Brooks v. Ross

Citation578 F.3d 574
Decision Date20 August 2009
Docket NumberNo. 08-4286.,08-4286.
PartiesVictor BROOKS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Mark ROSS, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)

Arvin Boddie, Attorney (argued), Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Mary Ellen Welsh, Attorney (argued), Office of the Attorney General, Chicago, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before FLAUM, WOOD, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

WOOD, Circuit Judge.

This is the second time this court has been asked to review the fall-out from Ronald Matrisciano's testimony before the Illinois Prison Review Board ("PRB") in support of inmate Harry Aleman's petition for parole. See Matrisciano v. Randle, 569 F.3d 723 (7th Cir.2009). Normally, employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") do not serve as advocates for inmates. But this is what happened in December 2002 when Matrisciano, an IDOC employee, appeared before the PRB on behalf of Aleman. The PRB voted overwhelmingly against Aleman, with PRB member Victor Brooks providing the sole vote in his favor. Because of Aleman's notoriety, however, the media took an interest in the hearing and in Matrisciano's role in it. See People v. Aleman, 313 Ill.App.3d 51, 246 Ill.Dec. 20, 729 N.E.2d 20 (2000). In the wake of that publicity, the director of the IDOC, Donald N. Snyder, demoted Matrisciano and initiated an investigation into the parole incident. About three years later, Matrisciano and Brooks were indicted for official misconduct and wire fraud in connection with the Aleman hearing. Both were acquitted.

Brooks became convinced that he was the victim of a conspiracy to prosecute him. He filed the present lawsuit in state court against Mark Ross, who had prepared a report for the Illinois State Police on the incident, and against Joseph Ponsetto, Edward Carter, Jorge L. Montes, Norman M. Sula, and Kenneth D. Tupy, all of whom played a role in the actions against Brooks. Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Brooks raised a number of constitutional and state-law claims against the defendants. Defendants removed the suit to federal court, and then filed an all-encompassing motion to dismiss, on grounds of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, sovereign immunity, absolute immunity, public-official immunity, absolute prosecutorial immunity, testimonial immunity, failure to state a claim, and the statute of limitations. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim, and the case has now reached this court. We affirm.


Brooks joined the IDOC in 1977, and in 1980, he befriended Matrisciano, a fellow employee. In 1995, Governor Jim Edgar appointed Brooks to the PRB, and he was reappointed by Governor George Ryan in 2001. One of the PRB's functions is to make parole decisions for certain classes of IDOC inmates. At one such hearing in December 2002, Matrisciano appeared and presented a statement in favor of inmate Harry Aleman's parole. Matrisciano's views, however, did not carry the day; only Brooks, out of the eleven PRB members present, voted in favor of Aleman.

Matrisciano's testimony before the PRB caused some controversy. Six days later, George de Tella, Associate Director at the IDOC, demoted Matrisciano. (Our earlier case arose out of this action: Matrisciano filed a lawsuit asserting that his demotion violated his First Amendment rights, but this court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants in that case. Matrisciano, supra.) Some time around January 2003, the IDOC referred its investigation of wrongdoing to the State Police, with defendant Mark Ross serving as the case agent. Over the course of his investigation, Ross interviewed various people, including Aleman, IDOC employee Nancy L. Miller, and PRB members Jorge L. Montes and Norman M. Sula. Assistant Attorneys General Joseph Ponsetto and Edward C. Carter III were present at the Miller interviews and assisted Ross at one of them. Ross released several investigative reports about his case, noting in a 2003 report that "Matrisciano and an unknown member of the parole board, had accepted payment to speak favorably on behalf of inmate Harry Aleman at a parole hearing for Aleman." A January 2005 report specifically named Brooks as that PRB member, but Ross's investigation concluded with a report issued in November 2005 that refrained from identifying the PRB member who had accepted bribes. On December 9, 2005, Brooks and Matrisciano were indicted by a grand jury and charged with official misconduct and wire fraud in connection with the Aleman hearing. They were both acquitted on March 19, 2007, after a bench trial.

