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Lovett v. Neff

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 9, 2017

HARDING LOVETT, # A-90919, Plaintiff,
v.
JARRETT K. NEFF, BETH NESTER, STATE ATTORNEY OFFICE of ST. CLAIR COUNTY, ST. CLAIR COUNTY, ILLINOIS, ST. CLAIR COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT., SHANE BROWN, KURT EVERSMAN, KEVIN KOCUREK, WILLIAM CASTO, and MATHEW LINDLEY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose from his arrest and criminal proceedings while he was detained at the St. Clair County Jail (“the Jail”). This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         An action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross “the line between possibility and plausibility.” Id. at 557. Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that two of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         According to Plaintiff, on September 29, 2015, Neff (St. Clair County Sheriff's Officer) lied about Plaintiff engaging in criminal activity in order to obtain a search warrant. (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 12). The warrant was issued, but Plaintiff asserts it lacked probable cause as it was based on false information from Neff. On September 30, 2015, Neff and other unnamed officers entered Plaintiff's apartment and arrested him. (Doc. 1, pp. 10-11, 13). During the arrest, they threw Plaintiff against a wall. (Doc. 1, p. 12). Plaintiff claims the arrest was improper because there was no valid warrant. (Doc. 1, pp. 11-12).

         At some point after Plaintiff was taken to the St. Clair County Jail on September 30, 2015, he was “illegally strip search[ed]” by the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. (Doc. 1, p. 14). He lists Officers Brown, Eversman, Kocurek, Costo, and Lindley as being responsible for the strip search, and names the Sheriff's Department and St. Clair County as Defendants in connection with that event. (Doc. 1, p. 2).

         On October 16, 2015, Neff “creat[ed] even more false information” in a report which stated he was the testifying witness for the grand jury, and forged a signature of a “non-existent person” who Neff claimed was the grand jury foreman. (Doc. 1, p. 11). Also on October 16, 2015, the St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office allegedly violated Plaintiff's civil rights by denying him the preliminary hearing that had been scheduled for that date. Id.

         Plaintiff asserts that he was never actually indicted on the charges he faced, and thus was held in custody in violation of his constitutional rights for almost 2 years. (Doc. 1, pp. 8, 12). He claims that the St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office had set 3 different indictment dates, October 9, 2015; October 16, 2015; and August 11, 2016, but he was not indicted on any of those dates. (Doc. 1, p. 12).

         As of October 30, 2015, Plaintiff had been held for 30 days without a preliminary hearing or an official indictment, on Case No. CF-15-1181. (Doc. 1, p. 18). He seeks to hold the St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office liable for that violation, as well as for the alleged denials of his speedy trial rights on July 14, 2016. (Doc. 1, p. 18).

         On August 11, 2016, Nester (Assistant State's Attorney) violated Plaintiff's civil rights by “orchestrating an illegal proceeding” resulting in “illegal grand jury transcripts.” (Doc. 1 p. 7). Nester attempted to cover up Neff's incompetent investigation, and conspired with Lindley (St. Clair County Sheriff's Dept.) in an “illegal examination” where no grand jury was present. Id. Nester engaged in a malicious prosecution of Plaintiff. (Doc. 1 pp. 7-9).

         Also on August 11, 2016, a hearing was held on a motion to quash arrest and suppress illegally seized evidence. (Doc. 1, p. 12). Plaintiff represented himself at that hearing, and questioned Neff about matters leading up to the issuance of the search warrant on September 29, 2015. Neff admitted that he never observed Plaintiff breaking any laws, which Plaintiff contends should have resulted in the dismissal of the case against him.

         On November 30, 2016, Plaintiff was again subjected to an “illegal strip search” by the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. (Doc. 1, p. 14).

         Finally, Plaintiff claims that on June 2 and June 16, 2017, the St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office and the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department violated his civil rights by failing to comply with a FOIA request from Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, pp. 18-19). Plaintiff had sought copies of documents relating to the 21-day investigation of him that led to his arrest, but received only 10 pages, which did not include Neff's affidavit.

         Plaintiff seeks money damages for the violations of his civil rights; specifically for the “illegal arrest” on September 30, 2015; for “malicious prosecution;” for his “illegal incarceration;” and for the FOIA violation. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 9, 15).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: Neff obtained a search warrant based on false information about Plaintiff's alleged illegal activity, then searched Plaintiff's home and arrested him using that warrant which lacked probable cause;
Count 2: Neff and/or other sheriff's officer(s) used excessive force against Plaintiff during his arrest, by throwing him against a wall;
Count 3: Brown, Eversman, Kocurek, Costo, and Lindley subjected Plaintiff to an illegal strip search at the St. Clair County Jail ...

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