Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Civil Rights Claim

Per Radunz v. Von Haden, Slip Copy, 2008 WL 2463868 (7th Cir. June 19, 2008):

We review § 1915A dismissals de novo, applying the same standard used for evaluating dismissals as under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Westefer, 422 F.3d at 574. To satisfy the notice-pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint need only include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); see Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007). A plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief” by saying enough to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level,” Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65 (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted), though “[s]pecific facts are not necessary,” Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007). See Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 2008 WL 2168638 at *5-6 (7th Cir.2008); Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT & T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir.2007). Pro se complaints are construed liberally and held to less-exacting standards than those drafted by counsel. Alvarado v. Litscher, 267 F.3d 648, 651 (7th Cir.2001).

The district court erred. A plaintiff states a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by alleging that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a federal right. Christensen v. County of Boone, 483 F.3d 454, 459 (7th Cir.2007); Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 606 (7th Cir.2005). Radunz does this, and while further factual development may doom his lawsuit, we cannot conclude on the basis of his complaint that he has no entitlement to recovery.

The district court apparently thought it dispositive that Gemoll and not Von Haden was the one who retrieved the guns, but the state-action element is met whenever the plaintiff can show “sufficient state involvement in the action in question to trigger constitutional protections.” Cunningham v. Southlake Ctr. for Mental Health, Inc., 924 F.2d 106, 107 (7th Cir.1991). There is state action, for example, when the “state effectively directs, controls, or encourages the actions of a private party,” Wade v. Byles, 83 F.3d 902, 905 (7th Cir.1996), or when, in the Fourth Amendment context, a private party acts as an instrument or agent of the state, see United States v. Hall, 142 F.3d 988, 993 (7th Cir .1998). And that is the situation if, as happened here, a government official induced the private party to act. See United States v. Shahid, 117 F.3d 322, 325-26 (7th Cir.1997); United States v. Koenig, 856 F.2d 843, 849-50 (7th Cir.1988). Radunz alleges that Von Haden asked Gemoll to get the guns from the barn and instructed him to transport the weapons safely, and Von Haden's own report and the transcript of his interview with Gemoll, both of which are attached to the complaint, support Radunz's allegations. Von Haden proposed the search and thus obviously anticipated that Gemoll would conduct it, and Gemoll's very purpose was to help Von Haden, which suggests beyond a speculative level that Gemoll was acting under color of state law.


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