Kelley-Lomax v. City of Chicago, No. 21-2891 (7th Cir. 2022)

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Justia Opinion Summary

A person arrested in Chicago can take some property into jail but must surrender other property, including cell phones. The detainee has 30 days to reclaim the property in person (if released) or by a designated friend or relative. Property remaining in the city’s hands after 30 days is sold or thrown away. In 2021, the Seventh Circuit (Conyers), rejected several constitutional challenges to that policy. Kelley-Lomax remained in custody for more than 30 days and did not have anyone retrieve his property. The city disposed of a cell phone and a wallet, including a debit card and library card, that the police had seized.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. The disposition of the seized property is governed by the Due Process Clause. Chicago provides detainees with notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property. Rejecting a substantive due process argument, the court reasoned that property is a fundamental right but property can be abandoned. Chicago draws the abandonment line at 30 days. Physical items seized from arrested persons make claims on limited space, and for many detainees, the costs of arranging a sale to free up space would exceed the value of the items in inventory.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 21-2891 JEVARREO KELLEY-LOMAX, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, Defendant-Appellee. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 20 C 4638 — John Z. Lee, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED SEPTEMBER 12, 2022 — DECIDED SEPTEMBER 28, 2022 ____________________ Before EASTERBROOK, KIRSCH, and JACKSON-AKIWUMI, Circuit Judges. EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge. A person arrested in Chicago can take some property into jail but must surrender other property, including cell phones. Chicago o ers the detainee 30 days to reclaim the property in person (if released before then) or by proxy—the detainee may designate a friend or relative to pick it up. Property remaining in the City’s hands after 30 days is sold or thrown away. Conyers v. Chicago, 10 F.4th 2 No. 21-2891 704 (7th Cir. 2021), cert. denied, 142 S. Ct. 1669 (2022), rejects several constitutional challenges to the City’s policy. Jevarreo Kelley-Lomax wants us to take another look at the subject. After he was arrested, he remained in custody for more than 30 days and did not nd anyone willing to retrieve his property. The City disposed of a cell phone and a wallet, including a debit card and library card, that the police had seized. Deeming the suit controlled by Conyers, the district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Conyers held, among other things, that the Fourth Amendment (applied to state actors by the Fourteenth) does not regulate disposition of the seized property. 10 F.4th at 709–10. Disposition, we concluded, is governed by the Due Process Clause. The Fourth Amendment is satis ed if the seizure is reasonable when it occurs—as seizure of an arrestee’s property is, see Lee v. Chicago, 330 F.3d 456 (7th Cir. 2003). KelleyLomax wants us to overrule this portion of Conyers, but we do not see any de ciency in that opinion’s reasoning. Conyers rejected a due process challenge to the City’s policy, holding that the City provides detainees with notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property. Kelley-Lomax tries a di erent tack: substantive due process. He maintains that the City must serve as unpaid custodian of his goods for as long as it takes for him (or his designee) to retrieve the items. Put in that way, the argument lacks any prospect of success. Substantive due process depends on the existence of a fundamental right, which means a right with deep roots in our history and traditions. See, e.g., Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997); Timbs v. Indiana, 139 S. Ct. 682, 686– No. 21-2891 3 87 (2019); Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 142 S. Ct. 2228, 2246–48 (2022). Kelley-Lomax does not contend that our historical tradition recognizes a right to have the government serve as unpaid custodian of property for extended periods. Instead he characterizes the fundamental right as property itself. We do not doubt that property is a fundamental right; the Takings Clause shows as much. But, as we explained in Conyers, property can be abandoned. After that occurs the former owner lacks rights. 10 F.4th at 712. Chicago draws the abandonment line at 30 days. That choice cannot be acacked by pointing to the fundamental status of “property” in the abstract. Instead the plainti must address the actual policy at stake: the government’s unwillingness to serve as unpaid bailee for inde nite periods. And on that score Kelley-Lomax does not even try to show that such a role for government has historical provenance. Conyers remarked that 30 days is a short time for a detainee to take the steps necessary to retrieve property. 10 F.4th at 715. Perhaps it is too short. The Due Process Clause requires notice and an adequate opportunity to protect one’s interests. But in this case, just as in Conyers, the plainti has made an all-ornone argument. Instead of contending that the Constitution requires 60 or 90 days, Kelley-Lomax contends that a detainee is entitled to wait a lifetime before claiming the property. Perhaps that strategy is driven by the fact that during the whole six months he remained in custody, Kelley-Lomax did not try to retrieve the phone or wallet. The choice between 30 days and a longer time did not macer to Kelley-Lomax. But it may macer to other detainees, and Conyers leaves timing open. 4 No. 21-2891 Conyers also does not tackle the question whether Chicago must sell the seized items for the detainees’ accounts rather than throwing them in the trash. Units of government often take custody of unclaimed property, returning it once the owner has been identi ed (provided that the time for escheat has not arrived). We held in Cerajeski v. Zoeller, 735 F.3d 577 (7th Cir. 2013), and Goldberg v. Frerichs, 912 F.3d 1009 (7th Cir. 2019), that, when the property is nancial (securities or money on deposit), the government must return it with interest once the owner steps forward. Cf. Webb’s Fabulous Pharmacies, Inc. v. Beckwith, 449 U.S. 155 (1980); Brown v. Legal Foundation of Washington, 538 U.S. 216 (2003). The government may charge custodial fees but must surrender the balance. That approach works well with monetary instruments. Physical items seized from arrested persons make claims on limited space, and for many detainees the costs of arranging a sale in order to free up space would exceed the value of the items in inventory. But cell phones and jewelry often have substantial market value. When the governmental interest is limited to rationing available storage, perhaps the option of sale for detainees’ accounts must be considered. See also United States v. Miller, 588 F.3d 418 (7th Cir. 2009) (seized rearms that have not been forfeited may be sold for owner’s account but must not be destroyed if they have value net of expenses for custody and sale). Conyers did not make an argument along these lines, and neither did Kelley-Lomax. We mention the possibility not to resolve it, but to show that neither Conyers nor this decision has resolved it implicitly. AFFIRMED
Primary Holding
Seventh Circuit rejects due process challenges to Chicago's policy of disposing of detainees' property after 30 days.

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