Court Dismisses Putative Class Action Alleging Civil RICO and Civil Rights Violations

October 22, 2019

A putative class of over 900 plaintiffs sued 20 municipal defendants, including the City of LaSalle, Illinois, LaSalle’s Chief of Police, and two of its police officers. The suit arose from the elected LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s unsuccessful attempt to create his own drug interdiction task force, known as SAFE, which disbanded in 2015 in the face of unfavorable rulings in the Illinois courts. The putative class consisted of people detained or prosecuted as a result of SAFE enforcement actions.  Plaintiffs’ 59-page complaint alleged 11 claims under Illinois law, federal civil rights law, and most importantly, the civil RICO statute. The City of LaSalle Defendants, who provided canine assistance to SAFE’s interdiction stops, moved to dismiss the complaint. So, too, did the other defendants.

Recently, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow granted the motions. First, he rejected the plaintiffs’ attempts to transmute violations of state law into violations of federal law. A police officer does not violate a citizen’s federal constitutional rights simply because the officer violates state (or local) law. This is an inherent part of a federal system. Judge Dow saw through plaintiffs’ attempts to blur this issue and dismissed the plaintiffs’ federal civil rights claims because they turned entirely on alleged state-law violations.

Second, the Court agreed with defendants that almost all of the putative claims were time-barred. The plaintiffs floated several theories why their claims were timely. But the court rejected them all. The bottom line, in the court’s view, was that the plaintiffs knew all the facts on which they based their claims years ago. At most, they were unsure of SAFE’s legitimacy under Illinois law, but uncertainty about the merits of one’s potential legal claim does not delay the statute of limitations.

Third, the court agreed with the defendants on numerous other points. It chastised the plaintiffs for ignoring many of defendants’ arguments, and followed precedent in treating the non-responsiveness as a concession. It ruled that to the extent the plaintiffs were basing their claims on long-concluded state court forfeiture proceedings, those claims were barred by a doctrine known as Rooker-Feldman, which precludes plaintiffs from using a federal lawsuit as an additional appeal from an unfavorable state judgment.  And finally, Judge Dow ruled that the plaintiffs did not even adequately plead the predicate acts required for civil RICO claims.

Not one of the plaintiffs’ claims survived. Many were dismissed on multiple independent grounds.  David Mathues and Charles Hervas of Hervas, Condon, & Bersani, P.C. represented the City of LaSalle Defendants.

Appel v. LaSalle County State’s Attorney, et al., No. 18-cv-2439

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