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Eldridge v. Challenging Law Enforcement Official

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

March 30, 2018

ROBERT E. ELDRIDGE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
THE CHALLENGING LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL, individually and in his/her official capacity, and ILLINOIS CONCEAL CARRY LICENSING REVIEW BOARD, and its members, individually and in their official capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Robert Eldridge (“Eldridge”), proceeding pro se, has filed claims alleging that the Illinois Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board (“the Board”) and its individual members (together, “the Board Defendants”), as well as an unnamed law enforcement official, conspired to significantly delay making a decision required for Eldridge to obtain a concealed-carry gun license in Illinois. Eldridge also claims that the Board Defendants failed to provide him notice of the identity of an objecting law enforcement entity and the basis for the objection. According to Eldridge, this alleged conduct violates his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as criminal civil-rights statutes 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242, and the civil RICO statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c).

         In his complaint, Eldridge seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief in the form of a Board decision, but since that time, Eldridge has received a concealed-carry license and agrees that his claim for injunctive relief has become moot. The Board Defendants now move to dismiss Eldridge's remaining claims for monetary damages. For the reasons given below, the Board Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background[1]

         On October 1, 2015, Eldridge filed an application with the Illinois State Police (“ISP”) for a concealed-carry gun license. Compl. at 11, ECF No. 1. Under the Illinois Firearm Concealed Carry Act, 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 66/1, et seq., the ISP “shall” issue such a license only if, inter alia, the Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board determines that the applicant does not pose a danger to the applicant, others, or to public safety. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 66/10(a). The ISP is generally required to issue a decision within ninety days of receiving a completed application, but if “any law enforcement agency” objects to the applicant, the ninety-day period is tolled “during the period of review and until the Board issues its decision.” 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 66/15(c).

         On November 1, 2015-one month after he submitted his application- Eldridge was notified that a law enforcement agency had filed an objection to his application. Compl. at 11. Eldridge made “numerous” efforts to contact the Board but, at the time he filed his complaint, the Board had gone twenty months without acting on his application or telling him who had objected or why. Id. at 1-2, 5, 11- 12. He believes that the objection and resulting delay were “influenced” by an unidentified person involved with a 2001 criminal proceeding, in which Eldridge was arrested and convicted of a class A misdemeanor for battery. See id. at 11-12; Pl.'s Resp. at 2-3, ECF No. 21; see generally Pl.'s Resp., Ex. B, People of the State of Ill. v. Eldridge, No. 1 CR2 20721, Appeal No. 1-04-1550 (Ill.App.Ct. 2005) (denying appeal of convictions for misdemeanor battery and felony unlawful use of a weapon); id., Ex. C, Order of July 24, 2014, at 1 (vacating felony conviction). According to Eldrigde, as a result of Defendants' conduct, he has suffered “physical injury, ” including “immense stress” and “mental anguish.” Id. at 8.

         Based on the foregoing events, Eldridge brings claims for violations of: (1) criminal civil-rights statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242 (Count I); (2) the civil RICO statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c) (Count II); and (3) his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[2] (Count IV). Eldridge also alleges that Defendants' conduct caused him physical and emotional injury (Count III).

         Legal Standards

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The factual allegations in the complaint must at least “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and draw all possible inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081. Mere legal conclusions, however, “are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Courts also construe pro se complaints liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam).

         Analysis

         The Board Defendants seek dismissal of Eldridge's monetary-damages claims against them in their official capacities on the basis that the Board-and by extension its individual members-are immune to suit under the Eleventh Amendment doctrine of sovereign immunity. They also contend that they are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for the claims brought against them in their individual capacities. In the alternative, they contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity as to Eldridge's individual-capacity due process claims and that, for the remaining individual-capacity claims, Eldridge lacks standing or otherwise fails to state claim. Eldridge, who is proceeding pro se, disagrees that his claims should be dismissed.

         I. Claims Against Board Defendants in Their Official Capacities

         Under the Eleventh Amendment's sovereign-immunity doctrine, a plaintiff may not bring suit in federal court against a state or its agencies unless the state consents to suit in federal court or Congress has abrogated the state's immunity. See Pennhurst v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); Kroll v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 934 F.2d 904, 907 (7th Cir. 1991). Illinois has not consented to suits against the Illinois State Police, nor has Congress abrogated Illinois's immunity in this regard. See Carr v. Ill. State Police, No. 17 C 413, 2017 WL 5989726, at *3 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 4, 2017) (“The Eleventh Amendment applies to the Illinois State Police as an agency of the State of Illinois.”) (citing Tucker v. Williams, 682 F.3d 654, 659 (7th Cir. 2012); Moore v. Ill. State Police, 2001 WL 1636920, at *2 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 20, 2001) (collecting cases confirming this proposition)); see also, e.g., Johnson v. Winters, No. 10 C 5480, 2013 WL 4029114, at *17-18 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 8, 2013) (observing that Illinois has waived sovereign immunity only in the Court of Claims); Cruz v. Cross, No. 08 CV 4873, 2010 WL 3655992, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 10, 2010) (same).

         Moreover, suits for monetary damages against employees of state agencies, acting in their official capacities, are treated as suits against the state and likewise are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Garcia v. City of Chi., 24 F.3d 966, 969 (7th Cir. 1994). “To determine if a particular entity is a state agency, i.e., an arm of the state, courts look at: (1) the extent of the entity's financial autonomy from the state; and (2) the general legal status of the entity. Of the two, the entity's financial autonomy is the most important factor. In evaluating that factor, [courts] consider the extent of state funding, the state's oversight and control of the entity's fiscal affairs, the entity's ability to raise funds independently, whether the state taxes the entity, and whether a judgment against the entity would result in the state increasing its appropriations to the entity.” Tucker, 682 F.3d at 659 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         As an initial matter, the Court concludes that the Board is an arm of the State of Illinois. First, the Board's authorizing statute states that it is “created within the Department of State Police, ” 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 66/20(a), which is itself an arm of the State of Illinois and immune to suit, see, e.g., Carr, 2017 WL 5989726, at *3. Second, the Board appears to have little financial independence from the State, as the only funding mechanism described in its authorizing statute is State appropriations. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 66/20(b). Therefore, both factors support the Court's conclusion that the Board is an arm of the State of Illinois.

         Finding that no sovereign-immunity exception applies, the Court concludes that the Board and its members, to the extent they are sued in their official capacities, are immune from Eldridge's suit in federal court. These claims are dismissed accordingly.

         II. Claims Against Board Defendants in Their ...


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