Chicago Dog Case, Owner Wins/Sues under 42 USC 1983

The State’s Attorney charged Neita with two counts of animal cruelty and thirteen counts of violating an animal owner’s duties under Illinois law. An Illinois judge found him not guilty on all counts.

After his acquittal Neita filed this action against Travis, Officers Raddatz and Uldrych, and the City of Chicago, among others. The complaint alleged that the individual defendants were liable under § 1983 for false arrest and illegal searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment and under Illinois law for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint also sought statutory indemnification from the City of Chicago for the acts of its employees. See 745 ILL. COMP. STAT. 10/9-102. Neita twice amended his complaint, and the defendants moved to dismiss each iteration for failure to state a claim. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). The judge granted the motions. He dismissed the first amended complaint without prejudice, giving Neita an opportunity to replead. But the second amended complaint fared no better. The judge dismissed the federal claims with prejudice, holding that Neita had failed to adequately plead any constitutional violation and that further amendment would be futile. The judge then relinquished supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, dismissing them without prejudice to refiling in state court. This appeal followed.

“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). An official who reasonably relies on a facially valid state law may be entitled to qualified immunity if his conduct is later challenged. See, e.g., Marcavage v. City of Chicago, 659 F.3d 626, 636 (7th Cir. 2011); Sherman v. Four Cnty. Counseling Ctr., 987 F.2d 397, 401–02 (7th Cir. 1993).

But Neita has alleged that the officers never received a complaint of animal abuse or neglect, or alternatively, that they knew that any such complaint was false. Accepting these allegations as true, section 10 of the Illinois Act is not implicated, and the officers cannot invoke reliance on it as a basis for qualified immunity. Dismissal on qualified-immunity grounds was unwarranted at this stage of the litigation.