United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. Shah United States District Judge.
Tylann Durrett alleges that two Chicago Police Department
officers pulled him over and arrested him because he was a
black man driving an expensive car on the south side of
Chicago. When he went to the police station to complain, a
third officer told him that if he complained, she would
comment on anything he submitted and say that the other two
officers did nothing wrong. Durrett brings an action against
the two arresting officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
violations of the Fourth Amendment and the equal protection
clause, against the third officer as a ratifying supervisor,
and against the City of Chicago pursuant to Monell v.
Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S.
658 (1978). Defendants move to dismiss the equal protection
and Monell claims.
complaint must contain a short and plain statement that
plausibly suggests a right to relief. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, although a court
must accept all factual allegations as true and draw all
reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, the court
need not do the same for legal conclusions or
“threadbare recitals” supported by only
“conclusory statements.” Ashcroft, 556
U.S. at 678, 80-82. The plaintiff must provide “more
than labels” or “a formulaic recitation of a
cause of action's elements, ” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and the complaint
must “contain either direct or inferential allegations
respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain
recovery under some viable legal theory.” Id.
Tylann Durrett, a black man, was driving an expensive car on
the south side of Chicago.  ¶ 3, 8-9. After performing
a legal left-hand turn, Chicago Police Department officers
(and defendants) Robert Pizzo and James Bansley pulled him
over. Id. ¶ 11. They approached with their
weapons drawn, ordered him out of the car, and handcuffed
him. Id. ¶ 14. After running Durrett's car
and name, they said the car “came back to a stolen
Yamaha” and released him. Id. ¶¶ 15,
19. Durrett alleges that there was no legal basis for the
stop, id. ¶ 10, that he was the properly
registered owner of the car, id. ¶ 18, and that
Pizzo and Bansley pulled him over “because he was a
Black man on the Southside of Chicago driving an expensive
car.” Id. ¶ 9.
says this was the third time in as many months that he had
been pulled over without lawful reason.  ¶ 16. He
immediately went to the police station to complain. 
¶ 20. There he met Chicago Police Department officer
Migdalia Bulnes, who ran a search on Durrett's vehicle
and reported that it did not “come up stolen.”
 ¶ 21. Durrett alleges that Bulnes knew there was no
lawful basis for the stop and yet told Durrett that Pizzo and
Bansley had acted correctly.  ¶ 23. Durrett also says
that Bulnes told him that if he were to file a complaint, she
would “put into the complaint that [Pizzo and Bansley]
had done nothing wrong.”  ¶ 23.
order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Durrett
must allege “(1) an action taken under color of state
law (2) which violates his federal constitutional
rights.” Cunningham v. Southlake Ctr. For Mental
Health, Inc., 924 F.2d 106, 107 (7th Cir. 1991). The
equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is
violated when the “defendants' actions had a
discriminatory effect and were motivated by a discriminatory
purpose.” Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251
F.3d 612, 635-36 (7th Cir. 2001).
say the complaint cannot be read to allege that Pizzo and
Bansley treated all black people in a discriminatory manner.
That may be true, but that is also not determinative; Pizzo
and Bansley may still have violated Durrett's right to
equal protection of the laws if they arrested him (and only
him) because he is black. See Brown v. Budz, 398
F.3d 904, 916 n.1 (7th Cir. 2005) (“an allegation as
simple as ‘“I was turned down a job because of my
race” is all a complaint has to say' to plead
sufficiently race discrimination in violation of the Equal
Protection clause”) (quoting Bennett v.
Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998)).
allegations that Pizzo and Bansley arrested him because he is
black is in this context a factual allegation, not a legal
conclusion. His claims against them in their individual
capacities do not depend on an assumption that Pizzo and
Bansley pulled him over in concert with other unnamed
officers, see  at 4, because a reasonable
inference is that Pizzo and Bansley violated Durrett's
rights on their own. And the complaint does not allege a set
of facts that is consistent with a lawful traffic stop; it
alleges that Pizzo and Bansley had no lawful reason to arrest
him. See  ¶¶ 8-10. The complaint
provides Pizzo and Bansley with notice as to the claims
against them, is not “so sketchy or implausible”
that it fails to provide sufficient notice, and is not simply
an “abstract recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.” See Brooks, 578 F.3d at 581.
their reply, defendants argue that the complaint alleges a
legitimate purpose for the stop: after “running
[Durrett's] car” (presumably, through a police
database), the officers came to believe the vehicle was
stolen.  at 2. But one reasonable inference is that Pizzo
and Bansley did not perform the database search until after
Durrett had been pulled over, see  ¶ 15;
see also id. ¶ 10 (“[t]here was not legal
basis for the stop”), and Durrett has sufficiently
alleged that the database search was a pretextual
justification. See  ¶¶ 15-16. The
complaint also alleges that when Bulnes ran a search,
Durrett's car did not come up stolen. Id. ¶
21. Another reasonable inference is that Pizzo and Bansley
did not run the plate as they claimed when they spoke to
Durrett; instead they intentionally discriminated against
Durrett on the basis of his race. In any event, defendants
waived the argument by waiting to raise it in in their reply
brief. Commonwealth Edison Co. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Comm'n, 830 F.2d 610, 621 n.7 (7th Cir. 1987).
Durrett's equal protection claim against officers Pizzo
and Bansley in their individual capacities is not dismissed.
are only liable under § 1983 when the injury in question
is inflicted by the “execution of a government's
policy or custom.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
There are three ways to demonstrate the existence of such a
policy: “proof of an express policy causing the loss, a
widespread practice constituting custom or usage that caused
the loss, or causation of the loss by a person with final
policymaking authority.” Kujawski v. Bd. of
Comm'rs of Bartholomew Cty., Ind., 183 F.3d 734, 737
(7th Cir. 1999). A plaintiff may premise their § 1983
claim on a “ratification” theory so long as they
“allege that a municipal official with final
policymaking authority approved the subordinate's
decision and the basis for it.” Baskin v. City of
Des Plaines, 138 F.3d 701, 705 (7th Cir.
determining whether an individual is a “final
decisionmaker, ” it is “helpful” to inquire
into “(1) whether the official is constrained by
policies of other officials or legislative bodies; (2)
whether the official's decision on the issue in question
is subject to meaningful review; and (3) ‘whether the
policy decision purportedly made by the official is within
the realm of the official's grant of
authority.'” Valentino v. Vill. of S. Chicago
Heights, 575 F.3d 664, 676 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Randle v. City of Aurora, 69 F.3d 441, 448 (10th
Cir. 1995)). Policymakers must be the “apex of
authority for the action in question, ” Vodak v.
City of Chicago, 639 F.3d 738, 748 (7th Cir. 2011), and