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Chathas v. Smith

decided: September 5, 1989.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 81 C 3908 -- Paul E. Plunkett, Judge.

Manion and Kanne, Circuit Judges, and Fairchild, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Manion

MANION, Circuit Judge

Plaintiff-appellant Byron Ellis, a former police officer with the Village of Evergreen Park, assisted by his lawyer, plaintiff-appellant Alice Chathas, sued the Village and various responsible officials to secure increased pension benefits. On the day the trial was supposed to begin, the various defendants -- deputy sheriffs, Village officers, and the lawyer representing the Village -- attempted to involuntarily commit Ellis to a mental institution. The mental hospital found that Ellis did not meet its admission standards. Later he won the pension benefits he originally sought. Ellis and Chathas subsequently sued the various defendants under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 to redress alleged deprivations of their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

After plaintiffs presented their evidence to a jury, the district court granted defendants' motion for a directed verdict. Plaintiffs appealed. Because we agree with the district court that the plaintiffs did not present evidence sufficient to show any deprivation of any constitutional right, we affirm.


In 1968, plaintiff-appellant Byron Ellis joined the Village of Evergreen Park Police Department (Police Department) in Evergreen, Illinois, as a police officer. For ten years, Ellis performed his duties quietly. In 1978, however, Ellis accidentally shot his niece at his home. On December 11, 1978, Sergeant Klomhaus of the Police Department received a call from the former Mrs. Ellis that -- in the words of the sergeant's contemporaneous internal report -- her husband was in a "highly nervous state," as evidenced by the fact that he "had been sitting on the couch in the living room with his silver gun by his side." Mrs. Ellis stated she feared that her husband would kill himself. By the time Klomhaus and two other officers arrived at his house, Ellis had gone to the basement. According to his memorandum, Klomhaus "spoke to Detective Ellis from the head of the stairs and received the reply that if we or anyone came down and set a foot on the stairs he would blow us away."

Less than a year later, Ellis learned that -- contrary to what he had assumed -- the Police Department had not enrolled him in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (the Fund). To assist him in becoming enrolled, Ellis retained plaintiff-appellant Alice Chathas to represent him. In November, 1979, Ellis sued, in Illinois state court, the Fund, a local agent for the Fund, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Evergreen Park, and Carl Bergman, who was an Evergreen police officer and the Fund's secretary. The Village hired Vincent Cainkar, a private attorney in civil practice, to represent it in the pension case. The parties have stipulated in the pretrial order in this action that "Cainkar was an attorney for the Village of Evergreen Park."

Ultimately, the pension case was set for a hearing on pending pretrial motions and for possible trial on Monday, March 30, 1981. Circuit Court Judge Joseph Salerno would preside in the Worth Township Courthouse in Alsip, Illinois. By this time, Ellis was no longer working and had already been declared eligible for disability and pension benefits from the Fund (thus narrowing the issues for trial to when he became eligible for those benefits). On March 12, 1980, while on duty, Ellis had admitted himself to a hospital emergency room for tests. Ellis stated to hospital personnel that he was working without any disability benefits and felt increasingly worried. The hospital referred Ellis to Dr. Sokhey, a psychiatrist. Dr. Sokhey recommended that Ellis remain off work until the pension case was resolved. Ellis saw Dr. Sokhey for more than four months. Ellis followed Dr. Sokhey's advice and did not return to the Police Department. In response to an inquiry by Police Chief Norbert Smith, Chathas stated that Ellis was absent and undergoing treatment because he was "under significant physical and emotional strain and apprehension." Subsequently, Ellis filed a claim for worker 's compensation in which he claimed anxiety, neurosis, and depression as his injuries.

To verify Ellis's claim that he was mentally disabled, the Fund had requested that Dr. Ramesh Doshi, a psychiatrist, examine Ellis. Dr. Doshi examined Ellis on March 19, 1981. As Doshi testified, Ellis told him that he was depressed, was not sleeping, and was experiencing distress. Ellis also told Doshi that he felt that Village officials and Police Department officers were conspiring against him because of the pension litigation. As part of this conspiracy, Ellis believed that those people were threatening his life and his attorney's life. According to Doshi, Ellis told him that "[his] attorney's life had been threatened, I guess the brake lines were cut; his windows were broken; he also felt that his life was jeopardized by the department." Ellis told Doshi that he felt threatened by what he was experiencing and that "[if] I felt mistreated or if I felt cornered, I may blow somebody away." Ellis confirmed the essential details of his visit to Doshi; Ellis testified that he told Doshi that "[if] someone was to make and be a threat to my life that I would take the appropriate amount of action to terminate the situation even if the action meant taking their life, to kill them."

