Submitted October 18, 2017 [*]
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 16 C 08263 -
Manish S. Shah, Judge.
Flaum, Ripple, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.
ROVNER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Armstrong appeals the denial of his motion for post-judgment
relief in this lawsuit alleging that he was wrongfully
arrested and prosecuted for violating the Illinois Sex
Offender Registration Act. The district court, which
dismissed Armstrong's original and amended complaints
before service, concluded that relief under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 59(e) was time-barred and that Armstrong did
not raise valid grounds for relief under Rule 60(b). We
disagree, as the district court's analysis of
Armstrong's request for the assistance of counsel-as
reiterated in his post-judgment motion-was flawed. Thus we
vacate and remand for further proceedings.
was convicted in October 2011 of failing to register as a sex
offender, 730 ILCS § 150/6, but that conviction was
later reversed on appeal. The Appellate Court of Illinois
concluded that Armstrong's earlier plea agreement for the
offense of unlawful restraint, 720 ILCS § 5/10-3, did
not provide a factual basis for requiring him to register as
a sex offender, see 730 ILCS § 150/2(B)(1.5).
Thus, the court decided, Armstrong was not guilty of failing
to register. See People v. Armstrong, 50 N.E.3d 745,
749-51 (111. App. Ct. 2016). The state then dropped the
charges against Armstrong.
lawsuit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Armstrong
alleges that police officers who arrested and charged him
with failure to register knew at the time that he was not
required to register as a sex offender. He contends that
police ignored and concealed exculpatory evidence, falsified
documents to make it appear as though he had to register, and
propelled his prosecution despite knowing of his innocence.
case is one of thirteen lawsuits Armstrong has filed
in the Northern District of Illinois relating to his arrest,
prosecution, and conviction for failing to register as a sex
offender; most were dismissed for failure to comply with
technical procedural rules. But he received a decision on the
merits when he raised claims similar to the ones he pursues
in this case in a nearly identical complaint he filed in
2014, before his conviction was overturned. District Judge
Robert M. Dow, Jr., dismissed Armstrong's Fourth
Amendment claims for unlawful arrest as untimely and the
remainder of his claims as barred by the rule against
collateral challenges to convictions found in Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). See Armstrong v.
Villa Park Police Dep't, No. 14 CV 09086 (N.D. 111.
Feb. 17, 2015). We dismissed Armstrong's appeal of that
decision (No. 15-1533) for his failure to pay the required
filing fee. See Cm. R. 3(b).
filed his first complaint in this case, Armstrong sought
leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee; he also
filed two motions asking the district court to recruit a
lawyer to help him. The district court (Judge Manish S. Shah)
granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and
screened Armstrong's complaint as required by 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B). The court concluded that the
false-arrest claim already had been litigated before Judge
Dow, and that the other allegations did not state a claim for
a violation of due process or the improper withholding of
exculpatory evidence, see Brady v. Maryland, 373
U.S. 83 (1963). The court gave Armstrong leave to replead and
said that the motions for court-recruited counsel were
"entered and continued and [would] be addressed if
plaintiff files an amended complaint."
filed an amended complaint alleging essentially the same
facts. The district judge again dismissed the complaint under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), this time with prejudice. As
for the pending motions for recruitment of counsel, the court
simply said that Armstrong "was given one opportunity to
amend, but was unable to state a claim. ... The motions for
attorney representation ... are denied."
district court entered judgment on January 12, 2017, but
granted Armstrong until March 15 to file a notice of appeal.
In the meantime, on February 21, Armstrong filed a
post-judgment motion invoking Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 59(e) and 60(b). In the motion Armstrong pressed
his allegations of police misconduct and suggested that
counsel should have been recruited for him, arguing that the
district court could "clearly see" that he needed
legal help from the many cases he already had lost. But he
also appeared to be confused about which of his
cases he was litigating: the caption listed the case numbers
from both the case assigned to Judge Dow (14 CV 09086) and
the later (current) case assigned to Judge Shah (16 CV
08263), and it discussed several decisions by Judge Dow.
district court denied the motion on February 27, 2017,
concluding that under Rule 59(e), the motion was untimely
because it was filed more than 28 days after entry of
judgment. Further, Armstrong had not identified any reason
under Rule 60(b)(1), (2), or (3) for granting relief from the
judgment, such as mistake, surprise, excusable neglect, new
evidence, or misrepresentation. Instead, Armstrong
"simply argue[d] that the complaint should not have been
dismissed because the defendants violated plaintiff's
constitutional rights, and counsel should have been recruited
for plaintiff." The court did not expressly consider
whether there was "any other reason that justifie[d]
relief/' for purposes of Rule 60(b)(6).
March 22, 2017, Armstrong filed a notice of appeal of the
decision "entered on 2-27-2017, " that is, the
denial of his post-judgment motion. If he intended to appeal
the underlying dismissal as well, he was out of time. The
district judge had extended the time to file a notice of
appeal from the underlying judgment only to March 15 (the
maximum), and Armstrong had not filed a timely Rule 59(e)
motion that paused the clock. We therefore notified Armstrong
that the notice was timely only as to the denial of
post-judgment relief. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a);
Bell v. McAdory, 820 F.3d 880, 882-83 (7th Cir.
appeal, Armstrong challenges the denial of his post-judgment
motion only obliquely, as most of his brief relates to
decisions by other judges in his other lawsuits. But he does
reprise his assertion that he needs legal assistance, saying
that "the court is suppose[d] to help" him and that
he is "not attorney" and does not "fully
understand civil law." We construe Armstrong's brief
generously, see Anderson v. Hardman,241 F.3d 544,
545 (7th Cir. 2001), and understand him to be challenging,
among other things, the district court's ...