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Holmes v. Curran

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

June 12, 2018



          Harry D. Leinenweber Judge

         Plaintiff Rodney Holmes alleges that he was the target of a malicious prosecution orchestrated by the Defendants. The Defendants now move to dismiss Holmes's complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons discussed below, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Though the Complaint is thin on details, this is what the Court has been able to infer: Rodney Holmes was a Lake County Corrections Officer when an inmate, one Eugene Gruber, died. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14, Dkt. 7.) Holmes alleges that the Defendants “wanted a scape goat” for Gruber's death, especially given the approaching reelection bid by Defendant Curran, so they decided to frame Holmes, notwithstanding the Defendants' shared understanding that Holmes “was innocent.” (Id. ¶¶ 14, 17-18.) Holmes was indicted and tried in state court for the crime of official misconduct, but he was acquitted. Defendants Larsson and Rose allegedly “fabricated events” surrounding Gruber's death and communicated those fabrications to prosecutors and the grand jury (id. ¶ 18); Defendant Wathen authorized Defendant Larsson to participate in the grand jury proceedings (id. ¶ 16); Defendant Rose “spoke to the press” after Holmes's court dates and suggested he was a criminal (id. ¶ 19); and Defendant Kinville also allegedly lied to prosecutors and then falsely testified against Holmes at trial (id. ¶ 20).

         After his acquittal, Holmes filed this four-count lawsuit, comprising: a due process claim arising from malicious prosecution; an unspecified Fourth Amendment claim, also arising from malicious prosecution; a malicious prosecution claim under Illinois law; and a claim seeking indemnification by Lake County and the Sheriff's Office of the other Defendants. See, 745 ILCS 10/9-102. Defendants now move to dismiss that Complaint for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. 16.) In weighing that Motion, the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).


         Malicious prosecution is not a free-standing, constitutional tort. Hurt v. Wise, 880 F.3d 831, 843 (7th Cir. 2018). Rather, a malicious prosecution claim must be predicated upon the violation of some other constitutional right, such as those provided by the Due Process Clause or the Fourth Amendment. Id. Here, Holmes brings three different varieties of malicious prosecution claims.

         A. Due Process Claim (Count I)

         The Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause is the relevant constitutional source for Count I. Id. at 843-44. But Holmes's due-process rights are not implicated by the evidence fabrication alleged here unless that evidence was “used to deprive [Holmes] of [his] liberty in some way.” Bianchi v. McQueen, 818 F.3d 309, 319 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Whitlock v. Brueggemann, 682 F.3d 567, 580 (7th Cir. 2012)). To cite the now-classic example, no infringement of liberty occurs when an officer fabricates evidence but merely keeps the phony proof in a drawer, making no further use of it. Whitlock, 682 F.3d at 582 (citing Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 20 F.3d 789, 795 (7th Cir. 1994)).

         But even when the prosecution uses fabricated evidence at trial, the defendant's due process claim is wiped away if he is released on bond and then acquitted. See, Bianchi, 818 F.3d at 320. In Alexander v. McKinney, 692 F.3d 553, 557 (7th Cir. 2012), for example, a plaintiff pursued a due process claim based on fabricated evidence after he was arrested, immediately released on bond, and acquitted. The Seventh Circuit held that the acquittal foreclosed any due-process claim because “[i]t would be anomalous to hold that attending a trial deprives a criminal defendant of liberty without due process of law, when the purpose of trial is to effectuate due process.'” Bianchi, 818 F.3d at 321 (quoting Alexander, 692 F.3d at 557 n.2) (emphasis in original); accord Saunders-El v. Rohde, 778 F.3d 556, 558 (7th Cir. 2015) (“[D]ue process is not implicated when, as here, the defendant is released on bond following his arrest and acquitted at trial.”); cf. Hurt, 880 F.3d at 843-44 (refusing to reverse denial of defendants' summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity where relevant plaintiff was detained pretrial, prosecutors used fabricated evidence against him, and he was acquitted).

         Here, Holmes's Complaint recites that he was arrested, prosecuted, and acquitted of all charges. The Complaint nowhere explains whether Holmes was held in pretrial detention or else released on bond, although his response brief suggests the latter is true. (Resp. at 2, Dkt. 23 (reciting that Plaintiff was on bond).) The Defendants suggest the same and explain that a so-called “Exhibit A” demonstrates that “Holmes did not spend any time in jail other than to be processed on the warrant.” (Mem. in Supp. at 2-3, Dkt. 18.) The Court cannot verify these representations, however, because whatever “Exhibit A” might be is a mystery-it was not attached to Defendants' Motion nor filed elsewhere with the Court. To any extent, that Holmes was held in pretrial detention is not a “reasonable inference” that the Court must now draw from the Complaint, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; rather, it is a wholly absent, and here-critical, allegation. Given that Holmes was acquitted, he cannot state a due process claim unless he was held in pretrial detention-as opposed to posting bond after his arrest. See, Bianchi, 818 F.3d at 321; Saunders-El, 778 F.3d at 558. His failure to allege that fact is fatal to his claim. If the briefing is mistaken, and Holmes was in fact held in pretrial detention, he may replead this Count. Count I is dismissed without prejudice.

         B. Fourth Amendment Claim (Count II)

         “The Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials from detaining a person in the absence of probable cause.” Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911, 918-19 (2017). “That can happen when the police hold someone without any reason before the formal onset of a criminal proceeding. But it also can occur when legal process itself goes wrong-when, for example, a judge's probable-cause determination is predicated solely on a police officer's false statements. Then, too, a person is confined without constitutionally adequate justification.” Id. It makes no difference that Holmes's initial detention-his arrest-was authorized by a probable cause determination made by a grand jury and not by a judge. Id. at 920 n.8.

         Holmes does not explain how any specific detention infringed his Fourth Amendment rights, though his Complaint does mention elsewhere that he was arrested. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-33.) He also alleges that the charges against him were trumped-up and that the evidence presented to the grand jury was fabricated. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-20.) By accepting these allegations as true and considering the plausibility of the Complaint as a whole, see, Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011), ...

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