Winkfield v. City Of Chicago
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order Written by the Honorable Gary Feinerman on 10/22/2013.Mailed notice.(jlj)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
CITY OF CHICAGO, M. VALERIO, and I.
12 C 3750
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law arises from Plaintiff Michael
Winkfield’s arrest by Chicago police officers on May 16, 2010. Winkfield’s original complaint,
which named only the City of Chicago as a defendant, was dismissed without prejudice under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 2013 WL 1809920 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 29, 2013).
Winkfield then filed an amended complaint against the City of Chicago and Chicago police
officers M. Valerio and I. Gawlowski, which purports to state claims for false arrest, deprivation
of property, and excessive force. Doc. 31. Defendants moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6),
Doc. 33, and the court appointed counsel to Winkfield to assist with his opposition to the motion
and, if the case survived dismissal, with discovery and trial, Doc. 39. Winkfield’s opposition
brief concedes that his claims against the City should be dismissed with prejudice, Doc. 41 at 1,
so only the claims against Valerio and Gawlowski need be discussed. For the reasons that
follow, Defendants’ motion is granted, and this case is dismissed with prejudice.
In considering Defendants’ motion, the court assumes the truth of the amended
complaint’s factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d
630, 632 (7th Cir. 2012). The court must also consider “documents attached to the [amended]
complaint, documents that are critical to the [amended] complaint and referred to in it, and
information that is subject to proper judicial notice,” along with additional facts set forth in
Winkfield’s brief opposing dismissal, so long as those facts “are consistent with the pleadings.”
Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012). The facts are set forth as
favorably to Winkfield as permitted by the amended complaint and the other materials that must
be considered on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Gomez v. Randle, 680 F.3d 859, 864 (7th Cir.
Winkfield’s false arrest claim, which arises under the Fourth Amendment, alleges that he
was arrested without probable cause. The amended complaint acknowledges that the officers
arrested Winkfield for battery after a woman named Angel Taylor told the officers that
Winkfield had hit her son. Doc. 31 at 5. Winkfield’s brief likewise recognizes that “his arrest
was pursuant to a citizen’s complaint.” Doc. 41 at 3. Winkfield alleges, however, that Taylor
lied to the officers in that it was she who attacked him, and also that his neighbors tried to
explain this to the officers but that the officers ignored them. Doc. 31 at 4-7. Without passing
judgment on whether Taylor lied to the officers, Winkfield’s Fourth Amendment claim fails.
Governing precedent holds that “[p]olice are entitled to base an arrest on a citizen
complaint … without investigating the truthfulness of the complaint, unless … they have reason
to believe it’s fishy.” Guzell v. Hiller, 223 F.3d 518, 519-20 (7th Cir. 2000); see also Harney v.
City of Chicago, 702 F.3d 916, 923 (7th Cir. 2012); Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 765 (7th
Cir. 2007); Beauchamp v. City of Noblesville, Ind., 320 F.3d 733, 743 (7th Cir. 2003); Woods v.
City of Chicago, 234 F.3d 979, 997 (7th Cir. 2000); Spiegel v. Cortese, 196 F.3d 717, 724-76
(7th Cir. 1999); Gramenos v. Jewel Cos., 797 F.2d 432, 439-40 (7th Cir. 1986); Rodgers v.
Lincoln Towing Serv., Inc., 771 F.2d 194, 200 (7th Cir. 1985). In Rodgers, for example, the
Seventh Circuit held that complaints to the defendant officer (Pagano) that the plaintiff
(Rodgers) defaced Lincoln Towing Service’s building established sufficient probable cause for
Pagano to arrest Rodgers:
We stated in McKinney v. George, 726 F.2d 1183, 1187 (7th Cir. 1984), that
“[i]f policemen arrest a person on the basis of a private citizen’s complaint
that if true would justify the arrest, and they reasonably believe it is true, they
cannot be held liable for a violation of the Constitution merely because it later
turns out that the complaint was unfounded.” No facts suggest that Pagano
acted in anything other than good faith. Pagano was confronted by two
Lincoln Towing employees who steadfastly maintained they had seen Rodgers
throw the paint on the building, and by Rodgers, who maintained his
innocence. We cannot fault Pagano for believing [the two Lincoln Towing
employees] over Rodgers, even though it turned out that [the employees] may
have been lying. Apart from the conclusion that Pagano “knew” [the
employees] were lying, Rodgers has not alleged a single fact that would
indicate Pagano thought Rodgers was innocent.
