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Armstrong v. Krupiczowicz

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 3, 2017

Craig Armstrong, Plaintiff-Appellant,
James Krupiczowicz, et al., [1]Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted October 18, 2017 [*]

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 16 C 08263 - Manish S. Shah, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Ripple, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.


         Craig 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.

         Armstrong 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.

         In this 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.

         This 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).

         When he 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."

         Armstrong 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."

         The 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.

         The 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).

         On 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. 2016).

         On 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 ...

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