Christensen v. County of Boone, Il

Decision Date21 March 2007
Docket NumberNo. 04-4162.,04-4162.
Citation483 F.3d 454
PartiesAnita CHRISTENSEN and Robert Alty, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. COUNTY OF BOONE, ILLINOIS, and Edward Krieger, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Mark A. Byrd (argued), Rockford, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Stephen E. Balogh, III (argued), Williams & McCarthy, Rockford, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and RIPPLE and KANNE, Circuit Judges.


Anita Christensen and Robert Alty, an unmarried couple and plaintiffs in this civil rights action, allege that they have been stalked and harassed unjustifiably by Edward Krieger, a Deputy Sheriff of Boone County, Illinois. Specifically, they allege that Deputy Krieger interfered with the couple's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and their right to intimate association. They further allege that the Deputy's employer, Boone County, was responsible for the Deputy's actions. The complaint also contains a pendent state law claim asserted solely against Deputy Krieger for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Deputy Krieger and Boone County filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The district court granted the defendants' motion; it held that the plaintiffs had failed to plead either a cognizable constitutional violation or, with respect to the state law count, the elements of a common law tort. The plaintiffs now appeal this ruling. We agree with the district court that the Fourth Amendment claim is meritless and hold that it was properly dismissed. With respect to the claim based on the right to intimate association and the claim alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, we believe that the pleading requirements of Rule 8 have been satisfied but that the claim fails on the merits. We reinstate the plaintiffs' claims under state law. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the district court.

A. Facts

Because this case comes to us from a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), we must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs. See Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir.2000).

Robert Alty is a police officer for the City of Belvidere, Illinois. In 1998 he arrested a driver for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. That driver turned out to be a friend or relative of Edward Krieger, a Deputy Sheriff of Boone County, Illinois. This incident resulted in animosity between the two officers that culminated in a face-to-face altercation at some point in 2001. According to the allegations of the complaint, after that incident, Deputy Krieger engaged in "a pattern of on-duty conduct designed to harass, annoy, and intimidate" Officer Alty and his girlfriend, Anita Christensen. Specifically, the couple alleges that Deputy Krieger repeatedly followed them, both individually and with each other, while they drove on Boone County streets; parked his squad car in front of Ms. Christensen's place of employment in order to watch her; and sat in his police car outside of businesses that the plaintiffs were visiting in an effort to cause the couple "difficulties with the proprietors of such establishments."

Ms. Christensen and Officer Alty claimed that Deputy Krieger's actions were performed under color of state law and deprived them of their rights to privacy, freedom of association, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and "substantive due process rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments." The complaint further alleges that Officer Alty and Ms. Christensen had filed numerous complaints with Deputy Krieger's supervisors at the Boone County Sheriff's Department, but that the Department had not taken any action to correct the situation. Finally, the complaint alleges that Deputy Krieger's conduct constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois law.

B. District Court Proceedings

The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). First, with respect to the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim, the court concluded that the complaint failed to identify any legitimate expectation of privacy that had been invaded by Deputy Krieger. Second, the court held that the plaintiffs' "intimate association" claim failed because they had not alleged any actual interference with their relationship. In the court's view, the plaintiffs' assertions of feeling annoyed and harassed did not allege an impact on the relationship itself. Finally, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional harm claim because they had not pleaded a severe emotional injury and because Deputy Krieger's behavior, as described in the complaint, was "nowhere near to being extreme or outrageous as that element of the tort is defined by Illinois courts."


We must decide de novo whether the plaintiffs' complaint states a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Williams v. Seniff, 342 F.3d 774, 792 (7th Cir.2003). A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, and dismissal of an action under this rule is warranted only if "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 612 (7th Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under the notice pleading regime of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiffs' complaint must contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Apart from several limited exceptions, a "short and plain statement" exists when the complaint pleads a "bare minimum [of] facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer." Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir.2002); see also Kolupa v. Roselle Park Dist., 438 F.3d 713, 714 (7th Cir.2006) ("It is enough to name the plaintiff and the defendant, state the nature of the grievance, and give a few tidbits (such as the date) that will let the defendant investigate. A full narrative is unnecessary."). The Supreme Court also has instructed that, in civil rights cases alleging municipal liability, a federal court may not apply a heightened pleading standard more stringent than the usual pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). See Leatherman v. Tarrant County, 507 U.S. 163, 165, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 122 L.Ed.2d 517 (1993).

Together, these rules ensure that claims are determined on their merits rather than on pleading technicalities. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) ("The liberal notice pleading of Rule 8(a) is the starting point of a simplified pleading system, which was adopted to focus litigation on the merits of a claim."). For this reason, we do not require "an exhaustive recitation of the facts or elements" of a plaintiff's claim. Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 606 (7th Cir.2005). Indeed, "[a]ll the complaint need do to withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is outline or adumbrate a violation of the statute or constitutional provision upon which the plaintiff relies and connect the violation to the named defendants." Brownlee v. Conine, 957 F.2d 353, 354 (7th Cir.1992) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Rule 8(a)'s notice pleading standard applies to pendant state law claims that are pleaded in federal court. See, e.g., McDonald v. Household International, Inc., 425 F.3d 424, 427 (7th Cir.2005).

A. Constitutional Violations

Within this liberal framework of notice pleading, the plaintiffs seek to state a claim against Deputy Krieger and Boone County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In order to state a claim under § 1983, the plaintiffs must allege that a government official, acting under color of state law, deprived them of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Brokaw v. Mercer County, 235 F.3d 1000, 1009 (7th Cir.2000); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 64 L.Ed.2d 572 (1980). Here, the plaintiffs allege that Deputy Krieger and Boone County violated the couple's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The complaint also alleges that the defendants deprived them of their right to associate intimately without interference from the state, a right they describe as a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Deputy Krieger and Boone County do not dispute that their alleged actions were taken "under color of state law," Brokaw, 235 F.3d at 1009. Instead, the parties' disagreement surrounds whether the plaintiffs have alleged the violation of a federal right. We shall address each constitutional claim in turn.

1. Fourth Amendment

The plaintiffs' first constitutional claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision, the Fourth Amendment. When the violation of a specific right is alleged, such a claim "must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific [constitutional] provision." County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 843, 118 S.Ct. 1708, 140 L.Ed.2d 1043 (1998). The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Only government activity that constitutes either a "search" or a "seizure" is regulated by the Fourth Amendment.

A search takes place when the state intrudes upon an individual's legitimate interest in privacy. See Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967); see also...

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