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Mayo v. Lasalle County

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

July 15, 2019

LASALLE COUNTY, BRIAN TOWNE, and Unknown State's Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit Officers, Defendants.


          John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Nehemiah Mayo and Dakota Burt allege that officers working for an investigative unit formed by former LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Towne violated their constitutional rights and various state laws by stopping and searching their car without probable cause and using that unlawful stop as a basis to detain them pending trial. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the complaint is barred by the statute of limitations and that, in any case, Mayo and Burt failed to state a claim entitling them to relief. Because the complaint establishes that the claims asserted are untimely and because the plaintiffs have failed to adequately establish their entitlement to relief, the complaint is dismissed. And as repleading cannot solve these problems, the dismissal is with prejudice.


         In December 2014, Nehemiah Mayo and Dakota Burt (two New Hampshire residents) were driving on Interstate 80 in LaSalle County, Illinois, when they were pulled over by officers working for the State's Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit (SAFE Unit). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 20, 22. The SAFE Unit was created in 2011 by the County's former State's Attorney, Brian Towne, pursuant to 55 ILCS 5/3-9005(b). That statute authorizes “[t]he State's Attorney of each county . . . to appoint . . . special investigators to . . . conduct investigations which assist the State's Attorney in the performance of his duties.” Id. ¶¶ 2, 3. The Unit's purported goal was to intervene in drug trafficking along Interstate 80 within LaSalle County, but, according to the plaintiffs, the Unit's only real assignment was to “pull over cars with out-of-state plates, make an arrest, and confiscate the vehicle and any money.” Id. ¶¶ 4, 6.

         At the time of the stop, the officers told Mayo (the driver) that they pulled him over for failing to use his headlights in bad weather. Id. ¶ 22. Under the Illinois vehicle code, however, the weather conditions did not require the use of headlights and, in any case, Mayo's vehicle was equipped with automatic headlights that were always on. Id. ¶¶ 23, 24. The officers knew headlights were not necessary at the time of the stop but nevertheless “stopped Mr. Mayo's vehicle because it had New Hampshire license plates.” Id. ¶¶ 25, 27. The officers then asked Mayo to get out of the car, at which point they handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. Id. ¶ 29. Next, the officers had a dog search the outside of the vehicle. When the dog did not alert to anything, an officer threw a tennis ball at the car. Id. ¶¶ 30, 31, 32. This got the dog's attention, which the officers deemed an “alert, ” and on that basis they proceeded to search the trunk of the vehicle. Id. ¶¶ 32, 33. In the trunk, the officers found “what they believed to be marijuana” and arrested both Mayo and Burt for unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver. Id. ¶¶ 33, 36.

         At the plaintiffs' pretrial detention hearing, defendant Towne allegedly “misled” the judge with respect to the existence of probable cause for the search and seizure, but the complaint does not describe how he did so. Id. ¶ 59. At the defendants behest, the judge set bond at $2, 000, 000.00. Unable to pay, Mayo and Burt were detained in the LaSalle County jail for the next six months. Id. ¶ 45.

         In June 2015, while Mayo and Burt were still in confinement, the Illinois Appellate Court handed down its decision in People v. Ringland, 2015 IL App (3d) 130523, which held that the SAFE Unit exceeded the scope of the State's Attorney's investigative power under 55 ILCS 5/2-9005(b) and affirmed the trial court's suppression of evidence in a felony drug case on the grounds that the SAFE officer who seized the evidence lacked the authority to conduct the stop. Following Ringland, Mayo and Burt were released from custody on their own recognizance on June 11, 2015. Am. Compl. ¶ 43. Two years later in June 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the Ringland decision. People v. Ringland, 2017 IL 119484 (Ill. 2017). The charges against Mayo and Burt were formally dismissed on September 14, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 13, 44.

         A few months before Ringland was affirmed, a class action was filed against Towne and LaSalle County on behalf of all persons detained by the SAFE Unit; the suit was later dismissed as untimely in March 2018.[1] One month before the dismissal of that suit, on February 22, 2018, Mayo and Burt filed this complaint against Towne, LaSalle County, and unknown SAFE officers, asserting various constitutional and state violations. Id. ¶¶ 48-98. Towne and LaSalle County separately moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the complaint's factual content “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Court assumes the truth of all factual allegations and “constru[es] all inferences in favor of the plaintiff” when evaluating a motion to dismiss. Zemeckis v. Global Credit & Collection Corp., 679 F.3d 632, 634 (7th Cir. 2012). In contrast, when the complaint alleges legal conclusions or “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, ” those allegations do not benefit from an assumption of truth. Iqbal at 678. It is also worth noting that Rule 12(b)(6) permits the dismissal of claims, not legal theories. And it is well established that a complaint need not identify the specific legal theory on which the plaintiff intends to proceed. See Alioto v. Town of Lisbon, 651 F.3d 715, 721 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[A] complaint need not plead legal theories.”). Instead, a complaint need only set forth a “short and plaint statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A claim should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), then, only if it could not succeed under any legal theory.

         The plaintiffs' complaint sets forth 47 paragraphs of factual allegations spanning three major “claims” or sets of facts: the plaintiffs' initial seizure and search, their subsequent arrest and pretrial detention, and their eventual release on bond. It then sets forth various legal theories about those events in eight overlapping counts. The first four counts deal with alleged constitutional violations: Counts I and II allege that the stop, search, arrest, and detention violated the Fourth Amendment. Count III alleges that the plaintiffs' pretrial detention and subsequent release on bond violated their constitutional right to travel freely. Count IV seeks to hold LaSalle County responsible for these alleged constitutional violations under a Monell theory of liability. As for state law causes of action, Count V alleges that defendant Towne abused the legal process by effectuating a baseless arrest and pressuring the plaintiffs to agree to forfeiture in order to fund the department and pay for personal expenses, and Count VI alleges that Towne maliciously prosecuted the plaintiffs. The remaining counts do not assert additional causes of action but seek restitution for unjust enrichment (Count VII) and indemnification on the part of LaSalle County for violations committed by Towne and the unnamed SAFE Unit officers (Count VIII).

         The plaintiffs acknowledge in their response brief that their claim arising from the initial search and seizure accrued at the time of the search and therefore expired before they filed this suit. See Pls.' Resp. Mot. Dismiss 4, ECF No. 24; see also Neita v. City of Chicago, 830 F.3d 494, 498 (7th Cir. 2016) (claim for unlawful vehicle search accrued at the time of the search). Because they do not argue that the statute of limitations for that claim should be tolled, the Court dismisses it as time barred. Accordingly, the Court turns first to the plaintiffs' false arrest/pretrial detention claim.[2]

         I. Pretrial Detention: Fourth Amendment (Count II)

         Mayo and Burt argue that they were arrested and detained pending trial in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to remain free of unreasonable governmental seizures because the SAFE Unit officers lacked probable cause to arrest them and the judge was misled as to probable cause at their pretrial detention hearing. The defendants argue that the claim is time barred and, in any case, fails to adequately allege facts demonstrating that the plaintiffs are entitled to relief. The Court agrees with the defendants in both respects.

         A. Statute ...

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