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Appel v. Lasalle County State's Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit

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

September 4, 2019

MICHAEL APPEL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LASALLE COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY FELONY ENFORCEMENT UNIT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr., United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are the motion to dismiss [80] filed by Defendants Edward Jauch, City of Spring Valley, Kevin Sangston, Rebecca Hanson, and Timothy Green; the motion to dismiss [82] filed by Defendants LaSalle County State's Attorney, LaSalle County State's Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit, LaSalle County Board, Jeff Gaither, Daniel Gillette, and Derek Benning; the motion to dismiss [84] filed by Defendants City of Peru, Matthew Heiden, and Douglas Bernabei; the motion to dismiss [85] filed by Defendant Brian Towne; the motion to dismiss [86] filed by Defendants City of Ottawa, Robert Nilles, Brent Roalson, Mark Hoster; and the motion to dismiss [89] filed by Defendants City of LaSalle, Mark Manicki, Robert Uranich, and Brian Zebron. For the reasons set forth below, the motions to dismiss [80; 82; 84; 85; 86; 89] are granted. Plaintiffs are given until October 2, 2019 to file a second amended complaint consistent with this opinion. Status hearing set for October 15, 2019 at 9:00 a.m.

         I. Background

         According to Plaintiffs' operative complaint, the LaSalle County State's Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit (“SAFE”) is an unofficial, unlawful police department set up by the LaSalle County State's Attorney's Office and the LaSalle County States Attorney, Brian Towne. [78, at ¶ 138.] Plaintiffs allege that the sole purpose of SAFE was to generate income through the Illinois Controlled Substance Act (720 ILCS 570), The Cannabis Control Act (20 ILCS 550), and the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act (725 ILCS 150). [Id. at ¶ 139.] Under the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act, the arresting law enforcement agency receives 65% of the value of the property or cash seized. [Id. at ¶ 140.] The prosecuting State's Attorney's Office receives 12.5% of the value of the seized property. [Id.]

         SAFE profiled out-of-state drivers by pulling over vehicles with non-Illinois license plates for minor traffic violations to provide justification for the traffic stop. [Id. at ¶ 142.] Once the vehicles were pulled over, a canine unit from one of the named Defendant Police Departments would arrive on scene and the canine would perform a free air sniff to provide justification to search the vehicle and its inhabitants. [Id. at ¶ 144.]

         Spring Valley Police Chief Kevin Sangston managed, supervised, and directed the activities of the Spring Valley Police Department. [Id. at ¶ 184.] Chief Sangston approved the use of canine units to provide free air sniffs for traffic stops made by SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 185.] Chief Sangston entered into an agreement with Towne whereby the Spring Valley Police Department would work with SAFE by providing canine units for SAFE traffic stops, and, in return, the City of Spring Valley would receive funds from the seized funds obtained by SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 186.] Furthermore, according to the amended complaint, the City of Spring Valley entered into an agreement with Towne to organize and operate SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 189.] The City of Spring Valley concealed the fact that SAFE was receiving seized funds as the arresting police agency by allowing SAFE and LaSalle County States Attorney Towne to deposit funds received from reimbursement from the illegally seized funds into a Spring Valley bank account. [Id. at ¶ 190.] The City of Spring Valley approved withdrawals from the City of Spring Valley bank accounts for use by SAFE and LaSalle County States Attorney Towne. [Id. at ¶ 190.]

         City of LaSalle Police Chief Robert Uranich managed, supervised, and directed the activities of the LaSalle Police Department. [Id. at ¶ 198.] Chief Uranich approved the use of canine units to provide free air sniffs for traffic stops made by SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 199.] Chief Uranich entered into an agreement with Towne whereby the LaSalle Police Department would work with SAFE by providing canine units for SAFE traffic stops, and in return, the City of LaSalle Police Department would receive funds from the seized funds obtained by SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 200.] According to Plaintiffs, Chief Uranich knew or should have known that the SAFE was not an official police agency and that any and all of the traffic stops performed by SAFE were without probable cause, without valid warrants, and lacked any official authority. [Id. at ¶ 201.] The LaSalle Police Department is a department within and under the control of the City of LaSalle. [Id. at ¶ 192.] The City of LaSalle controls the budget and staffing for the LaSalle Police Department. [Id. at ¶ 193.] The City of LaSalle, through the LaSalle Police Department, provided canine support for the illegal traffic stops made by SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 194.] The City of LaSalle, through the LaSalle Police Department, provided office space, interview rooms, evidence storage, and lock up facilities for SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 195.] The City of LaSalle and the LaSalle Police Department profited from the illegal activities of SAFE through receipt of funds approved by Towne. [Id. at ¶ 196.] Plaintiffs make similar allegations with respect to the City of Ottawa, the City of Peru, and their respective police chiefs.

         Plaintiffs contend that each Defendant acted as a principal in the organization and aided and abetted the activities of SAFE “through: (a) actual participation with the interruption of interstate commerce; (b) conducting searches without probable cause or warrants; (c) seizing property of the Plaintiffs; (d) extortion committed against the Plaintiffs; (e) false imprisonment of the Plaintiffs; (f) investment of the proceeds of the seized funds; and (g) benefited from the income knowing that the income was derived through SAFE.” [Id. at ¶ 298.]

