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Neita v. City of Chicago

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

November 1, 2019

VAUGHN NEITA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, CHICAGO POLICE OFFICERS KAREN RITTORNO, DOMINGO ENRIQUEZ, JR., and ANIMAL CARE AND CONTROL OFFICER ARTURO FRANCO, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOAN H. LEFKOW U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Vaughn Neita has sued the City of Chicago, Chicago police officers Karen Rittorno and Domingo Enriquez, and Chicago Department of Animal Care and Control officer Arturo Franco under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various Illinois tort theories. Against the defendant officers, Neita brings claims of false arrest (Count I), illegal search and seizure (Count II), malicious prosecution under § 1983 and Illinois law (Counts III and VIII), conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights (Count IV), retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights (Count V), and failure to intervene (Count VI).[1] Against the City, Neita brings claims for indemnification (Count VII) and malicious prosecution under the doctrine of respondeat superior (Count VIII). Neita also brings a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against all defendants (Count IX). Defendants now move to dismiss Neita's complaint in its entirety. (Dkt. 12.) For the reasons below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.[2]

         BACKGROUND[3]

         On February 4, 2018, Officer Rittorno received an email from the City of Chicago Department of Animal Care and Control requesting an investigation into the treatment of a dog at 413 N. Central Park Ave. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 6.) On February 7, 2018, Officers Rittorno and Enriquez went to the address and observed Neita's dog, Macy, in good health and in an otherwise “unremarkable condition.” (Id. ¶ 7.) Nevertheless, the officers seized Macy. (Id.) Neita was not present when the officers first arrived at his house but subsequently returned home and requested that Macy be released into his custody. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) The officers refused. (Id. ¶ 9.) Neita telephoned his sister, also a Chicago police officer, who advised Neita to request that the officers call for their supervisor. (Id. ¶ 10.) Neita made that request, but Officer Rittorno stated that they had no supervisor, to which Neita's sister replied that she would call for a supervisor herself. (Id. ¶ 11.) Officer Rittorno then acquiesced in calling for a supervisor, but immediately thereafter Officers Rittorno and Enriquez placed Neita under arrest. (Id. ¶ 11.) At the direction of Officers Rittorno and Enriquez, Officer Franco took possession of Macy. (Id. ¶ 13.) As a result of these events, Neita was charged with animal cruelty and violation of owner's duties under Illinois law. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Neita had previously filed a civil rights lawsuit similar to the present one, and he argues that all of the defendant officers' acts described above were motivated by a desire to retaliate against him for doing so. (Id. ¶ 53.)

         On March 16, 2018, a hearing was held before Judge Robert Kuzas of the Circuit Court of Cook County on a motion by the State to require Neita to post security and forfeit Macy. (Id. ¶ 17.) Officer Rittorno and Dr. Lindsey Garner, a veterinarian who had conducted a physical exam of Macy, testified for the State. (Id. ¶ 17.) Dr. Garner testified that she had conducted a thorough physical examination of Macy and found her to be in “normal body condition, ” with some dirt in her fur coat. (Id. ¶ 19.) At the conclusion of the hearing, the Circuit Court denied the State's petition to forfeit Macy and ordered Macy returned to Neita subject to payment of reasonable costs for care to date, which amounted to $369.00. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 20-21.)

         On April 18, 2018, the case was set for a bench trial. (Id. ¶ 22.) At trial, Officer Rittorno conceded she had withheld photographic evidence from discovery, which the State then produced in court that day. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) The Court granted Neita's motion for a directed verdict on the grounds that the State had failed to set forth prima facie evidence of Neita's guilt of any offense. (Id. ¶ 26.) The Court concluded that the State's proffered basis for the criminal charges against Neita was that he had failed to keep his dog house at least two inches off the ground, but that no such obligation exists. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27)

         Neita subsequently brought this action, which defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim, relying largely on transcripts of testimony from the State criminal case that Neita attached to his complaint, which they assert show the officers had probable cause for Neita's arrest. (Dkt. 12.) In opposition to the motion, Neita argues that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Neita. (Dkt. 16.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. Active Disposal, 635 F.3d at 886; Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 486 (7th Cir. 2002). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also establish that the requested relief is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009); Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). The allegations in the complaint must be “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. At the same time, the plaintiff need not plead legal theories; it is the facts that count. Hatmaker v. Mem'l Med. Ctr., 619 F.3d 741, 743 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Johnson v. City of Shelby, 574 U.S. 10, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam) (“Federal pleading rules call for a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted”).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Documents Before the Court