Rodgers, 771 F.2d at 200-01. Winkfield attempts to distinguish Rodgers on the ground that he
“has alleged that independent witnesses, readily available to the officers, supported his
innocence: ‘My neighbors tried to explain to the police [what] happened, but the police rush to
judgment made the arrest anyhow.’” Doc. 41 at 3-4. The distinction fails because the officers in
Rodgers, like the officers here, were presented with conflicting accounts of whether the arrestee
had violated the law.
Moreover, the amended complaint provides no basis to believe that Gawlowski and
Valerio acted in “anything other than good faith,” Rodgers, 771 F.2d at 200, in crediting Taylor’s
account over that of Winkfield and his neighbors. As the Seventh Circuit has explained:
The idea behind Gramenos [v. Jewel Cos., supra,] and similar decisions
is that police often encounter competing and inconsistent stories. One person
makes an accusation; another denies it; police on the scene must act yet lack
the tools to determine immediately where the truth lies. The Constitution
permits them to initiate the criminal process and leave the sifting of competing
claims and inferences to detectives, prosecutors, judges, and juries in the
criminal prosecution. If states think that this gives accused persons
insufficient protection, they are free to enact statutes either staying the
officers’ hand or providing recompense to those exonerated in the criminal
The sort of inconsistencies to which [the plaintiff] points are normal.
Eyewitnesses remember things differently. Police don’t always follow correct
procedure (here, defendants concede, they should have completed the charge
form before the complaining witnesses signed). If these were sufficient to
permit second-guessing and damages, then the job of policing would be very
risky financially as well as physically. Police would respond by disbelieving
witnesses (or not acting on allegations), lest they end up paying damages, and
the public would suffer as law enforcement declined. Often the victims
themselves live in the shadows and do not fancy a trip to court, which may
expose aspects of their lives they prefer to keep hidden; arresting on their
accusations would be especially risky to the police; yet everyone is entitled to
protection from crime, and that protection would erode if the arrested person
could collect from the police every time a civil jury concludes that it would
have handled the incident differently.
Askew v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 894, 896-97 (7th Cir. 2006). Accordingly, even viewing the
facts in the light most favorable to Winkfield and drawing all inferences in his favor, his Fourth
Amendment claim is a non-starter. See Spiegel, 196 F.3d at 724-25 (“Many putative defendants
protest their innocence, and it is not the responsibility of law enforcement officials to test such
claims once probable cause has been established. Consequently the law does not require that a
police officer conduct an incredibly detailed investigation at the probable cause stage.”) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Contrary to Winkfield’s submission, Doc. 41 at 3-4, this conclusion
may be reached on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 441-44
(7th Cir. 2013) (affirming the district court’s Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of the plaintiff’s false arrest
claim on the ground that the arresting officers had probable cause); Cady v. S. Suburban Coll.,
152 F. App’x 531, 534 (7th Cir. 2005) (same).
Winkfield’s property damage claim arises from his allegation that Taylor or some other
person stole items from his apartment after his door was left unlocked upon his arrest: “I asked
the police let me lock my door to my apartment. His words were shut your ass up and get into
the car. After being locked up in jail for about 18 hrs, I come home the next afternoon my door
i[s] still open. I went inside most of my va[lua]bles are gone, stolen, because of the false arrest a
neglect from not letting me lock my door.” Doc. 31 at 5-6. Winkfield has no due process claim
arising from the alleged theft of his property. Settled precedent holds that so long as the State
makes available a meaningful post-deprivation remedy, there is no due process violation even
where a government employee intentionally deprives the plaintiff of property. See Daniels v.
Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 534-35 (1984); Gates
v. City of Chicago, 623 F.3d 389, 409-410 (7th Cir. 2010); Michalowicz v. Vill. of Bedford Park,
528 F.3d 530, 534-35 (7th Cir. 2008); Higgason v. Morton, 171 F. App’x 509, 512 (7th Cir.
2006); Snyder v. Nolen, 380 F.3d 279, 298 (7th Cir. 2004); Gable v. City of Chicago, 296 F.3d
531, 539-40 (7th Cir. 2002).
