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Mendez v. City of Chicago

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

October 7, 2019

JUAN MENDEZ Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, and CHRISTIAN SZCZUR, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARVIN E. ASPEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before us is Defendant City of Chicago's ("City") motion to dismiss Count V of Plaintiff Juan Mendez's second amended complaint (Second Amended Compl. (“SAC”) (Dkt. No. 51).) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Mem.”) (Dkt. 55).) Also before us is the City and Defendant Christian Szczurs' joint motion to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of Mendez's second amended complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), and Defendants' motion to strike Count I as duplicative, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). (Joint Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Joint Mem.”) (Dkt. 52).) For the reasons stated below, we deny the City's motion as to Count V, grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion to dismiss Count II, and grant Defendants' motion as to Counts III and IV. We also deny Defendant's motion to strike.

         BACKGROUND

         Mendez asserts that Police Officer Szczur unlawfully entered his property without probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion, caused Mendez to flee, and then shot Mendez in the back as he fled. Mendez alleges that the City of Chicago and Officer Christian Szczurs' conduct constituted excessive force (Count I), violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures (Count II), and violated Mendez's substantive due process right to bodily integrity under the Fourteenth Amendment (Count IV). (SAC ¶¶ 17, 21, 30.) Mendez also alleges his criminal trial for unlawful possession of a concealed handgun violated his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment because officers gave false evidence against him or otherwise tainted his criminal trial (Count III). (SAC ¶ 25.) Finally, Mendez alleges the City engaged in a pattern or practice of training its employees to use excessive force or engage in unlawful searches and seizures without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable articulable suspicion under the Monell doctrine (Count V).[1](SAC ¶ 46-49.)

         On May 26, 2018, around 3:40 a.m., two uniformed police officers appeared at Plaintiff's place of residence. (SAC ¶¶ 5-6.). Mr. Mendez resided at 5239 West Ohio Street, in the City of Chicago, Cook County, in Illinois. (SAC ¶ 6.). The Officers were allegedly responding to a report that shots were fired in the vicinity of Plaintiff's home. (SAC ¶ 6). The content of this policy is not further discussed. (SAC ¶ 7.) Mr. Mendez alleges he was sitting on his porch lawfully and peacefully at the time the uniformed officers approached. (SAC ¶¶ 8-9.)

         Plaintiff Mendez alleges Officer Szczur entered his property without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity. (SAC ¶¶ 8-12.) Officer Szczur allegedly asked Plaintiff to stand up, at which point Plaintiff fled his porch and ran down an alley adjoining his home. (SAC ¶ 12.) Officer Szczur and one or more fellow officers allegedly followed Mr. Mendez in hot pursuit, repeatedly threatening to shoot him. (SAC ¶13.) Plaintiff alleges he did not display a weapon, or any other behavior suggesting he was about to commit any criminal offense. (SAC ¶ 13.) Officer Szczur shot Plaintiff in the back several times while he was running down the alley next to his home. (SAC ¶ 14.) Plaintiff is paralyzed for life and unable to walk as a result of these shots fired into his back. (SAC ¶ 15.)

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant City engaged in a pattern or practice of sanctioning such uses of force. (SAC ¶¶ 34.) Plaintiff cites the Police Accountability Task Force's report entitled “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities they Serve, ” the Department of Justice's 2017 “Investigation of the Chicago Police Department, ” and the Consent Decree entered in State of Ill. v. City of Chi., No. 27 C 6260, Dkt. No. 703-1. (SAC ¶¶ 35-42.) Mendez claims that foot pursuits, such as the one that lead Officer Szczur to shoot him in the back, are customary for the CPD. (SAC ¶ 43.) He asserts these patterns or customs proximately caused Officer Szczur's use of excessive force against him and unlawful attempt to stop him. (SAC ¶ 45.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is meant to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not decide the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chi. Hous. Auth., 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 1989)). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, we “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded facts alleged, and drawing all possible inferences in [plaintiff's] favor.” Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081. A court may grant a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) only if a complaint lacks enough facts “to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007)). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Although a facially plausible complaint need not give “detailed factual allegations, ” it must allege facts sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. These requirements ensure that the defendant receives “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964.

         Defendants' motion to strike is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), which states that “[t]he court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Motions to strike are generally disfavored because they “potentially serve only to delay.” Helle Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989). The court should only strike claims that are clearly mistitled or redundant. See Renalds v. S.R.G. Restaurant Group, 119 F.Supp.2d 800, 802 (N.D. Ill. 2000).

