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Mordi v. Zeigler

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 5, 2017

UCHE P. MORDI, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Todd Zeigler, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 20, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 11-CV-193-MJR - Michael J. Reagan, Chief Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, Chief Judge.

         In January 2012, proceeding pro se, Uche P. Mordi, a Nigerian national, filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against local and state officials for alleged violations associated with his 2009 arrest in southern Illinois. The district court screened Mordi's civil rights complaint, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. It dismissed with prejudice all claims except for those against three of the officers; the surviving claims relied on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, art. 36.1(b), Apr. 24, 1963, 21 U.S.T. 77, 596 U.N.T.S. 261 ("the Vienna Convention"). After the district court rejected the officers' assertion of qualified immunity on the Vienna Convention claims, they took an interlocutory appeal to this court. We ruled that all three-Todd Zeigler, Greg Chance, and Gregg Healey-were entitled to qualified immunity from Mordi's claim that they violated his rights under the Vienna Convention, and we remanded "with instructions to dismiss the action" against these three. Mordi v. Zeigler, 770 F.3d 1161, 1167 (7th Cir. 2014).

         On November 21, 2014, the district court dismissed the Vienna Convention claims against Zeigler, Chance, and Healey and entered final judgment on November 24, thus disposing of all claims against all parties brought by Mordi's January 2012 complaint. In an effort to revive his other theories for recovery, Mordi filed a motion on December 18, 2014, requesting that the district court revisit its section 1915A threshold screening order. The district court denied Mordi's motion, and Mordi has now brought a timely appeal from that decision. With the Vienna Convention claims off the table, Mordi now argues that Officers Zeigler and Nathan Zerrusen violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they stopped the car he was driving. They did so, Mordi asserts, not because they had probable cause for the traffic stop, but because they were engaged in impermissible racial profiling. In addition, he argues, the officers unlawfully prolonged the stop so that they could bring a drug-sniffing dog to the car. We conclude that the district court acted prematurely, and that Mordi's Fourth Amendment claim may move forward.


         Our review of the underlying facts can be brief. At approximately 1:10 p.m. on March 12, 2009, Mordi and a passenger, Aderinola Otesile, were traveling southbound on Interstate 57 in southern Illinois. They passed two Illinois state police cars parked in the median, one facing northbound, the other southbound. About ten minutes later, the northbound-facing car, driven by State Trooper Zeigler, pulled out into the southbound lane, approached Mordi's car, and signaled for him to pull over.

         Mordi complied immediately. Zeigler approached the vehicle on the passenger side and asked why the license plate was not on the front bumper, but instead was inside on the windshield. Mordi explained that the grille and bumper were cracked, and so he was not able to attach the plate to the front bumper. Zeigler also told him that the hood was not closed all the way; Mordi countered that the space between the hood and the body of the car was less than an inch.

         After that exchange, Zeigler asked Mordi for his license and insurance, and Mordi furnished both. Zeigler also asked for Otesile's identification. At that point Zeigler asked Mordi to get into the squad car; Mordi did so. By now Zeigler knew that Mordi was a student at Southern Illinois University, and so he asked Mordi questions about the school, his travel plans, and similar things, while he checked out Mordi's identification. Based on the results, Zeigler asked Mordi about an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in a misdemeanor marijuana case from White County, Illinois. Mordi said he knew nothing about any warrant, but he admitted that he had paid fines and complied with an unspecified disposition related to such an offense. He then commented that he "could only imagine a DUI case pending, if any."

         At some point Officer Zerrusen had joined the group. Mordi remained in the squad car for a few minutes while Zeigler and Zerrusen questioned Otesile, who was still sitting in Mordi's car. Zeigler returned to Mordi and told him that "everything was good/' and that he would issue Mordi a warning citation. He did so, gave it to Mordi to sign, and returned Mordi's identification to him. But the encounter was not yet over. Zeigler then asked Mordi if there were drugs in the car, and Mordi responded (somewhat equivocally) "there shouldn't be." Zeigler asked if he could search the car, but Mordi said no, several times. Some 20 minutes or so into the stop, at 1:34 p.m., Zeigler radioed for Rob Rich, of the Effingham County Sheriff's Department, to come to the car with his drug-sniffing dog. Rich arrived ten minutes later; the dog sniffed the car; and it alerted. The officers ordered Mordi and Otesile out of the car, searched it, and found crack cocaine in Mordi's duffle bag in the back seat.

         Mordi and Otesile were taken separately to the state police station in Effingham. Eventually, however, Mordi was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, federal drug charges for possessing with intent to distribute the cocaine. He is now serving a 120-month sentence for that conviction.


         Mordi brought the present case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he believes that the officers involved in his stop and detention violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court received the complaint on March 14, 2011. It is not late, however, because Mordi was incarcerated at the time, and he mailed his complaint from the prison on March 11, 2011. That gives him the benefit of the prison mailbox rule, see Taylor v. Brown,787 F.3d 851, 858-59 (7th Cir. 2015), under which his complaint is treated as filed within the two-year limit. See 735 ILCS 5/13-202. The district court dismissed with prejudice some, but not all, counts of Mordi's complaint. Its decision to deny qualified immunity to some of the defendants was immediately ...

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