Winkfield does not dispute that Illinois provides an adequate tort remedy for property
deprivations of the sort alleged to have occurred here, and indeed does not appear to challenge
the notion that he has no due process claim. Doc. 41 at 4-5. Winkfield instead argues that
“when property is damaged in the course of an arrest or execution of a search warrant[,] § 1983
may provide relief as such claims are based upon the unreasonable search and seizure provisions
of the Fourth Amendment.” Ibid. In support, Winkfield cites Heft v. Moore, 351 F.3d 278 (7th
Cir. 2003), and United States v. Ramirez, 523 U.S. 65 (1998), both of which hold that an
officer’s unnecessary destruction of property during a search may violate the Fourth
Amendment. See Ramirez, 523 U.S. at 71 (“Excessive or unnecessary destruction of property in
the course of a search may violate the Fourth Amendment, even though the entry itself is lawful
and the fruits of the search are not subject to suppression.”); Heft, 351 F.3d at 282 (same). Here,
by contrast, Winkfield alleges not that the officers stole or damaged his property during his
arrest, but that the officers’ refusal to let Winkfield lock his door after the arrest allowed Taylor
or unknown persons to steal his property.
That allegation is not actionable in a § 1983 suit. In Bonner v. Coughlin, 545 F.2d 565
(7th Cir. 1976) (en banc), the plaintiff (Bonner), a state prisoner, alleged that two prison guards
left his prison cell door open after they had completed a security search when he was away,
resulting in an unknown person stealing his property (a trial transcript). Id. at 566-67. The
Seventh Circuit rejected Bonner’s § 1983 claim, holding that “that the negligence of the guards
which caused the loss of Bonner’s transcript was not a State deprivation of property without due
process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment nor action ‘under color of state law’ under
Section 1983.” Id. at 567 (emphasis added). The court reasoned as follows:
Here there was no state action depriving Bonner of property under the
Fourteenth Amendment because any state action ended when the guards left
the cell after the security search. The loss of the transcript did not occur until
after state action had terminated. Similarly, the taking of the transcript was
not under color of state law because it was neither encouraged nor condoned
by state agents. Any causation between the negligence of the prison guards in
leaving the cell door open and Bonner’s transcript loss was insufficient to
satisfy Section 1983 because it was not alleged that the guards’ actions were
either intentional or in reckless disregard of Bonner’s constitutional rights.
Ibid. As in Bonner, Winkfield does not allege that the officers’ actions concerning his door were
either intentional or in reckless disregard of his constitutional rights; there is nothing in the
amended complaint or Winkfield’s opposition brief suggesting that the officers intended that
Winkfield’s belongings would be stolen or that they were reckless in not realizing that a theft
would occur. Accordingly, the theft of Winkfield’s property by Taylor or some unknown person
is not under color of state law because it occurred after the officers left the premises and because
the officers “neither encouraged nor condoned” the theft. Ibid. It follows that Winkfield’s
property loss claim, whether stated under the Due Process Clause or the Fourth Amendment, is
not actionable under § 1983.
Winkfield’s excessive force claim alleges only that “[t]here was some degree of
excessive force used.” Doc. 31 at 5. This barebones recital of an excessive force claim is
insufficient under Rule 8(a). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“[T]he pleading
standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ but it demands more
than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers
‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.’ Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual
enhancement.’”) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555, 557 (2007))
(citations omitted). Winkfield’s opposition brief “concede[s] … that [he] is unable to make good
faith allegations that the individual police officers engaged in specific acts of excessive force or
that Plaintiff suffered specific injury as a result of the arrest.” Doc. 42 at 5. Absent those
allegations, the excessive force claim offers merely “labels and conclusions,” Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555, and therefore is not viable. See Barr v. Gee, 437 F. App’x 865, 877-78 (11th Cir. 2011)
(affirming the dismissal of an excessive force claim where the plaintiff made only the
“conclusory assertion that the force was ‘excessive’” and “did not describe the ‘beating’ or
otherwise allege facts permitting a plausible inference that the force [the police officers] used
For these reasons, Defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted. The dismissal is with
prejudice because Winkfield has had two opportunities to plead his claims and because his
opposition brief, implicitly conceding that the facts alleged by the amended complaint are the
best he has to offer, does not request an opportunity to replead. See James Cape & Sons Co. v.
PCC Constr. Co., 453 F.3d 396, 400-01 (7th Cir. 2006) (rejecting the plaintiff's argument that
the district court erred in dismissing its complaint with prejudice, rather than without prejudice
and with leave to amend, where the plaintiff did not request leave to amend). Winkfield’s state
law claims are dismissed without prejudice for the reasons set forth in the opinion dismissing the
original complaint. 2013 WL 1809920, at *2.
October 22, 2013
United States District Judge
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