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Hudson v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp.

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

April 12, 2018




         In this suit against Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (“Metra”), Metra police officer Vasko, and several unnamed Metra officers, Hilton Hudson alleges that Vasko assaulted and then wrongfully searched and detained him. Doc. 9. Vasko has not yet appeared. Metra moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss several counts of the complaint for failure to state a claim. Doc. 24. The motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider “documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice, ” along with additional facts set forth in Hudson's brief opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). The facts are set forth as favorably to Hudson as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, Inc., 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting forth those facts at the pleading stage, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Jay E. Hayden Found. v. First Neighbor Bank, N.A., 610 F.3d 382, 384 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Around 9:15 p.m. on August 15, 2015, after working on a cleaning crew at the Chicago Air and Water Show, Hudson, who is African-American, arrived at a Metra station in downtown Chicago to catch a train to Joliet. Doc. 9 at ¶¶ 9, 21, 22, 29. At a special checkpoint put in place for the Air and Water Show, a Metra police officer named Vasko detained Hudson and told him that he could not get on the train because he was “a bum and a drunk.” Id. at ¶¶ 25-28. When Hudson protested that he was not drunk and had just gotten off work, Vasko screamed at him to leave the station. Id. at ¶¶ 29-32.

         Hudson attempted to call his fiancée, but Vasko grabbed his forearm and took the phone away from him. Id. at ¶¶ 34-35. Vasko then told Hudson to put his hands on his head and proceeded to forcibly move his arms upwards. Id. at ¶ 38. Vasko searched Hudson, patting him down and turning his pockets inside out, and then handcuffed him and told him that he was under arrest. Id. at ¶¶ 39-42. Vasko detained Hudson in a room at the train station, and Hudson heard Vasko tell others that he would let Hudson go after the last train left for Joliet. Id. at ¶¶ 44-45. After two and half hours, Hudson was released. Id. at ¶ 47.

         Hudson filed this suit against Metra, Vasko, and several unidentified Metra police officers on July 24, 2017, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law. Doc. 1. The complaint has eight counts. Metra moves to dismiss the claims against it in Count V (conspiracy to interfere with civil rights), Count VI (intentional infliction of emotional distress), Count VII (failure to prevent conspiracy), and Count VIII (Monell failure to train).


         I. Count VIII: Monell Failure to Train

         Hudson alleges that Metra failed to adequately train its officers to prevent the constitutional violations he suffered. Doc. 9 at ¶¶ 89-93. “[A] municipality may be directly liable [under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), ] for constitutional violations by its officers when the municipality evinces a deliberate indifference to the rights of the plaintiff by failing to train adequately its officers to prevent the violation.” Jenkins v. Bartlett, 487 F.3d 482, 492 (7th Cir. 2007). To give rise to this kind of liability, the failure to train “must amount to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the untrained employees come into contact.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011). “A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ordinarily necessary to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train. Policymakers' continued adherence to an approach that they know or should know has failed to prevent tortious conduct by employees may establish the conscious disregard for the consequences of their action … necessary to trigger municipal liability.” Id. at 62 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). In addition to alleging facts that, if true, would show that the municipality was deliberately indifferent, the plaintiff must also allege facts sufficient to show causation, meaning that the failure to train was the “moving force behind the injury alleged.” Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Connick, 563 U.S. at 59 n.5 (noting that deliberate indifference and causation are separate elements of a failure-to-train claim).

         To support the deliberate indifference element of his claim, Hudson points to an assessment of the Metra police force commissioned by Metra and issued in August 2013 by the security consulting firm Hillard Heintze. Doc. 34 at p. 4. The report concluded that the Metra police force was “in crisis” and “in need of major transformation, ” ibid., and recommend that officers receive additional training on the use of force, arrests, searches, and discrimination and profiling, id. at 2. According to Hudson, Metra ignored the training recommendations. Id. at 2.

         The report's conclusion that the Metra police needed additional training on the use of force, arrests, searches, and discrimination, together with Hudson's allegation that Metra did not conduct any such training, are sufficient to “raise [Hudson's] right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This is not a case where the plaintiff has “add[ed] Monell boilerplate allegations” in an effort to “proceed to discovery in the hope of turning up some evidence to support the ‘claims' made.” Strauss v. City of Chicago, 760 F.2d 765, 768 (7th Cir. 1985). Instead, pointing to the Hillard Heintze report, Hudson has directly alleged that Metra was aware in 2013 that its police force had systematic problems with, among other things, the use of force, arrests, searches, and discrimination and profiling, and that additional training was needed to rectify them; and he further alleges that Metra ignored those problems. Those allegations, if true, could demonstrate deliberate indifference, for if the documented problems were severe enough, then Metra's alleged decision not to conduct any new training would constitute “continued adherence to an approach that [Metra] kn[e]w or should [have] know[n] ha[d] failed to prevent tortious conduct by employees.” Connick, 563 U.S. at 62.

         Hudson's allegations are also sufficient to plausibly demonstrate causation. It is true, as Metra observes, that Hudson does not explicitly allege that Metra's failure to adequately train its officers caused his injuries. Doc. 24 at 9. But the Civil Rules “requir[e] plaintiffs to plead claims rather than facts corresponding to the elements of a legal theory.” Chapman v. Yellow Cab Coop., 875 F.3d 846, 848 (7th Cir. 2017). “It is enough to plead a plausible claim, after which a plaintiff receives the benefit of imagination, so long as the hypotheses are consistent with the complaint.” Ibid. Based on the facts alleged in Hudson's complaint and response brief, it is plausible that Metra's failure to act on the Hillard Heintze report's training recommendations was the “moving force” behind Hudson's injuries-that is, that Vasko would not have violated Hudson's rights had he been properly trained on the use of force, searches, arrests, and discrimination. See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 391 (1989) (observing that the ultimate question for causation is whether “the injury would have been avoided had the employee been trained under a program that was not deficient in the identified respect”).

         Hudson has put forward sufficient factual allegations to state a plausible failure-to-train claim. Metra's motion to ...

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