         ANALYSIS

         I. SUFFICIENCY OF MONELL PLEADINGS

         Plaintiff alleges two Monell claims: the City's failure to train police or incorrect training of the police results in (1) a pattern or practice of excessive force; (2) a custom of unlawful searches and seizures without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. (SAC ¶ 45.) Defendant City filed its motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Monell claim against the city for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Mem.). Defendant claims Plaintiff failed to alleged sufficient specific factual allegations to establish a "pattern or practice" of constitutional violations, in keeping with the requirements of Monell. (Mem. at 3.) Plaintiff points to several reports outlining patterns of constitutional violations, which he ties to his individual case. (SAC ¶¶ 37-42.)

         Plaintiffs may recover against municipalities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for claims alleging a "policy or custom" of constitutional violations on the part of the city. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037 (1978); see also Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 1388 (1997). Direct liability is only appropriate where the municipality's deliberate conduct was the “moving force” behind the constitutional injury the plaintiff alleges. Glisson v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 849 F.3d 372, 384 (7th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (citing Brown, 520 U.S. at 400, 404, 117 S.Ct. at 1386, 1388.) “That a plaintiff has suffered a deprivation of federal rights at the hands of a municipal employee will not alone permit an inference of municipal culpability and causation; the plaintiff will simply have shown that the employee acted culpably.” Brown, 520 U.S. at 406-07, 117 S.Ct. at 1389 (emphasis in original). Inadequate training can form the basis of municipal liability, although a pattern or program of constitutional violations usually is required to make out the necessary fault and causation claims. Glisson, 849 F.3d at 385-86. Continued adherence to an approach that municipal employees “know or should know has failed to prevent tortious conduct by employees may establish the conscious disregard for the consequences of their actions . . . .” Id. at 386 (quoting Brown, 520 U.S. at 407-408, 117 S.Ct. 1382). The policy requirement is also “certainly met when the appropriate officer or entity promulgates a generally applicable statement of policy and the subsequent act complained of is simply an implementation of that policy.” Id. at 417, 117 S.Ct. at 1395 (Souter, J., dissenting); Glisson, 849 F.3d at 385.

         Failure to train or turning a blind eye to repeated excessive force violations could both give rise to Monell liability. Glisson, 849 F.3d at 384-86. “[B]ecause it is a “moral certainty” that police officers ‘will be required to arrest fleeing felons,' ‘the need to train officers in the constitutional limitations on the use of deadly force . . . can be said to be ‘so obvious,' that failure to do so could properly be characterized as ‘deliberate indifference' to constitutional rights.'” Id. at 382 (en banc) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390 n.10, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 1205 n.10 (1989)). Plaintiffs alleging a pattern or practice of constitutional violations may incorporate admissible evidence from official investigations, although they are not required to do so at the pleading stage. See Daniel v. Cook Cty., 833 F.3d 728, 731 (7th Cir. 2016).

         Plaintiff alleges facts sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss on his Monell claim. Plaintiff alleges that the City's practice of foot pursuits raises the risk of excessive force. (SAC ¶ 38 (a) (citing United States Department of Justice, Investigation of the Chicago Police Department (“DOJ Report”) (Dkt. No. 44-5)).) Plaintiff alleges he was shot during precisely such a foot pursuit, in similar circumstances to those explicated in the portion of the Department of Justice report cited in his complaint. (SAC ¶¶ 12-15, 38(a), 38(d-f), 42 (citing DOJ Report at 2).) Plaintiff alternatively alleges systemic training failures giving rise to Chicago Police's repeated unnecessary use of force, particularly against fleeing suspects. (SAC ¶ 38(c-d) (citing DOJ Report at 2).) Finally, Plaintiff alleges the CPD fails to adequately train or enforce rules related to use of force, undermining deterrence value of those policies in a systematic way. (SAC ¶ 38(h).) Plaintiff thus directly alleges a claim of the type the Supreme Court approved in Harris and the Seventh Circuit approved of in Glisson, along with allegations supporting his claim in the form of several reports on CPD's practices. Harris, 489 U.S. at 390 n.10, 109 S.Ct. at 1205 n.10; Glisson, 849 F.3d at 382. These allegations state a claim for a Monell violation as to unreasonable and excessive use of force, because taken as true they suggest the City's practices or customs proximately caused the use of excessive force against the Plaintiff.[2]See, e.g., Graham v. Sauk Prairie Police Com'n, 915 F.2d 2085 (7th Cir. 1990) (affirming municipal liability in excessive force case); ...


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