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CUAUTLE v. TONE

May 11, 1994

JUAN CUAUTLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RYAN TONE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McDADE, District Judge.

ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. # 38]. Defendant in this case is employed as a trooper with the Illinois State Police. Plaintiff is an Hispanic male who was involved in a felony stop initiated by Defendant. Plaintiff claims that Defendant made an unlawful arrest of Plaintiff, used unreasonable force in detaining Plaintiff, verbally abused and harassed Plaintiff, and initiated the stop based upon Plaintiff's race and ethnicity — all in violation of rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff brings this suit based upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1343.

"A motion for summary judgment is not an appropriate occasion for weighing the evidence; rather, the inquiry is limited to determining if there is a genuine issue for trial." Lohorn v. Michal, 913 F.2d 327, 331 (7th Cir. 1990); See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). This Court must "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Holland v. Jefferson National Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). When faced with a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party may not rest on its pleadings. Rather, it is necessary for the non-moving party to demonstrate, through specific evidence, that there remains a genuine issue of triable fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Bank Leumi Le-Israel, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2d 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991).

BACKGROUND

Defendant, with the assistance of at least two other troopers and patrol cars, initiated a full felony stop of Plaintiff's vehicle. Defendant, as well as the other officers, approached Plaintiff's vehicle with their service weapons drawn. Defendant ordered Plaintiff to exit his vehicle. At this point, Plaintiff's and Defendant's versions of the events that followed diverge. Plaintiff claims that he and his girlfriend attempted to explain that Plaintiff did not speak or understand English, that Defendant screamed at them to "[s]hut the fuck up," that Plaintiff exited the vehicle, that Plaintiff at no time resisted Defendant or the other police officers, that Defendant grabbed Plaintiff, put his gun to Plaintiff's head, threatened to kill him, wrenched Plaintiff's arm, and threw Plaintiff across the hood of his vehicle, that in response to Plaintiff's statement that Defendant was hurting him, Defendant screamed "[s]hut up" and continued punching Plaintiff, that Plaintiff was taken back to Defendant's patrol car, and that Defendant released Plaintiff without explanation.

Defendant's account of the events occurring during the felony stop vary greatly from Plaintiffs. Defendant claims that upon stopping Plaintiff's vehicle, Defendant exited his patrol car, that he drew his service weapon, that Defendant ordered Plaintiff several times to exit his vehicle, that Plaintiff did not exit his vehicle, that Plaintiff's girlfriend jumped out of the vehicle, that Defendant ordered her to get back into the vehicle and tell Plaintiff to get out of the vehicle, that Plaintiff's girlfriend complied and Plaintiff exited the vehicle, that Plaintiff had his hands in his pockets, that Defendant placed Plaintiff's hands in the small of his back and conducted a frisk search of Plaintiff, that Defendant walked Plaintiff back to Defendant's patrol car and placed him in the front seat, that Defendant returned to Plaintiff's vehicle to speak to Plaintiff's girlfriend, that Plaintiff's girlfriend jumped from the vehicle, swung her fists at Defendant and screamed "[y]ou motherfuckers, you motherfuckers," that Defendant restrained Plaintiff's girlfriend, attempted to explain the situation to her and placed her back into the vehicle, that Defendant returned to his vehicle and explained the situation to Plaintiff, that Plaintiff stated that he had been stopped several times before in regard to his license plates, and that Defendant apologized to Plaintiff for the inconvenience and told him that he was free to leave.

ANALYSIS

In response to the events surrounding the stopping of Plaintiff's vehicle and subsequent treatment by Defendant, Plaintiff filed the present suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendant deprived him of rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant did not have probable cause to arrest and detain him resulting in an unreasonable and unlawful arrest, that Defendant used excessive force in arresting and detaining Plaintiff, that Defendant verbally abused and harassed Plaintiff, and that Defendant violated Plaintiff's equal protection rights. Defendant contends that there is no dispute of material fact in this case and has moved for summary judgment. The Court shall consider each of Plaintiff's claims seriatim to determine if summary judgment is proper in this case.

Unlawful Arrest

Defendant contends that probable cause existed for Defendant to conduct a felony stop of Plaintiff's vehicle and, therefore, summary judgment is appropriate on the claim of unlawful arrest.*fn1 Defendant argues that he observed that Plaintiff's windows were illegally tinted, that he observed Plaintiff's vehicle drift or veer from the driving lane to the passing and back again without signalling, and that he was informed that Plaintiff's license plates were reported stolen by radio dispatch. As such, Defendant argues that probable cause existed to conduct a felony stop of Plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff's opposition brief argues that Defendant lacked probable cause to detain and arrest Plaintiff because Defendant could not have seen the windows of his car which were tinted because those windows were rolled down, that Plaintiff did not weave back and forth, but merely changed lanes and legally returned to his lane, and that Defendant should have verified the contradictory information he received regarding the status of Plaintiff's license plates. As such, Plaintiff contends that Defendant lacked probable cause and the arrest was, therefore, unreasonable and unlawful.

When a question of probable cause arises in a suit for damages, "it is a proper issue for the jury if there is room for a difference of opinion concerning facts or the reasonable inferences to be drawn from them." Maxwell v. City of Indianapolis, 998 F.2d 431, 434 (7th Cir. 1993) citing Llaguno v. Mingey, 763 F.2d 1560, 1565 (7th Cir. 1985) (en banc) (plurality opinion) and Moore v. Marketplace Restaurant, Inc., 754 F.2d 1336, 1346-47 (7th Cir. 1985). "Accordingly, a conclusion that probable cause existed as a matter of law is appropriate only when no reasonable jury could find" that Defendant Trooper Tone did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff. Id. The Court notes, however, that Llaguno and Moore were unusual cases and did not establish that every individual arrested and subsequently released without being charged with a criminal offense is automatically entitled to a trial on whether he should have been arrested. See Gramenos v. Jewel Companies, Inc., 797 F.2d 432, 438 (7th Cir. 1986). Upon considering only those facts to which there are no genuine disputes, the Court finds that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's claim of unreasonable and unlawful arrest must be granted.

The determination of whether an arrest is reasonable for purposes of the Fourth Amendment turns upon two objective factors. United States v. Trigg, 925 F.2d 1064, 1065 (7th Cir. 1991); United States v. Trigg, 878 F.2d 1037, 1041 (7th Cir. 1989); Gramenos, 797 F.2d at 440-41. The first factor is whether the arresting officer had probable cause to believe that the individual arrested had committed or was committing an offense. Trigg, 925 F.2d at 1065. The second factor is whether the arresting officer was authorized by state and or municipal law to effect a custodial arrest for the particular offense committed. Id. If these two factors are present, an arrest is necessarily reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Trigg, 878 F.2d at 1041. The Court shall examine each of these factors in turn.

Defendant argues that probable cause to arrest Plaintiff was provided by Defendant's firsthand observation of Plaintiff's violation of two traffic laws (tinted windows and improper lane changes) and the radio dispatch reporting the possibility that the plates on Plaintiff's vehicle were stolen. The Court shall first consider whether probable cause existed to arrest Plaintiff for the violation of the two traffic offenses. Plaintiff argues that probable cause to arrest him for the alleged traffic violations was lacking. Plaintiff's evidence fails to support his argument and does not create a genuine issue of material fact. As to the tinted windows, Plaintiff argues in his brief that his windows were rolled down and that Defendant could not have seen them ...


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