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Harris v. Village of Ford Heights

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

June 6, 2018

LADARIUS HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF FORD HEIGHTS, SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY, SHERIFF TOM DART, in his Individual Capacity, DETECTIVE DANIEL BURKE, in his Individual Capacity, COOK COUNTY, FORMER COOK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY ANITA ALVAREZ, in her Individual and Official Capacity, and COOK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY KIM FOXX, in her Individual and Official Capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES P. KOCORAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are three motions to dismiss Plaintiff Ladarius Harris' (“Harris”) amended complaint (“Complaint”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The “Village's Motion” is brought by the Defendant Village of Ford Heights (“Village”); “Burke's Motion” is brought by Defendant Detective Daniel Burke (“Burke”); and the “County's Motion” is brought by Defendants Cook County (“County”), Sheriff of Cook County (“CCSO”), Sheriff Thomas Dart (“Sheriff Dart”), former Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (“Alvarez”), and current Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx (“Foxx”) (collectively, “Cook County Defendants”). For the following reasons, the Court grants the Village's Motion, grants Burke's Motion, dismisses the Cook County Defendants from Count I, and enters and continues the County's Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from Harris' Complaint and assumed to be true for purposes of these motions. Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). The Court draws all reasonable inferences in Harris' favor. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

         On December 2, 2014, Cook County sheriffs arrested Harris after entering his home without a warrant. Harris was removed from his home while barefoot, wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. The CCSO proceeded to interrogate Harris for over forty-eight hours regarding drugs, gangs, and the murders of Ephrom Jones (“Jones”) and Cyrus Johnson (“Johnson”). Harris alleges that Burke, along with other unknown sheriffs and detectives, prepared false police reports that charged Harris with crimes that he did not commit. Harris further alleges that not only did officers fail to record their physical and psychological custodial coercion of Harris, but that notes from Harris' investigation and interrogation were destroyed, as well.

         After interrogating Harris, Burke signed the documents charging Harris with the first degree murders of Jones and Johnson, this despite a lack of DNA, confession, or physical evidence linking Harris to their deaths. Harris also alleges that Burke stated to Harris' mother, “I can look in his eyes and see that he didn't kill anybody, ” but that due to Harris' lack of cooperation, he would “just have to fight it in court.” Harris claims that the CCSO and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office (“CCSAO”) had the real shooters in custody, but they were released.

         At some point, Sheriff Dart represented to the public that an eyewitness identification tied Harris to the crime, but Harris alleges that these widely circulated and published comments were “absolutely false and devoid of any factual basis.” Harris also claims that a series of other damaging statements were released by the CCSO and later published by various news outlets. For example, the Chicago Sun-Times published the following CCSO statement, “Harris was arrested Tuesday at a home in Chicago after sheriff's police identified him as the shooter in a double homicide.” The CCSO and Alvarez charged Harris with fifty-three counts of murder, attempted murder, and aggravated discharge of a weapon. On December 4, 2014, Harris attended his probable cause and bond hearing, where the Circuit Court of Cook County set his bond at three million dollars after determining that there was probable cause. Harris contends that Burke and the CCSO falsified, destroyed, and coerced evidence in order to obtain probable cause and bring about his pretrial detention. Harris also alleges that after Alvarez left the CCSAO, Foxx continued with Harris' prosecution.

         While awaiting trial, Harris spent 904 days in maximum security jail at the Cook County Department of Corrections, during which time he was allegedly abused and threatened by other inmates, subjected to an infestation of rats, roaches, and mold, and contracted an eye infection that required surgery. He was also forced to give up his vegetarianism while in custody. On May 26, 2017, all first degree murder charges against Harris were dismissed, resulting in his release. Harris alleges that “almost a year ago, ” the CCSAO knew that he was not guilty and allowed him to sit in jail nonetheless.

         On June 2, 2017, Harris filed a complaint against the Village, Burke, and the Cook County Defendants. On October 31, 2017, Harris amended his original complaint and filed his now-operative thirteen-count Complaint, which sets forth the following causes of action. Count I, stylized as “Federal Malicious Prosecution and Due Process” action, sets forth at least two, and possibly three or four, claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; it is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and against all Defendants. Count II alleges a § 1983 federal conspiracy claim against all Defendants. Count III is a cause of action against Sheriff Dart and the CCSO, brought under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Counts IV through VII are state law claims. Count IV is a conspiracy claim against all Defendants; Count V is a malicious prosecution claim against Burke and the County Defendants; Count VI is a false imprisonment action against Burke, the CCSO, Sheriff Dart, and Cook County; and Count VII is a defamation claim against the CCSO, Sheriff Dart, and Cook County. Counts VIII, IX, and X are state law indemnification actions against, respectively, the Village, Cook County, and the CCSO. Counts XI, XII, and XIII are state law respondeat superior actions against, respectively, the Village, Cook County, and the CCSO. Each party seeks to be dismissed from the case.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case.” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 878 (7th Cir. 2012). The allegations in the Complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Plaintiffs need not provide detailed factual allegations, but they must provide enough factual support to raise their right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “In conducting our review, we must consider not only the complaint itself, but also…documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 714 F.3d 1017, 1019-20 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         A claim must be facially plausible, meaning that the pleadings must “allow…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). The claim must be described “in sufficient detail to give the defendant ‘fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient to withstand a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The ...


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