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04/08/96 DONALD CHRISTIANSEN v. TROOPER HAROLD

April 8, 1996

DONALD CHRISTIANSEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
TROOPER HAROLD MASSE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable IRWIN SOLGANICK, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Buckley delivered the opinion of the court: Campbell, P.j., and Braden, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckley

The Honorable Justice BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial, plaintiff, Donald Christiansen, was awarded $42,000 for injuries he sustained as he entered an Illinois State Police squad car after being arrested and handcuffed by defendant, Trooper Harold Masse. Defendant makes three arguments on appeal: (1) the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction; (2) defendant was entitled to public official's immunity; and (3) the jury award was improper.

BACKGROUND

On January 28, 1988, defendant was on patrol, driving eastbound on Illinois Highway 90 in a marked squad car, when he observed an automobile, driven by plaintiff, traveling east with an inoperative taillight. He activated the light bar on the top of his squad car and pulled the automobile over to the shoulder of the highway. Defendant approached plaintiff and requested to see his driver's license, but plaintiff did not have it with him. Defendant went back to the squad car and ran a check using plaintiff's name, address, and date of birth.

The check revealed that the Village of Buffalo Grove police department had obtained a warrant for plaintiff's arrest. "Alert tones" went out over the police radio channels, which indicated that there was an outstanding warrant on either the person or vehicle that had been stopped. Defendant confirmed his belief that plaintiff was the subject of the warrant and informed the radio dispatcher that he would be out of the squad car.

Defendant walked to plaintiff's car and informed plaintiff that he was under arrest. He asked plaintiff to step out of his car and put his hands behind his back. Defendant handcuffed and searched plaintiff. About the time defendant arrested plaintiff, Trooper John Welcome arrived, and defendant spoke with him briefly. Defendant told plaintiff he would take him to a squad room for processing. Defendant walked plaintiff to the passenger side of the squad car and opened the front passenger door. As plaintiff started to get into the car he felt a pain in his leg. Defendant helped plaintiff out of the car and told him to wait until defendant could give him the proper instructions on entering the car while handcuffed. According to plaintiff, he was never given such instructions.

On plaintiff's second attempt to enter the car, defendant placed his hand on plaintiff's head in order to guide him into the squad car and to protect his head from hitting the roof of the car. According to plaintiff, defendant pushed him into the car, and, although he was able to get into the car this time, he had a cramp in his left leg. After complaining about the pain to defendant and Trooper Welcome, plaintiff was helped out of the car.

Defendant considered transporting plaintiff in the back seat, but decided he would not fit. He did not consider putting plaintiff in the back seat initially because it is against the Illinois State Police policy to transport an arrestee in the back seat. Instead, plaintiff was rehandcuffed with his arms in front of him. Although the policy of the Illinois State Police was to handcuff an arrestee behind the back, troopers had the discretion to handcuff in the front if a reason existed such as obesity or physical impairment.

On the third attempt, plaintiff was able to enter the squad car without incident. Defendant testified that he assisted plaintiff into the car by placing his hand on plaintiff's head. Defendant buckled plaintiff into the seat and transported him to the squad room located three miles away, where plaintiff waited for a police officer of the Village of Buffalo Grove.

After his arrest plaintiff suffered from a herniated disc in his spine and underwent surgery on April 5, 1988. Dr. Douglas Anderson testified that plaintiff's injuries were consistent with the pain he complained of at the time of his arrest.

Plaintiff filed a three-count complaint against defendant and "an unknown state trooper" in the circuit court of Cook County on June 1, 1988. Count I asserted a claim for common law battery, and count II asserted a claim for negligence. Count III asserted a Federal civil rights claim under Title 42, U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985, which was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice prior to trial.

After two default judgments were entered and vacated, defendant finally filed an answer on February 22, 1990. The court ordered the case dismissed for want of prosecution on April 2, 1990, and then vacated that order on April 18, 1990. On September 15, 1993, defendant filed an amended answer, which raised the affirmative defense that subject matter jurisdiction to hear the negligence count rested exclusively in the Illinois Court of Claims. On September 24, 1993, the court dismissed the ...


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