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Bell v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 30, 2016

Dawain Bell and Alice Spinks, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
City of Chicago, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued February 11, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 C 7382 - Gary Feinerman, Judge.

          Before Ripple, Kanne, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

          Kanne, Circuit Judge.

         In September 2012, Chicago Police Department officers arrested Plaintiff Dawain Bell for possession of a controlled substance. At the time, Bell was driving Plaintiff Alice Spinks's vehicle. Chicago Police impounded the vehicle after Bell's arrest pursuant to Chicago Municipal Code § 7-24-225, which permits police to impound a vehicle when officers have probable cause to believe it contained a controlled substance or was used in an illegal drug transaction.

         Spinks challenged the impoundment two days later at a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") in the City of Chicago's Department of Administrative Hearings. The ALJ determined that probable cause existed to impound the vehicle because at the time of impoundment it contained "unlawful drugs" in violation of § 7-24-225. Less than a month later, an ALJ found Spinks liable for violating § 7-24-225 and ordered that she pay the prescribed penalty of $2, 000 plus $180 in storage and towing fees.[1] There is no evidence that Spinks challenged the ALJ's determination in Cook County Circuit Court, which she had the right to do.

         Spinks and Bell ("Plaintiffs") filed this lawsuit against Defendant City of Chicago ("City") in Cook County Circuit Court in 2014, alleging, amongst other theories, that the City's impoundment-related ordinances violated Illinois law and were facially invalid under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The City removed the action to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 based on Plaintiffs' allegations that the impoundment ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment. The City then moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. After allowing Plaintiffs to amend their complaint, the district court deemed the City's previously filed motion to dismiss applied to the amended complaint and granted the motion. In doing so, the district court only dismissed Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim with prejudice and remanded Plaintiffs' remaining state law claims to state court. This appeal followed.

         I. Analysis

         We review de novo a district court's decision to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Vesely v. Armslist LLC, 762 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2014). In evaluating a complaint's sufficiency, "we construe it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in [the party's] favor." Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). While a plaintiff need not plead "detailed factual allegations" to survive a motion to dismiss, she still must provide more than mere "labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" for her complaint to be considered adequate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiffs' two principal arguments are that the City's impoundment-related ordinances ("Ordinances") are facially invalid under the Fourth Amendment because the Ordinances: (1)permit warrantless seizure of vehicles in all instances and (2)allow for a non-judicial officer -a City ALJ-to determine whether probable cause exists to allow the vehicle to remain seized. Plaintiffs' remaining arguments are frivolous and do not warrant further discussion.

         There is no categorical bar to mounting a facial challenge under the Fourth Amendment, City of Los Angeles v. Patel, 135 S.Ct. 2443, 2449 (2015), but, in doing so, Plaintiffs assume a demanding burden-"establish[ing] that a Taw is unconstitutional in all of its applications, '" id. at 2451 (quoting Wash. State Grange v. Wash. State Republican Party, 552 U.S. 442, 449 (2008)). Although "such challenges are the most difficult... to mount successfully, '' the Supreme Court has recently clarified that the proper inquiry under this "exacting standard" should be "only [on] applications of the statute in which it actually authorizes or prohibits conduct." Id. at 2449, 2451 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. Warrantless Seizure of Vehicles

         The Fourth Amendment provides, in relevant part, for "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable ... seizures ...."[2] (emphasis added). The Supreme Court has explained that "[a] 'seizure' of property occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property" caused by a government actor. United States v. Ja-cobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984). In evaluating such a challenge, we must determine whether the "seizure" of property was "unreasonable, " a determination that requires a "balancing of governmental and private interests." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985). Generally, "seizures of personal property are unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, without more, unless ... accomplished pursuant to a judicial warrant." Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 330 (2001) (alteration in original and internal quotation marks omitted). But because "reasonableness is still the ultimate standard under the Fourth Amendment, " Soldal v. Cook Cty., III., 506 U.S. 56, 71 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted), there are exceptions that allow for warrantless seizures, see McArthur, 531 U.S. at 330-31.

         Plaintiffs argue that the City's Ordinances-§§ 2-14-101 (Seized/unclaimed property), 2-14-132 (Impoundment), and 2-14-135 (Impoundment-Towing and storage fee hearing) - are facially invalid under the Fourth Amendment because the Ordinances allow for warrantless seizures of vehicles in all cases. Because Plaintiffs have mounted a facial challenge, "the proper focus of the constitutional inquiry is [seizures] that the law actually authorizes, not those for which it is irrelevant." Patel, 135 S.Ct. at 2451. Under this demanding standard, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the Ordinances are unconstitutional in all the seizures that the Ordinances "actually authorize[]." Id. Stated differently, Plaintiffs must show the Ordinances' "actual applications" are unconstitutional. Id. We need not proceed very far in our inquiry, however, to determine that Plaintiffs' facial challenge fails, as the Ordinances' "actual application[]" in their case does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

         Section 2-14-132 is the general provision that allows a police officer or authorized City agent to impound a vehicle involved in a "status-related offense" and a "use-related offense." A "status-related offense" is an offense related to a violation of a registration-related ordinance whereas a "use-related offense" is one where the vehicle is used in an illegal manner or in connection with an illegal act, such as possession of illegal drugs in a vehicle, drag racing, or solicitation of a prostitute. Regardless of the type of substantive offense, the Ordinances require that the officer or authorized City agent ...

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