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Durrett v. City of Chicago

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

August 27, 2019

Tylann Durrett, Plaintiff,
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants.


          Manish S. Shah United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Legal Standards

         A 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. at 562.

         II. Facts

         Plaintiff Tylann Durrett, a black man, was driving an expensive car on the south side of Chicago. [1] ¶ 3, 8-9.[1] 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.

         Durrett says this was the third time in as many months that he had been pulled over without lawful reason. [1] ¶ 16. He immediately went to the police station to complain. [1] ¶ 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.” [1] ¶ 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. [1] ¶ 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.” [1] ¶ 23.

         III. Analysis

         In 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).

         Defendants 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)).

         Durrett's 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 [17] 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 [1] ¶¶ 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.

         In 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. [21] 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 [1] ¶ 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 [1] ¶¶ 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.

         Municipalities 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. 1998).[2]

         When 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 ...

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