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Austin v. City of Chicago

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

September 30, 2019

Robert A. Austin & Raapoetry LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
City of Chicago, Detective Lawrence Bond, Detective Jerad Tim, Sgt. J.A. Maciejewski, Jr., Uriel N. Padilla, Michael S. Mueller, & Sharon Huffman, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge

         Robert Austin and his company RAAPOETRY LLC bring this action against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department officers Lawrence Bond, Jerad Tim, J.A. Maciejewski Jr., Uriel Padilla, Michael Mueller, and Sharon Huffman for several civil rights violations stemming from Austin’s arrest in February of 2018. The City of Chicago moved to dismiss the claims against it, and the defendants collectively moved to dismiss RAAPOETRY from the case. For the following reasons, the defendants’ motions are granted, and except for Austin’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 false imprisonment, conspiracy, and due process violation claims, the Court sua sponte dismisses Austin’s remaining claims. Defendant Lieutenant Huffman is also dismissed from the case.

         Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the “sufficiency of the complaint.” Berger v. Nat. Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 843 F.3d 285, 289 (7th Cir. 2016). A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’” Boucher v. Fin. Sys. of Green Bay, Inc., 880 F.3d 362, 366 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Tobey v. Chibucos, 890 F.3d 634, 646 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Background

         Plaintiffs Robert Austin and RAAPOETRY, LLC sued defendants City of Chicago, Detective Lawrence Bond, Detective Jerad Tim, Sergeant J.A. Maciejewski, Jr., Officer Uriel N. Padilla, Officer Michael S. Mueller, and Lieutenant Sharon Huffman for several civil rights violations stemming from Austin’s arrest in February of 2018. In his 58-page complaint, Austin alleges that on February 8, 2018, defendants Mueller, Padilla, and Maciejewski arrived at Austin’s home to question him about false accusations stemming from Austin’s interest in a WNBA player. R. 1 at 9-10. Austin then alleges the defendants arrested him without probable cause and transported him to the police station without advising him of the charges against him or reading him his Miranda rights. Id. at 11-14, 19, 26-27. Once in custody, defendants Bond and Tim interviewed Austin about his alleged crimes. Id. at 35-36. Austin then alleges that some or all of the defendants altered the case incident and arrest reports to make him appear guilty of those crimes, despite their knowledge of exculpatory evidence. See Id . at 18-19, 35-36.

         Austin further alleges that the City of Chicago fosters an environment that allows police officers to act with impunity. Id. at 54. Specifically, that the police department’s lack of an effective early warning system to mitigate unlawful conduct by its officers and the department’s “code of silence” led to his constitutional violations. Id.

         The City of Chicago moved to dismiss Austin’s Monell claim. The defendants also collectively moved to dismiss RAAPOETRY from the case.

         Analysis

         I. Monell Claim

         A governmental entity cannot be held liable under Section 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Monell v. Dep’t. of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York. 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). Instead, a plaintiff must establish liability through the existence of (1) an express policy; (2) an unofficial governmental practice or custom that is widespread and well-settled, or (3) an act by an official with final policymaking authority. See Thomas v. Cook County Sherriff’s Dep’t., 604 F.3d 293, 303 (7th Cir. 2010). The policy or custom must be “the moving force” behind the constitutional violation. Estate of Sims ex rel. Sims v. County of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 514 (7th Cir. 2007). The gravamen of a Monell claim “is not individual misconduct by police officers (that is covered elsewhere in § 1983), but a widespread practice that permeates a critical mass of the institutional body.” Rossi v. City of Chicago, 790 F.3d 729, 737 (7th Cir. 2015). For this reason, “misbehavior by one or a group of officials is only relevant where it can be tied to the policy, customs, or practices of the institution as a whole.” Id.

         Austin appears to allege both “express policy” and “widespread practice” theories of Monell liability. Each is addressed in turn.

         a) Express Policy

         The express policy theory of Monell liability applies “where a policy explicitly violates a constitutional right when enforced.”[1]Calhoun v. Ramsey, 408 F.3d 375, 379 (7th Cir. 2005). Austin alleges that the officers acted pursuant to the police department’s “code of silence, ” codified as Article V, Rule ...


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