WILSON v. PRICE (October 4, 2010)

Midnight Auto Express is a car repair business located in Aldermen Keith Price's Sixth Ward in Harvey, Illinois. Midnight apparently had a number of cars parked illegally in front of its shop on May 2, 2008 because Price received a number of complaints from his constituents. Price unsuccessfully tried to get the City to remove the cars. Undaunted, he paid a personal visit to the shop and spoke with Christopher Wilson, a mechanic. Wilson refused Price's demand to move the cars and also refused to contact the owner. Instead, he walked away. Price attacked Wilson, leaving him unconscious. Wilson and his wife brought suit against Price and Harvey, alleging claims under and state law. Judge Hibbler (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the § 1983 claim on the ground that Price had not acted under color of state law and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state claims. The Wilsons appeal.

In their opinion, Judges Ripple, Manion, and Williams affirmed. The only issue on appeal was whether Price was acting under color of state law. The Court noted that the fact that he is a government official is not enough. An act is under color of state law when it is a misuse of the power the actor has been granted by state law. In other words, it must be related to the performance of his official duties. The Court noted that Price's aldermanic duties are purely legislative. As such, they involve enacting legislation and related legislative investigation. The Court analyzed his conduct to determine whether the required relationship existed. Of course, none of his activities that day related to the passage of legislation. He could, however, have visited the repair shop as part of his legislative investigation role. Even if that is so, however, the Court concluded that he crossed over into a law enforcement role once he ordered the cars moved. Since Price had no enforcement authority, his actions were not related to his official duties – and not under color of state law. The altercation was one between private citizens and does not support a § 1983 action.