Armstrong v. Villa Park Police Department, No. 17-1621 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Armstrong’s Illinois conviction for failing to register as a sex offender was reversed, based on a finding Armstrong’s guilty plea for unlawful restraint did not require him to register. Armstrong sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the officers who arrested him knew that he was not required to register, ignored and concealed exculpatory evidence, falsified documents, and propelled his prosecution. His previous case, with a nearly identical complaint, filed before his conviction was overturned, was dismissed as untimely and barred by the rule against collateral challenges to convictions. In this case, Armstrong sought leave to proceed without prepaying the filing fee and recruitment of a lawyer to help him. The court granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, screened Armstrong’s complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B), and concluded that the false-arrest claim already had been litigated and that other allegations did not state a “Brady” claim for a violation of due process or improper withholding of exculpatory evidence. The court dismissed an amended complaint with prejudice without appointing counsel. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court’s analysis of Armstrong’s request for the assistance of counsel was flawed for failure to ask: has the indigent plaintiff made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel or been effectively precluded from doing does the plaintiff appear competent to litigate the claim himself?