Brooks then filed this lawsuit on March 18, 2008, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, alleging violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state law. Brooks named as defendants Ross, Ponsetto, Carter, Montes, Sula, and Tupy (PRB counsel), as well as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other unnamed or unknown state officials. Citing the federal claims, defendants removed the case to federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (Sula was not part of the initial notice to remove, because it was unclear at the time whether he had properly been served.) Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted in part, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan was dismissed from the case. Brooks parried with an amended complaint, which alleged that the defendants had deprived Brooks of due process and had conspired to do so, and also raised state-law theories of malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Defendants again filed a motion to dismiss based on untimeliness, sovereign immunity, absolute immunity, public official immunity, prosecutorial immunity, and failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, relying on the last of these grounds. It either declined to rule on or rejected defendants' other arguments. Plaintiff has now appealed, and defendants both defend the district court's ruling and offer a number of other reasons why its judgment should be affirmed.


This court reviews a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim de novo. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir.2008). In analyzing the case, we may affirm on any ground contained in the record. Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 166, 117 S.Ct. 1154, 137 L.Ed.2d 281 (1997). We elect to examine the issues of timeliness, sovereign immunity, and proper pleading in this opinion. Because we find these issues sufficient to resolve the case, we need not reach defendants' arguments about absolute immunity, public official immunity, or prosecutorial immunity.


The district court did not explicitly address the defendants' statute of limitations argument, but because we find it potentially dispositive of at least some parts of the case, we consider it first. A plaintiff in Illinois must pursue a personal injury action within 2 years from the accrual of the claim. 735 ILCS 5/13-202. Brooks's § 1983 claims follow suit. See Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007) ("Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action, but in several respects relevant here federal law looks to the law of the State in which the cause of action arose. This is so for the length of the statute of limitations: It is that which the State provides for personal-injury torts."). As noted above, Brooks was indicted on December 9, 2005, and acquitted on March 19, 2007. He filed his initial complaint on March 18, 2008. If his claims run from the time of indictment, they are untimely. If they run from the time of acquittal, the opposite is true.

Defendants claim that Brooks's federal § 1983 conspiracy and his state-law civil conspiracy and IIED claims are barred by the statute of limitations because they accrued at the time of the indictment. They concede, however, that the state-law malicious prosecution and § 1983 due process claims are not time-barred. This is so because the former has as one of its elements the termination of a prosecution in the defendant's favor. Brooks's § 1983 due process claim essentially contests the fairness of his prosecution. It is thus similar to his malicious prosecution claim, and "claims resembling malicious prosecution do not accrue until the prosecution has terminated in the plaintiff's favor." Snodderly v. R. U.F.F. Drug Enforcement Task Force, 239 F.3d 892, 896 (7th Cir.2001). Therefore, that claim is not time-barred either.

Plaintiff has two responses to defendants' timeliness arguments. First, he contends that the court should not rule on a statute of limitations defense in response to a motion to dismiss. Second, he appeals to Illinois's continuing tort rule, which holds that when "a tort involves a continuing or repeated injury, the limitations period does not begin to run until the date of the last injury or the date the tortious acts cease." Belleville Toyota v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., 199 Ill.2d 325, 264 Ill.Dec. 283, 770 N.E.2d 177, 190 (2002). Brooks believes that his entire prosecution constitutes a continuing tort.

While complaints typically do not address affirmative defenses, the statute of limitations may be raised in a motion to dismiss if "the allegations of the complaint itself set forth everything necessary to satisfy the affirmative defense." United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir.2005). (Technically, one might see this as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) rather than a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), but the practical effect is the same.) We find it appropriate here to consider the statute of limitations because the relevant dates are set forth unambiguously in the complaint. It is also clear that the continuing tort rule does not apply in this case. The Supreme Court of Illinois has stated that "where there is a single overt act from which subsequent damages may flow, the statute begins to run on the date the defendant invaded the...

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