Chmielowicz v. City of Chicago

Decision Date27 April 2022
Docket Number21 C 5432
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Scott Chmielowicz brings this lawsuit against defendants the City of Chicago, Chicago Police Officer Geraldo Madrigal, and former Chicago Police Officer Horace Miller alleging constitutional and state law claims. Before the Court are the City's and Officer Madrigal's motion to dismiss along with Miller's motion to dismiss, both brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motions.


In his amended complaint, which defendants removed from state court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1446, Chmielowicz alleges that on September 26, 2019, he was riding his bicycle in a designated bicycle lane near 1034 North Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. At that time, defendant Miller was in a car in the designated bicycle lane and then merged without warning into the traffic lane on North Milwaukee Avenue. By doing so Miller collided with Chmielowicz causing him to crash his bicycle resulting in personal injuries requiring medical attention.

Thereafter Officer Madrigal responded to the scene of the collision and completed a traffic crash report. He issued four traffic citations to Chmielowicz. When investigating the crash Officer Madrigal did not speak to Chmielowicz or any other witnesses except Miller. Chmielowicz alleges that there was no legal or factual basis for the four traffic citations issued. He also alleges that Miller and Officer Madrigal conspired to falsely report the collision and charge Chmielowicz with the traffic citations so that Miller, a former Chicago Police Officer, would not have to face criminal or civil liability for the collision.

In his amended complaint, Chmielowicz alleges a negligence claim against Miller (Count I), a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim against Miller and Officer Madrigal (Count II), a Fourth Amendment claim against Miller and Officer Madrigal (Count III), a conspiracy claim against Miller and Officer Madrigal (Count IV), a malicious prosecution claim against Miller (Count V), and an indemnification claim against the City (Count VI).

Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 529, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 179 L.Ed.2d 233 (2011). When considering dismissal of a complaint, the Court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam). To survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiff must “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court can only review “the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice.” Kueb/er v. Vectren Corp., 13 F.4th 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2021) (citation omitted).


The Court starts with Miller's motion to dismiss, in which he does not challenge Chmielowicz's negligence allegations but instead argues he is not a state actor for purposes of Chmielowicz's constitutional claims against him in Counts II, III, and IV. To bring a constitutional claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show (1) the alleged misconduct was committed by a person acting under the color of state law, and (2) the state actor's conduct deprived plaintiff of his rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the United States Constitution or federal law. See DiDonato v. Panatera, 24 F.4th 1156, 1159 (7th Cir. 2022). In general, [t]o plead that a defendant acted under color of state law, a § 1983 plaintiff must allege that a defendant's invocation of state authority in one way or another facilitated or enabled the alleged misconduct.” Id. at 1161. The theory of conspiracy provides an exception to the state actor requirement, namely, “if a private actor conspires with a state actor to deprive someone's constitutional rights, the private actor may be subject to a § 1983 suit.” Alarm Detection Sys., Inc. v. Village of Schaumburg, 930 F.3d 812, 825 (7th Cir. 2019). To bring a § 1983 conspiracy claim, a plaintiff must allege (1) the individuals reached an agreement to deprive him of his constitutional rights, and (2) overt acts in furtherance of the agreement deprived plaintiff of those rights. Daugherty v. Page, 906 F.3d 606, 612 (7th Cir. 2018).

Chmielowicz's conspiracy claim is based on Miller's and Officer Madrigal's alleged agreement to wrongfully blame him for the crash caused when Miller illegally merged into traffic and collided with Chmielowicz. The alleged goal of the conspiracy was for Miller to avoid criminal or civil liability for the collision he caused. In their motions, defendants argue that Chmielowicz's conspiracy allegations are insufficient because he failed to elaborate on the specific details involving the various parties at the time of the collision. Unlike the allegations in Thomas v. City of Blue Island, 178 F.Supp.3d 646 (N.D. Ill. 2016), which both Miller and Chmielowicz cite in their briefs, the conspiracy allegations in the present lawsuit are simple and straight-forward. Viewing the allegations and inferences in Chmielowicz's favor, there were only two actors involved, Officer Madrigal and Miller, who came to an agreement concerning the cause of the collision. They acted overtly on this conspiracy by Miller providing misinformation to Officer Madrigal, after which Officer Madrigal filed a false traffic crash report implicating Chmielowicz. In short, Miller and Officer Madrigal attempted to cover-up Miller's culpability in causing the accident. Under these facts, Chmielowicz alleges that his Equal Protection rights were violated. He has thus plausibly alleged a conspiracy claim under § 1983. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief”' is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”).

Turning to Chmielowicz's Equal Protection claim alleged in Count II, defendants argue he has failed to sufficiently allege his claim because he does not state he is a member of a protected class. Defendants' argument is misplaced because Chmielowicz is bringing a class-of-one Equal Protection claim, and thus he need not allege that he is a member of a protected class. See 145 Fisk, LLC v. Nicklas, 986 F.3d 759, 771 (7th Cir. 2021). “The classic class-of-one claim is illustrated when a public official, ‘with no conceivable basis for his action other than spite or some other improper motive ... comes down hard on a hapless private citizen.' Frederickson v. Landeros, 943 F.3d 1054, 1060 (7th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted). In addition, “it is not always necessary to find a similarly situated person” to bring a class-of-one claim. Id. at 1062. “If animus is readily obvious, it seems redundant to require that the plaintiff show disparate treatment in a near exact, one-to-one comparison to another individual.” Swanson v. City of Chetek, 719 F.3d 780, 784 (7th Cir. 2013). This animus need not be discriminatory animus directed at a protected class, but includes allegations of improper conduct, animosity, malice, harassment, or vindictiveness, see id. at 784-85, along with arbitrary or unjustified exercises of governmental power. Fredrickson, 943 F.3d at 1062.

Chmielowicz has plausibly stated an Equal Protection class-of-one claim by alleging that Officer Madrigal filed a false crash report that Chmielowicz violated traffic laws and caused the crash with Miller. According to Chmielowicz, Officer Madrigal used his police powers for an improper purpose, namely, protecting a former Chicago Police Officer from culpability. He also alleges that Miller and Officer Madrigal falsely accused him of violating the law and aimed to coverup Miller's culpability. Viewing his allegations and all reasonable inferences in his favor, Chmielowicz asserts that Miller and Officer Madrigal singled him out and that their actions lacked a rational basis because of the defendants' improper, if not malicious, motives, along with their false accusations against him to cover-up Miller's misconduct. Under these facts, Chmielowicz has overcome the presumption of rationality that applies to government actions. See, e.g., Muczynski v. Lieblick, No. 10 C 0081, 2012 WL 5470738, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 8, 2012) (Darrah, J.); Ivy v. Powers, No. 08 C 3826, 2009 WL 230542, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 30, 2009) (Kendall, J.). Thus, Chmielowicz's allegations state a plausible claim for relief. See Iqbal, , 556 U.S. at 678 (a complaint is plausible on its face when plaintiff alleges “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”). The Court denies defendants' motions to dismiss Chmielowicz's Equal Protection claim as alleged in Count II.

Next defendants contend Chmielowicz has failed to sufficiently allege his Fourth Amendment claim in Count III because he was never “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. To clarify, under the Fourth Amendment, a seizure of a person can take the form of physical force or a show of authority that restrains the liberty of a person. Torres...

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