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Hicks v. Cook County Sheriff's Office

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

March 30, 2018




         In early July 2015, Lorenzo Smith was driving with his girlfriend, Jasmin McBride, when he was stopped by police. R. 121, Jt. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 15-16.[1]What started as a routine traffic stop turned into an alleged scheme to extort guns from Smith and from McBride's mother, Patricia Hicks, in exchange for McBride's freedom. See Id. ¶ 14. Hicks filed a lawsuit, and then Smith and McBride filed a separate one. The Court consolidated the two separate cases, and the Plaintiffs have now filed a joint complaint. See R. 112, 09/29/17 Opinion at 28-29; R. 130 (terminating Case No. 17 C 4951). The Plaintiffs bring a variety of claims, but only two are pertinent for this Opinion: (a) Smith's claim for illegal seizure under the Fourth Amendment (Count 1); and (b) his claim that the Defendants failed to prevent the Fourth Amendment violation (Count 3).[2] Now one of the police officers named in the suit moves to dismiss those counts. R. 122, Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 1-2. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is denied.

         I. Background

         For the purposes of this motion, the Court accepts as true the allegations in the Joint Amended Complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The Plaintiffs allege that, sometime before July 2015, a group of Defendant Officers- among them Lynwood police officer Michael Mears-agreed to obtain firearms from civilians by using threats of prosecution and by force. Jt. Am. Compl. ¶ 14. The ensuing encounters were not to be officially reported. Id. According to the Plaintiffs, the Cook County Sheriff's Office condones these shakedowns by their officers, sometimes even in coordination with other police departments. Id. ¶ 10.

         As noted earlier, in July 2015, Lorenzo Smith was stopped by officers while driving; his girlfriend Jasmine McBride was a passenger in the car. Jt. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 15-16. According to the Plaintiffs, the traffic stop was part of joint activity between the Village of Lynwood Police and Cook County Sheriff's deputies. See Id. ¶¶ 6, 15. Although it is unclear why the officers pulled Smith over in the first place, Smith admitted to the officers that he did not have a valid driver's license. Id. ¶ 17. During the stop, the officers discovered (through their databases) that McBride was on probation. Id. ¶ 19. (It is unclear what led the officers to look up McBride's records, as she was the passenger, not the driver.)

         According to Smith and McBride, Officers Mousel and Murphy began to threaten them, demanding that they obtain and turn over firearms to the officers. Jt. Am. Compl. ¶ 18. But neither of them even owned a gun. Id. ¶ 29. The officers threatened that if Smith and McBride refused or failed to get the guns, the officers would falsely charge McBride with a crime. Id. Because she was on probation, the threat of an arrest put McBride at significant risk of going to prison, because a revocation of probation could lead to prison. Id. ¶ 20.

         After demanding the guns and threatening McBride with false charges, the officers asked Smith, “how much do you love her, ” to put more pressure on him. Jt. Am. Compl. ¶ 22. The officers eventually released Smith without charges, despite the fact that he had admitted to driving without a license. Id. ¶ 21. But they took McBride into custody, putting her into the backseat of a police car and taking her away from Smith. Id. ¶¶ 22, 26. The officers did not write an official report describing the events of the stop or explaining why Smith was released without charges. Id. ¶ 24.

         From there, the Joint Amended Complaint is silent on details of Smith's involvement in the resulting exchange of gun-for-dismissal; that exchange primarily involved McBride's mother, Patricia Hicks.[3] More generally, Smith does allege that he submitted to the officers' show of authority and was “conscripted into the illegal scheme to purchase unlawful firearms.” Jt. Am. Compl. ¶ 23. And Smith asserts that he “took acts in furtherance of the efforts of the individual defendants to obtain firearms.” Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (cleaned up).[4] The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule “reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to ‘focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

         “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         III. Analysis

         1. Fourth Amendment Seizure (Count 1)

         Section 1983 is the cause of action by which someone may vindicate constitutional rights. West v. Atkins,487 U.S. 42, 49-50 (1988); Kernats v. O'Sullivan, 35 F.3d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1994). The section is not the source of substantive rights, so the first step in pursuing a § 1983 claim is to “identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). ...

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