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RAMIREZ v. CITY OF CHICAGO

December 23, 1999

JESUS SERGIO RAMIREZ, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE AND ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF THE DECEASED OMAR RAMIREZ, YOLANDA SANCHEZ, AS GUARDIAN AND NEXT OF KIN FOR CHRISTINA RAMIREZ, A MINOR CHILD OF THE DECEASED, AND MARIA EVA RAMIREZ, AS LEGAL GUARDIAN FOR OMAR H. RAMIREZ, JASMINE D. RAMIREZ, AND ADRIAN A. RAMIREZ, THE MINOR CHILDREN OF THE DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, CHICAGO POLICE OFFICERS ALBERT KRUEGER, NO. 14394, RITA VAIL, NO. 19178, EDWARD BANSLEY, NO. 12102, FELIX TOMALIS, JR., NO. 8484, KEVIN KOSZALA, NO. 12998, AND JAMES WENDLANDT, NO. 13686, CHICAGO FIRE DEPARTMENT PARAMEDICS GABRIEL LEON, NO. 1547, VICTORIA JANOZIK, NO. 16917, AND CREN, NP. 21, DEFENDANTS.



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

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Omar Ramirez, a 32 year old Latino man, died of asphyxiation after being handcuffed behind his back by Chicago police officers, thrown face down on the street, beaten, and refused care by Chicago Fire Department paramedics. The plaintiffs sued on his behalf for violation of his constitutional civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law, alleging that: (1) the police officers present, in their individual capacities, caused his death, failed to protect him, and failed to provide medical attention, (2) Chicago Fire Department paramedics Leon, Janozik, and Cren failed to provide medical attention, (3) the officers and paramedics conspired to deprive Mr. Ramirez of his constitutional civil rights, and (4) these violations of Mr. Ramirez's rights occurred under a pattern or practice of the City of Chicago that leads to such violations. In addition, the plaintiffs allege some state law causes of action. The officers move to dismiss the individual capacity claims, and paramedics Janozik and Leon (the "paramedics"*fn1) move to dismiss the claims against them. I deny the officer's motions in part and grant them in part, and I deny the paramedics' motion.

I.

On June 20, 1988, when Omar Ramirez visited a friend on Archer Street in Chicago, he appeared paranoid and nervous. He was sweating profusely, paced the floor, and said people were trying to kill him. He had used alcohol and cocaine that evening and had been doing cocaine for two days. He kicked out a window screen and jumped two stories to the ground, fracturing a heel. He limped across the street to a bar, where several patrons observed his dilated pupils, and repeated his claims that people were trying to do him harm. The bartender called the police, informing them she thought he was on drugs and acting insane. A fight broke out that involved Mr. Ramirez, the bartender, and several patrons.

Shortly thereafter Officers Krueger and Vail arrived. They seized Mr. Ramirez and handcuffed him behind the back, then dragged him outside. He was screaming that his leg was broken. They dropped him face down in the street while cuffed, restricting his breathing, hit him twice in the head with nightsticks, stepped on his injured leg, pulled his hair, kneed him in the back, and allowed a tavern patron to step on his legs as he screamed in pain. Sometime during this process, the officers called for Chicago Fire Department paramedics. Paramedics Leon and Janozik were dispatched, but when they arrived, they refused to treat Mr. Ramirez or transport him in their ambulance to a hospital with a trauma center. Witnesses told the officers and paramedics about Mr. Ramirez's drug and alcohol use.

The officers then put Mr. Ramirez face down on his belly, still cuffed behind his back, in a squadrol, an automobile that is used by police as both a squad car and an ambulance. He was left unsupervised in this position while he was transported to St. Anthony De Padua Hospital in Chicago, which has no trauma center. The officers did not clear his air passage or make sure that he was still breathing. Upon arrival, they put him in a wheelchair, still handcuffed, and rolled him into the emergency room. A physician noted that he appeared to be dead. Resuscitation efforts failed, and he was pronounced dead sixteen minutes after arrival. An autopsy determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation from being handcuffed while intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine. Mr. Ramirez was survived by four minor children and his parents.

II.

I begin by addressing paramedics Janozik's and Leon's motion to dismiss. In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6) the only question is whether the complaint raised allegations that, if proven, would entitle the plaintiff to relief. See Int'l Marketing, Ltd. v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., Inc., 192 F.3d 724, 729 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). On a motion to dismiss, I read a complaint liberally and "accept as true the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from those allegations." Sapperstein v. Hager, 188 F.3d 852, 855 (7th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted).

A.

Without offering any explanation for their behavior towards Mr. Ramirez, paramedics Janozik and Leon argue first, with respect to the § 1983 claims, that they had no responsibility to provide him with medical care because they did not have him in their custody. Mr. Ramirez's § 1983 claims implicate the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause, which requires state action. The paramedics cite DeShaney v. Winnebago Dep't of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 199-202, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989), for the proposition that there is no federal constitutional duty of care where the plaintiff is not in custody or control of the state actor. The paramedics argue that because Mr. Ramirez was not in their custody but that of the Chicago Police Department, they did not "suddenly acquire a duty to treat a man who was not in their custody," an argument of breathtaking cynicism.

I agree with the plaintiffs, however, that the paramedics, public employees who were dispatched specifically to aid Mr. Ramirez, "suddenly acquired" a constitutional obligation to aid him when the police defendants, also public employees, took him into custody on behalf of the City of Chicago, and he was injured in the process. Chicago Fire Department paramedics have a duty to aid persons who are injured while in custody of the Chicago Police, or indeed, the Cook County Sheriff or the Illinois State Police. State action cannot be diluted by being dispersed over several departments.

The paramedics' argument makes no sense because the Police Department is the agency designated by the state to take persons into custody, while the Fire Department is designated with the responsibility, among other things, to provide medical care for persons in need. On the paramedics' argument, Chicago Fire Department employees can never have any constitutional duty to provide anyone in police custody with medical care. But the Supreme Court has said that due process "require[s] the responsible government or governmental agency to provide medical care to persons . . . who have been injured while being apprehended by the police." City of Revere v. Mass. Gen'l Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 77 L.Ed.2d 605(1985). The Fire Department and the employees tapped for the job therefore had a constitutional duty to provide Mr. Ramirez with medical care while in police custody.

Further, the paramedics' argument contradicts the Seventh Circuit's reading of DeShaney in a similar set of facts. The panel there rejected a closely analogous no-duty claim, saying:

  Although the state has no general constitutional duty
  to provide rescue services, the government may not
  cut off all sources of private aid or self-help, and
  then decline to provide replacement services. If [the
  plaintiff] was in custody from the time the
  paramedics arrived — that is, if he was not free to
  seek other forms of assistance — then the ...

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