Dr. Doshi concluded that Ellis was paranoid and depressed and that Ellis's "insight and judgment are grossly impaired due to delusional state." Because Dr. Doshi was concerned about the threats that Ellis had made regarding Village officials and Police Department officers, Doshi decided to examine Ellis for a second time on Saturday, March 21, 1981. After that examination, Doshi recommended to Ellis that he voluntarily admit himself to a mental hospital. Ellis refused. Dr. Doshi then advised Ellis that he felt obligated to let Ellis's potential victims know about Ellis's threats. Subsequently, Doshi telephoned Chathas to ask her to convince Ellis to enter a mental hospital. Doshi at that time told Chathas he would inform Ellis's potential victims about Ellis's threats.

Sometime that afternoon, Doshi called the Police Department because he believed there was a "serious potential for serious harm to one or more people anticipating the court date coming up for the pension decision." His call was referred to Sergeant Klomhaus. Dr. Doshi relayed to Klomhaus what Ellis had said and told Klomhaus that although Ellis was not immediately dangerous, he did have a potential for violence. In this regard, Doshi told Klomhaus that the upcoming March 30 court date could trigger that violence. Doshi warned Klomhaus that Ellis should not possess any weapons.

Later, Klomhaus wrote a memorandum to Chief Smith describing his telephone call with Doshi. That memorandum from Sergeant Klomhaus provided in pertinent part as follows:

The doctor is advising the police because of the potential for homicide that he feels Byron Ellis exhibits, Officer Ellis commented words to the effect that if those were all conspiring against him don't back off he's going to blow them away. . . . The doctor feels that Byron is in need of immediate hospitalization, and with the attorney attempted to talk to Byron into going into the hospital. Byron refused.

The doctor described Byron as a time bomb who, although appears to be stable now, can go off at any time. . . . The doctor further feels that the next court date on his suit . . . could be the critical point, especially if the decision is against Byron. . . . The doctor further related that in order to commit someone such as Byron a petition must be signed, and anyone can sign it. This, with two doctors statements that a person is in need of psychiatric help, will allow a judge to sign commitment papers.

The doctor advised that the reason for the call is because he feels that there is great potential for something bad to happen and he feels bound by law to report it.

Chief Smith received this memorandum setting forth Dr. Doshi's warnings on Monday morning, March 23. In addition, Chief Smith knew that Ellis had approximately fourteen guns in his home, that he made his own bullets, and that he kept gunpowder at home. Smith also knew that Ellis was a sharpshooter. Given these facts, as Lieutenant Bergman would later testify, the Police Department wanted to avoid a confrontation with Ellis at his home, where he would have access to that arsenal.

Chief Smith called attorney Cainkar for guidance. Cainkar responded to Chief Smith on Friday afternoon. He told Chief Smith that he had spoken with Judge Eiserman, the Fifth District's presiding judge, and that Judge Eiserman had ordered additional security for the courthouse on March 30. On that Friday, Judge Eiserman had asked defendant James Ross, a Cook County deputy sheriff, to make sure that the sheriff's office provide extra security for the courthouse by setting up a desk and metal scanners at the entrance to the courthouse. In addition, Judge Eiserman ordered that everybody who entered the courthouse would be subject to a full search to ensure that no one would be armed.

Later that afternoon, Cainkar called Smith again and asked him to have Doshi fill out a certificate for Ellis' involuntary admission to a psychiatric hospital. Smith in turn instructed Klomhaus to get in touch with Doshi. Klomhaus contacted Doshi and told him that the legal department of the Village had asked him to sign a certificate for involuntary hospitalization.

The next day, Saturday, March 28, Klomhaus brought the certificate to Doshi. Doshi completed the certificate, indicating that he had examined Ellis on March 19. Dr. Doshi concluded with the following: "If patient feels under distress or if he loses control, situation could prove dangerous to others and even himself."

On Monday, March 30, Deputy Sheriff Ross arrived early at the courthouse, where he met defendant Vince Ruffalo, another deputy sheriff. Ross ordered Ruffalo to lock all the doors except the front one and to set up a desk at the front door. Ross told Ruffalo that their job was to see if any problem developed with Ellis and to report back to Judge Eiserman. Cainkar arrived next and instead informed Ross that there would be no trial. Instead, police officers would soon arrive to take Ellis to the Tinley Park Mental Health Center for "an involuntary admission for evaluation."

Next, Chief Smith arrived along with officers Evoy and Bergman. The sheriff's deputies asked them to remove the bullets from their guns, which they did. Afterwards, the three police officers met with Cainkar and Deputies Ross and Ruffalo. Ross and Cainkar told the officers that Judge Salerno, the presiding judge, did not want Ellis in his courtroom. The group decided to stop Ellis once he entered the building and ...

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