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Kompare v. Stein

decided: September 4, 1986.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 84 C 7885--Susan Getzendanner, Judge.

Author: Noland

Before CUMMINGS, Chief Judge, EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge and NOLAND, District Judge.*fn*

NOLAND, District Judge.

This action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is before the Court on appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiffs attempted to impose liability on the defendants, two county medical examiners, for an autopsy that they performed which resulted in the prosecution of one plaintiff for voluntary manslaughter. The plaintiff was acquitted. The question on appeal is whether the defendants' qualified immunity protects them from suit, or more specifically, whether the defendants violated clearly established constitutional rights by allegedly violating a county ordinance requiring a thorough autopsy to be conducted or by allegedly causing the plaintiff to be prosecuted without probable cause. The district court held that the defendants were immune from suit, and we now affirm that holding.


Plaintiffs-appellants Patricia and Ralph Kompare ("the Kompares") brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants-appellees Robert Stein, M.D., the Medical Examiner of Cook County, and Joann Richmond, M.D., a Deputy Medical Examiner, in their individual capacities, for damages arising from Richmond's autopsy of Jody Kompare, the plaintiffs' son. As a result of the autopsy, Patricia Kompare was indicted for the voluntary manslaughter of her son. Although the trial judge at the bench trial of her criminal case directed a verdict of not guilty, she lost her job and was hospitalized for psychiatric problems. Plaintiffs claim violations of their First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. This matter is before the Court on appeal from the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment; therefore, the following facts, to the extent they are genuinely disputed, are taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs.

On September 11, 1982, five year-old Jody became ill, nauseous, disoriented and appeared to be in pain. Mrs. Kompare tried to drive Jody to the hospital, but he collapsed in the front yard before they reached her car. A neighbor gave Jody mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while Mrs. Kompare called an ambulance. The ambulance personnel gave Jody cardiopulmonary resuscitation and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Due to the unusual circumstances of Jody's death, his body was transferred to the Office of the Medical Examiner of Cook County, where Dr. Richmond performed an autopsy on Jody. She determined that Jody's death was the result of abdominal hemorrhaging caused by a torn small bowel mesentery. (The mesentery is the membrane which connects the small bowel to the abdominal wall and spine.) A normal mesentery can only be torn by a violent blow to the abdomen. When Richmond externally examined Jody, she noted twenty-two separate areas of injury, most of which were superficial bruises which occurred between one and twenty-four hours preceding Jody's death. None of the external injuries indicated trauma to the abdomen. Richmond's internal examination revealed a torn small bowel mesentery, hemorrhaging associated therewith, and a large area of hemorrhage beneath the scalp on the back of the head. Richmond had slides of the mesentery tissue prepared, but did not examine them until later. The injuries indicated that Jody was the victim of child abuse. Richmond stated in her postmortem examination report, dated two days after Jody's death, that Jody "died of bleeding into the abdominal cavity caused by a tear to the supporting tissues of the small bowel due to blunt trauma of the abdomen."

Mrs. Kompare was indicted for voluntary manslaughter on September 28, 1982 based on Richmond's report and Mrs. Kompare's admission to an investigating police officer that, on the morning of Jody's death, she struck Jody with her right arm to push him away from the kitchen table, which caused him to double over in pain. The indictment charged that Mrs. Kompare

killed Jody Kompare without lawful justification by striking him in the abdomen with her fist while under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by Jody Kompare, in violation of Chapter 38, Section 9-2(a-1), of the Illinois Revised Statutes 1981, as amended.

On November 1, 1982, Richmond first looked at the mesentery tissue slides and noted that they were consistent with her earlier gross anatomical findings. In April of 1983, in response to a subpoena by Mrs. Kompare's defense attorney and in preparation for the upcoming trial, Richmond reviewed the slides and consulted with other pathologists. Richmond eventually concluded that Jody's mesentery was abnormal. On June 8, 1983, approximately two weeks before Mrs. Kompare's criminal trial, Richmond updated her report to include a diagnosis of of fibromatosis of the small bowel mesentery. According to Richmond's testimony at Mrs. Kompare's criminal trial, a normal child's mesentery is very thin, delicate and translucent; while Jody's mesentery was thickened and rubberlike in consistency, and contained a great number of small blood vessels. Fibromatosis causes the mesentery to tear and bleed more easily than a normal mesentery. This explained the absence of any signs of external trauma to Jody's abdomen. Richmond testified at the criminal trial that her opinion of the cause of death did not change after her diagnosis of fibromatosis. Mrs. Kompare was found not guilty.

The Kompares filed this § 1983 action in September of 1984. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that they were protected by qualified immunity, which the district court granted. This matter is now before the Court upon the plaintiffs' appeal of the grant of summary and dismissal of their cause of action. The grant of summary judgment in this case is a final decision; therefore, this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

The plaintiffs dispute several of the statements in the preceding description of the factual background of this case. We are aware of our duty to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, but only genuine issues of material fact can defeat a motion for summary judgment. Mere allegations are insufficient to raise a genuine issue. The Kompares argue for an exception to this rule because the district court limited discovery on the grounds that qualified immunity protects government officials from suit (including discovery), as well as from the payment of monetary damages. The district court's limitation of discovery was proper, particularly because the Kompares had the opportunity to explore the facts in the previous criminal proceedings.

The district court held that undisputed evidence established probable cause to believe that Patricia had committed voluntary manslaughter; therefore, plaintiffs did not suffer any constitutional deprivation nor did Richmond violate clearly established rights. Alternatively, the district court granted summary judgment for Stein because plaintiffs did not allege that he had any involvement in the autopsy.*fn1 We hold that the Kompares have failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact and that the defendants are entitled ...

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