff's motion finding that the dismissal was improper on the grounds it would amount to “plain legal prejudice.” Id. at 927. The Seventh Circuit agreed, holding that the state law statute of limitations “conferred on [defendant] a vested right . . . that would have been rendered useless if voluntary dismissal without prejudice was granted.” Id. The Wojitas court determined that “‘[the] expiration of the limitations period extinguishes the cause of action of the potential plaintiff and it also creates a right enjoyed by the would-be defendant to insist on that statutory bar.'” Id. (quoting Colby v. Columbia County, 202 Wis.2d 342, 350 (1996)). Thus, it is improper to grant a voluntary motion to dismiss where the result is defendant's loss of a valid statute of limitations defense.

         III. ...

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