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Harell v. City of Chicago

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

June 25, 2019

HENRY HARELL, Independent Administrator of the Estate of STACY VAUGHN HARELL, deceased, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et. al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Ruben Castillo, Chief Judge United States District Court.

         Plaintiffs Henry Harell, Independent Administrator of the Estate of Stacy Vaughn Harell . ("Harell"), and Kimberly Myers ("Myers") (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), bring this action against . the City of Chicago ("the City"), Terrance Allen ("Allen"), Sharree Thompson ("Thompson"), Shaun Susnis, individually and as an agent of the City ("Susnis"), Megan Ryan, individually and as an agent of the City ("Ryan"), and other unknown police officers, following a car accident involving Allen, Harell, and Myers. (R. 11, Pls.' Am. Compl.) Before the Court is the City's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (R. 19, Def.'s Mot.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 24, 2017, Plaintiffs were involved in an automobile accident when their vehicle was struck by a vehicle believed to be driven by Allen. (R. 11, Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-34.) Plaintiffs allege that Chicago Police Officers Susnis and Ryan were engaged in a high-speed car chase with Allen at the time of the accident. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 29-30.) According to Plaintiffs, when Susnis and Ryan arrived at the scene of a vehicle stop, they confronted the occupants of the vehicle with their guns drawn, (Id. ¶ 26.) The rear passenger exited the car and was detained by other officers, while the driver-believed to be Allen-fled. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) According to Plaintiffs, Susnis and Ryan then began their high-speed pursuit of the vehicle, reaching speeds of almost sixty miles per hour. (Id. ¶¶ 29-31.) The fleeing vehicle ultimately crashed into Harell's car. (Id. ¶ 33.) Harrell was killed, and Myers sustained severe injuries. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiffs allege that the individual defendants are liable for Harell's death and Myers' injuries under Illinois law, and that the City is liable under Illinois law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 21-207.)

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This action was removed from the Circuit Court of Cook County on November 26, 2018. (R. 1, Notice of Removal.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a joint amended complaint, alleging twelve claims.[1] (R. 11, Pls.' Am. Compl.) Plaintiffs claim that: the City, Susnis, Ryan, and certain unknown officers engaged in willful and wanton misconduct during the high-speed car chase (Count I); the City was negligent and is vicariously liable for the actions of Susnis, Ryan, and the unknown officers (Counts II and III); the City is liable under 42 U, SC § 1983 because Susnis, Ryan, and the unknown police officers violated Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to improper policies, practices, and customs condoned by the City, (Counts IV & V); Allen and Thompson were negligent (Counts VI-XI); and the City is liable for negligent spoliation of evidence. (Count XII). (Id.)

         On January 30, 2019, the City moved to dismiss the federal claims for failure to allege a constitutional violation caused by a policy, custom, or practice of the City, as is required under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). (R. 19, Def.'s Mot. at 5-14.) Without a viable federal claim, the City asks that the Court decline supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. (Id. at 14-15.) In any event, the City says, the complaint should be dismissed to the extent it is brought by Myers since Myers is not named in the caption of the amended complaint. (R. 19, Def.'s Mot. at 4.) Plaintiffs filed their response to the City's motion on March 4, 2019. (R. 24, Pls.' Resp.) According to Plaintiffs, they sufficiently allege Monell liability under the independent municipal liability theory recognized by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Fagan v. City of Vineland, 22 F.3d 1283 (3rd Cir. 1994). (Id. at 6.) Plaintiffs concede that Myers was inadvertently omitted from the caption of their amended complaint, but seek leave to amend and correct the error. (Id. at 3.) The City filed its reply on March 19, 2019, arguing that the independent municipal liability theory recognized in Fagan had been explicitly rejected by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and that Plaintiffs' failure to address the City's remaining arguments as to any constitutional claims renders them forfeited. (R. 25, Def.'s Reply at 2-7.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of a complaint by arguing "that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer, 769 F.3d 822, 825 (7th Cir. 2015) (quotation and internal alteration omitted). A complaint must include a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed, R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient facts to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Tobey v. Chibucos, 890 F.3d 634, 639 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff alleges facts "that allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, Inc., 896 F.3d 834, 839 (7th Cir, 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The Court evaluates a complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accepts as true all well-pleaded facts, and draws all inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, Berger v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n 843 F.3d 285, 289-90 (7th Cir. 2016), ANALYSIS

         The City moves to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing at the outset that any claims brought by Myers should be dismissed because Myers is not listed in the caption of the amended complaint and is therefore not a party. (R. 19, Def.'s Mot. at 4.) In addition, the City argues that Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims fail because Plaintiffs have not alleged any constitutional violation and cannot amend to do so under well-settled Seventh Circuit authority, (Id. at 5-10.) Specifically, the City urges that Plaintiffs fail to state a Fourth Amendment claim against any officer because they fail to allege a seizure, and that they fail to allege a Fourteenth Amendment claim because they fail to allege behavior that shocks the conscience. (Id.) Moreover, the City argues, even if Plaintiffs had alleged a constitutional violation by any particular officer, they nevertheless fail to allege that such a violation was caused by a policy, practice, or custom of the City, a required predicate for the Section 1983 claims they bring. (Id. at. 10-15 (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 691).) Without a viable federal claim, the City says, supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims should be declined. (Id. at 14-15.)

         Plaintiffs concede at the outset that they failed to list Myers in the caption of their amended complaint, but urge that the omission was inadvertent and that leave should be given to amend and correct the error. (R. 24, Pls.' Resp. at 3.) As to their Section 1983 claims, Plaintiffs do not dispute their failure to allege a Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment claim against any individual officer, and indeed expressly declare that they bring no such claims against them. (R. 24, Pls.' Resp. at 5.) Instead, Plaintiffs argue that under the independent municipal liability theory recognized in Fagan v. City of Vineland, 22 F.3d 1283, 1293 (3d Cir. 1994), they need not allege liability of any individual officer to state a claim, but only the liability of the municipality. (R. 24, Pls.' Resp. at 6.) Based on the Third Circuit's conclusion in Fagan that a municipality can be liable under Monell for a policy of failing to train police officers when the policy causes a violation of the plaintiffs constitutional rights, Plaintiffs urge they have sufficiently stated their claims here. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiffs say, because they do not need to provide extrinsic evidence of the existence of a specific policy or custom at the pleading stage, their allegation of wrongdoing pursuant to a policy is sufficient to state a Monell claim. (Id.)

         I. Claims Brought by Myers

         At the threshold, the Court notes that Plaintiffs' failure to name Myers in the caption of their amended complaint has not prevented the City from understanding that both Myers and Harrell have brought claims against it, or from responding in substance to their claims. (R. 19, Def.'s Mot.) Accordingly, the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that their oversight was a technical one that could readily be corrected by amendment, and declines to dismiss on this basis.

         II. Plaintiffs' Monell Claims Against the City ...


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