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Williamson v. Curran

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

April 10, 2012, Argued; April 4, 2013, Decided

No. 09-3985


 [*435]  Rovner, Circuit Judge. Lisa Williamson was arrested along with her husband Lance on a charge that they had stolen someone else's horse. After being acquitted on the charge, Williamson filed suit against two Lake County, Illinois sheriff's deputies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they arrested her without  [**2] probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment and deprived her of her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection by arresting her based on nothing more (she contends) than her status as Lance's wife. The district court dismissed both claims for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. Williamson v. Curran, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106569, 2009 WL 3817613 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 12, 2009); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). We affirm.

] As this case was dismissed at the pleading stage, we accept the factual allegations of Williamson's first amended complaint as true, granting Williamson the benefit of every reasonable inference that may be drawn from those allegations. E.g., Bogie v. Rosenberg, 705 F.3d 603, 608 (7th Cir. 2013).

Williamson has referred to and attached a variety of documents to her complaint, including, for example, the investigator reports that culminated in the issuance of the warrant for her arrest. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(c) provides  [*436]  that "written instruments" attached to a pleading become part of that pleading for all purposes. Thus, when a plaintiff attaches to the complaint a document that qualifies as a written instrument, and her complaint references and relies upon  [**3] that document in asserting her claim, the contents of that document become part of the complaint and may be considered as such when the court decides a motion attacking the sufficiency of the complaint. See, e.g., Centers v. Centennial Mortg., Inc., 398 F.3d 930, 933 (7th Cir. 2005); N. Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452-53 (7th Cir. 1998). The traditional understanding of an instrument is a document that defines a party's rights, obligations, entitlements, or liabilities—a contract, for example. Black's Law Dictionary 869 (9th ed. 2009). Most of the documents that Williamson has appended to her complaint do not fit within that narrow understanding description of a written instrument. But we have taken a broader view of documents that may be considered on a motion to dismiss, noting that a court may consider, in addition to the allegations set forth in the complaint itself, documents that are attached to the complaint, documents that are central to the complaint and are referred to in it, and information that is properly subject to judicial notice. Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012); see also Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 764 (7th Cir. 2010);  [**4] Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 582-83 (7th Cir. 2009); Tierney v. Vahle, 304 F.3d 734, 738-39 (7th Cir. 2002); see, e.g., Bogie, 705 F.3d at 608-09 (considering video cited in and attached to complaint); Brownmark Films, LLC v. Comedy Partners, 682 F.3d 687, 690-91 (7th Cir. 2012) (considering videos cited in complaint in support of copyright infringement claim and submitted by defendant in support of motion to dismiss). What makes it appropriate for us to consider the documents that Williamson has attached to her complaint is that she has not only cited them in the body of her complaint, but she has, to some degree, relied on their contents as support for her claims. See, e.g., R. 35 at 8 ¶¶ 34, 37 (citing and attaching two different police reports and alleging that nothing in these reports "made any reference to any act, error or omission of Lisa Williamson").

Thus, in the factual summary that follows, we have on occasion included statements that are drawn from the documents that Williamson has attached to and referenced in her complaint. Where we have done so, we have made it clear that this is what we are doing. As we discuss later in this opinion, Williamson has argued that  [**5] it was inappropriate for the district court to consider these documents (along with additional documents submitted by the defendants) without converting the defendants' motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). We reject that argument for the reasons we detail below. For now it is sufficient to note that where we have incorporated the exhibits to the complaint into our summary of the facts, we have done so based on Williamson's own reliance on these documents and in the absence of any indication from her—be it in the complaint or the briefing—that the documents are not genuine or that they have been falsified in some way. See Hecker, 556 F.3d at 582 (noting that plaintiff did not contest authenticity of documents defendant sought to use in moving to dismiss complaint). We add that where we have cited documents attributing particular statements to Williamson, whether or not she made these statements obviously is within her personal knowledge, so we may legitimately assume that if the statements have not been accurately recounted in the exhibits, she would  [*437]  have disavowed them. With that said, we proceed with our summary of the facts as alleged in  [**6] the complaint.

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714 F.3d 432 *; 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 6769 **; 85 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (Callaghan) 512; 2013 WL 1338038

LISA WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARK C. CURRAN, JR., Sheriff of Lake County, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 09 C 562—John W. Darrah, Judge.

Williamson v. Curran, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106569 (N.D. Ill., Nov. 12, 2009)

Disposition: AFFIRMED.


horse, Stables, arrest, documents, boarding, probable cause, arrest warrant, theft, false arrest, allegations, charges, motion to dismiss, district court, facially valid, exerting, buyer, sheriff's deputy, telephone, exhibits, deprive, unpaid, barn, equal protection claim, refuse to return, circumstances, class-of-one, involvement, stolen, commission of a crime, referenced

Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Appeals, Standards of Review, General Overview, Pleadings, Complaints, Pleading & Practice, Rule Application & Interpretation, Remedies, Prejudgment Remedies, Contracts Law, Secured Transactions, Attachment of Security Interests, Civil Rights Law, Scope, Law Enforcement Officials, Arrests, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Probable Cause, Criminal Law & Procedure, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Arrests, Theft & Related Offenses, Larceny & Theft, Elements, Equal Protection, Nature & Scope of Protection