         In general, courts may only consider the allegations within the four corners of a complaint when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993). When information outside the complaint comes before the court, Rule 12(d) directs courts either to exclude the information or to convert the motion to one for summary judgment. Id. Nevertheless, a court may consider extrinsic documents as though they were part of the complaint if the documents are referred to in the complaint and are central to the claim. Id.; see also Wright v. Associated Ins. Cos. Inc., 29 F.3d 1244, 1248 (7th Cir. 1994). This exception aims at preventing plaintiffs from evading Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal simply by omitting critical materials from the complaint. Brownmark Films, LLC v. Comedy Partners, 682 F.3d 687, 690 (7th Cir. 2012); Tierney v. Vahle, 304 F.3d 734, 738 (7th Cir. 2002).

         Here, Neita attached multiple documents to his complaint, including an arrest report (Exhibit 1), a Gang Investigation Division Supplementary Report (Exhibit 2), and transcripts of proceedings in the underlying criminal case (Exhibits 3 & 4). Defendants argue that statements made by the officers in these documents can be relied upon to demonstrate probable cause at the motion to dismiss stage, and thus that Neita has pleaded himself out of court.[4] (Dkt. 12 at 4.)

         Defendants' argument is unpersuasive. “The plaintiff's purpose in attaching an exhibit to his complaint determines what assertions if any in the exhibit are facts that the plaintiff has incorporated into the complaint.” Guzzell v. Hiller, 223 F.3d 518, 519 (7th Cir. 2000). Neita repeatedly disputes the accuracy of the officer's testimony throughout the complaint-indeed, those disputes form the heart of his claims. (See, e.g., dkt. 1 ¶¶ 18, 25.) The court cannot credit the officers' testimony to the contrary at this stage. See Stopa v. City of Chi., No. 91 C 2909, 1992 WL 7437, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 1992) (“defendants' attempt to submit evidence to establish probable cause is inappropriate in a motion to dismiss”); Gay v. Robinson, No. 08-4032, 2009 WL 196407, at *4 (C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2009) (“the existence of probable cause is a fact-based inquiry that is more properly resolved on summary judgment”).

         II. Count I: False Arrest

         Neita's first claim is that his arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights and is actionable under § 1983. “To prevail on a false-arrest claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that there was no probable cause for his arrest.” Neita v. City of Chicago, 830 F.3d 494, 497 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Thayer v. Chiczewski, 705 F.3d 237, 246 (7th Cir. 2012)). To determine whether an officer had probable cause to arrest, the court examines whether an objectively reasonable officer in the arresting officer's position would conclude, based on the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense. See D.C. v. Wesby, ____ U.S.____, 138 S.Ct. 577, 586 (2018); Harney v. City of Chi., 702 F.3d 916, 922 (7th Cir. 2012). The probable cause standard depends on the totality of the circumstances and “requires only a probability or substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual showing of such activity.” Wesby, 138 S.Ct. at 586 (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 243-44, n.13, 103 S.Ct. 2317 (1983)). At the motion to dismiss stage, after accepting the well-pleaded facts as true, the existence of probable cause is a question of law. Rusinowski, 835 F.Supp.2d at 648 (citing United States v. Ellis, 499 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir. 2007)).

         Neita was arrested for suspected animal cruelty and violation of owner's duties under the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act, 510 Ill. Comp. Stat 70/3.01[5] and 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. 70/3.[6] (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 15; Ex. 1.) The complaint alleges that Macy presented in an unremarkable condition and in good health at the time the officers arrived at his residence. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 7.) Furthermore, Neita's testimony at the seizure hearing-which he asks this court to credit-was that Macy was given ample food and water and her shelter was adequately heated. Neita further testified that the double leash used to tether Macy was eleven feet in length, surpassing the 10-foot requirement for tethering outside. (See Id. ¶ 26.) Taken as true, these assertions do not establish as a matter of law that a reasonable officer would have had probable cause to believe that Neita had abused or neglected Macy in violation of the cited statutes.

         III. Count II: Illegal Search and Seizure

         Neita next alleges that Officers Rittorno, Enriquez, and Franco illegally searched his person and seized Macy after his arrest. Searches and seizures conducted without a warrant “are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (2009) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507 (1967)). Among these exceptions is a search incident to a lawful arrest, which Defendants argue applies here. Id.; (Dkt. 12 at 7.)

         As set forth above, however, because Neita adequately alleges that his arrest was not lawful, the court cannot determine as a matter of law that the search-incident-to-arrest exception applies. Therefore, Neita's claim for illegal search and seizure may proceed.

         IV. Count III: Section 1983 ...


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