         Plaintiff Michael Appel is a resident of Pennsylvania. [Id. at ¶ 5.] On January 15, 2015, Mr. Appel was driving westbound on Interstate 80 in LaSalle County, Illinois when he was stopped by SAFE. [Id. at ¶ 6.] Immediately after being stopped for a supposed minor traffic violation, Ottawa Police Department Canine Officer Robert Nilles arrived at the traffic stop and conducted a drug sniff of the car. [Id. at ¶ 7.] After the drug sniff was completed, SAFE Officers Daniel Gillette and Jeff Gaither conducted a search of the car. [Id. at ¶ 8.] SAFE seized $51, 400.00 in U.S. currency. [Id. at ¶ 9.] Plaintiffs contend that this search violated Mr. Appel's Fourth Amendment rights and was an illegal search. [Id. at ¶ 10.] Plaintiffs further contend that the seizure of currency was a violation of Mr. Appel's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and that the search and seizure was conducted as part of the Defendants' operation of an unlawful vigilante police force that had no jurisdiction or right to stop Mr. Appel. [Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.] According to Plaintiffs, the search and seizure was part of the Defendants' conspiracy to seize assets under the Illinois Asset Forfeiture Law and fund activities that benefitted the Defendants. [Id.] Plaintiffs all make similar allegations.

         On June 3, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court held that-by creating the SAFE unit-“the State's Attorney created yet another branch of law enforcement, the conduct of which falls well outside the duties contemplated” by Illinois law. People v. Ringland, 33 N.E.3d 1020, 1029 (Ill.App.Ct. 2015). That decision was affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court. People v. Ringland, 89 N.E.3d 735 (Ill. 2017). Plaintiffs bring claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act, Section 1983 claims, and various state-laws in connection with the searches and seizures conducted by SAFE and other Defendants.[1]

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)) (alteration in original). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all of Plaintiffs' well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007).

         III. Discussion

         A. Non-Suable Entities

         Defendants LaSalle County Board, LaSalle County State's Attorney's Office and LaSalle County State's Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit (together, the “LaSalle Defendants”) move for dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against them because they are not suable entities. Courts in this district have concluded that a County Board and a State's Attorney's Office are not suable entities because they do not “enjoy separate legal existence independent of the County.” Reese v. Chicago Police Dept., 602 F.Supp. 441, 443 (N.D. Ill. 1984), citing Mayes v. Elrod, 470 F.Supp. 1188, 1192 (N.D. Ill. 1979); see also, Fabiszak v. Will County Bd. Of Com'rs, 1994 WL 698509 *2 (N.D. Ill. 1994) (“In Illinois, a County Board of Commissioners is not separate from the county, rather, its powers are co-extensive with the county[.]”). The SAFE Unit was formed by the LaSalle County State's Attorney's Office and LaSalle County States Attorney, Brian Towne. [78, at ¶ 138.] Thus-according to the LaSalle Defendants-the SAFE Unit did not have legal existence independent of LaSalle County and it therefore also is not a suable entity.

         Plaintiffs fail entirely to respond to any of these legal or factual assertions, which are supported by citation to relevant authorities. “A party's failure to respond to arguments the opposing party makes in a motion to dismiss operates as a waiver or forfeiture of the claim and an abandonment of any argument against dismissing the claim.” Jones v. Connors, 2012 WL 4361500, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 20, 2012) (collecting cases); see also Cnty. of McHenry v. Ins. Co. of the West, 438 F.3d 813, 818 (7th Cir. 2006) (“When presented with a motion to dismiss, the non-moving party must proffer some legal basis to support his cause of action.”) (quoting Stransky v. Cummins Engine Co., 51 F.3d 1329, 1335 (7th Cir.1995)) (internal quotation marks omitted); Kirksey v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 1039, 1041 (7th Cir.1999) (“Our system of justice is adversarial, and our judges are busy people. If they are given plausible reasons for dismissing a complaint, they are not going to do the plaintiff's research and try to discover whether there might be something to say against the defendants' reasoning. An unresponsive response is no response. In effect the plaintiff was defaulted for refusing to respond to the motion to dismiss. And rightly so.”). Accordingly, the Court dismisses the claims against the LaSalle County Board, the LaSalle County State's Attorney's Office and the SAFE Unit without leave to replead.

         B. Sovereign Immunity

         Although there are no allegations against the LaSalle County State's Attorney in the amended complaint, it still is listed as a party to the suit and has not been voluntarily dismissed by Plaintiffs. The LaSalle County State's Attorney's Office moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against it on sovereign immunity grounds. The Eleventh Amendment to our Constitution states: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. “Eleventh Amendment issues arise whenever a private citizen files a federal lawsuit against a state, a state agency, or a state official-although the effect of the amendment differs depending on the category of defendant.” Scott v. O'Grady, 975 F.2d 366, 369 (7th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). “Whether a particular official is the legal equivalent of the State itself is a question of that State's law, and the Illinois Supreme Court decided in 1990 that State's Attorneys are state officials.” Garcia v. City of Chicago, Ill., 24 F.3d 966, 969 (7th Cir. 1994) (internal citations omitted).[2] Accordingly, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs' claims against the LaSalle County State's Attorney on sovereign immunity grounds without leave to replead.

         C. ...


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