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Slaton v. City of Chicago

NOVEMBER 22, 1955.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook county; the Hon. JOHN T. DEMPSEY, Judge, presiding. Judgment reversed and cause remanded with directions.


Rehearing denied December 13, 1955.

This is an action by Wilbert Slaton against the City of Chicago to recover damages for personal injuries under the provisions of "An Act to Suppress Mob Violence," ch. 38, secs. 512-517, Ill. Rev. Stat., 1953 [Jones Ill. Stats. Ann. 37.481-37.486]. At the close of plaintiff's evidence, the trial court sustained a motion to direct the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. Plaintiff filed a motion for new trial which was overruled and the court entered judgment upon the directed verdict. Plaintiff appeals.

The single issue is whether there is evidence showing that plaintiff falls into the class of persons who sustain "material damage to property or injury to person by a mob. . . ." Ibid., sec. 515.

The trial court directed a verdict against plaintiff, and we must take all the evidence in favor of plaintiff and all inferences which can reasonably be drawn therefrom as true and from that determine whether there was any substantial evidence on which to submit the case to the jury.

The record reveals that on the 14th day of August, 1947, there was located on the east side of Halsted street between 103rd and 105th streets a public housing development known as the Fernwood Park Housing Development. The project consisted of 67 apartments, eight of which were occupied by Negro families and the rest by white families. The Negro families moved into the project on August 12, 1947, two days before the incident in question. The next day more than a thousand people assembled on the streets surrounding the project and threatened to evict the Negro families. On the day in question between the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 o'clock p.m. several thousand persons had assembled about the project. The crowd was dense and traffic on Halsted street was impeded and blocked for over two hours from 100th to 105th streets, including the intersection of 103rd and Halsted streets. Its members stopped cars and opened their doors to find out if there were any Negroes in them. In one instance a taxicab was stopped and examined. Some of the crowd said, "There aren't any niggers in there, let 'em go. We are going to run the niggers out of the project, get 'em out of here." A large number of policemen were assigned to the scene. The unlawful assembly of people was armed with bats, sticks, bricks and stones. On some occasions stones and bricks were thrown.

Between 11:00 and 12:00 o'clock midnight plaintiff was driving north on Halsted street. He was detoured by police officers at 107th street to Peoria street where his automobile was again detoured by other police north to 103rd street. There the detour by the police ended. Plaintiff proceeded east on 103rd street to drive back to Halsted street. A large crowd had gathered at the intersection of 103rd and Halsted streets. They started yelling, "Niggers"; "Here comes a bunch of niggers"; "Get that nigger driver in that car; what is that black son-of-a-bitch doing driving through here? Get that nigger driver of that car." Plaintiff started to turn northward into Halsted street when members of the crowd started throwing bricks at the car and its occupants. One of them struck the plaintiff on the right side of the skull and another struck a woman occupant of the automobile. Other missiles struck various parts of the automobile. Plaintiff was rendered unconscious momentarily and was bleeding profusely. He revived sufficiently to operate his automobile northward along Halsted street. When he reached 60th street and Washington Park he stopped the car and turned its wheel over to one of his companions who drove it to Provident Hospital and later to the County Hospital where plaintiff was given treatment and his head wound stitched.

The pertinent provisions of the Act, Ill. Rev. Stat. 1953, ch. 38, secs. 512 and 515, read as follows:

"Sec. 512. Mob defined. . . . Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly: That any collection of individuals, five or more in number, assembled for the unlawful purpose of offering violence to the person or property of anyone supposed to have been guilty of a violation of the law, or for the purpose of exercising correctional powers or regulative powers over any person by violence, and without lawful authority, shall be regarded and designated as a `mob.'"

"Sec. 515. Damage by violence — Penalty — Action against municipality. . . . Any person or persons composing a mob under the provisions of this act, who shall by violence inflict material damage to the property or serious injury to the person of any other person upon the pretense of exercising correctional powers over such person or persons, by violence and without authority of law, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and shall suffer imprisonment in the penitentiary not exceeding five years; and any person so suffering material damage to property or injury to person by a mob shall have an action against the county, park district or city in which such injury is inflicted, for such damages as he may sustain, to an amount not exceeding ten thousand ($10,000) dollars."

In the interpretation of this law, it is important to review its general historical background.

Municipal liability for damage to property by riot appeared in England first in 1714 (1 Geo. I, Stat. 2 c. v. [13 Stats. Large 142]; see also 7 & 8 Geo. IV, c. xxxi [67 Stats. Large 202]

) and is found in modified form in "The Riot (Damages) Act," 49 & 50 Vict., c. xxxviii (1886 Gen. Stats. 89). Municipal liability for particular crimes or injuries to the person, while it had a rudimentary existence early in the laws of England, experienced a progressive attenuation in development and eventually died. See Pomeroy's Municipal Law (2d ed. 1883) 235-6; I Reeves' Hist. Eng. Law (New American ed. 1880) 195, n. (a) and 196; III Wendell's Blackstone (1857) 160-1; Pollack and Maitland, Hist. Eng. Law, vol. i, p. 88, vol. ii, p. 578; I Holdsworth's Hist. Eng. Law (3d ed. 1922) 15, 294. See further Statute of Winchester or Winton, 13 Edw. I, Stat. 2 (1 Stats. Large 230) (1285); 28 Edw. III, c. xi (2 Stats. Large 101) (1354); 27 Eliz., c. xiii (6 Stats. Large 373) (1585); 29 Car. III, c. vii (8 Stats. Large 412) (1676); 8 Geo. II, c. xvi (16 Stats. Large 511) (1735); 22 Geo. II, c. xxiv (19 Stats. Large 305) (1749); and cf. 9 Geo. I, c. xxii (15 Stats. Large 88) (1722). All of these Acts were repealed and municipal liability for particular crimes or injuries to the person was omitted from the consolidating Act, 7 & 8 Geo. IV, cc. xxvii-xxxi (67 Stats. Large 168) (1827). See also 6 Encyc. Law of Eng. (2d ed. 1907) 638-9. Examination and analysis of these early statutes show quite clearly, however, that of their several purposes one, at least, and perhaps the one most important, was to impart to and instill in each local community or political subdivision of the state and its members a strong sense of their integration with and responsibility to the state for the execution of its governmental policies, as expressed in its laws. The ultimate result desired was to instill respect in the people for law and order and an abiding belief in their dominion and supremacy. Amercement of the community or its inhabitants was exacted for breach or violation of the statutes. These statutes bespeak unequivocally the intolerant will of the state against the outlaw community and its members.

Mob and riot laws in the United States imposing liability upon municipalities for damage to property only, appeared as early as 1836 in the City of Philadelphia, and in 1841 in the county of Philadelphia. County of Allegheny v. Gibson, 90 Pa. St. 397; Purdon's Pa. Stat. Ann., tit. 16, c. 28, secs. 3921-3925. Massachusetts had such a law in 1839 (Mass. Ann. Laws, c. 269, secs. 1-9) and New York in 1855 (Section 71, Gen. Mun. Law, New York, formerly Gen. Mun. Law, 1892, c. 685, sec. 21, and L. 1855, c. 428). Approximately half the states have adopted similar laws, some imposing municipal liability for damage to property only, some for injuries to the person only, and others extending liability to cover both cases. See, generally, Liability of the Municipality for Mob ...

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