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MOUNT v. VILLAGE OF SOUTH ELGIN

February 4, 2003

ROANLD MOUNT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF SOUTH ELGIN, POLICE CHIEF LARRY JONES OF THE VILLAGE OF SOUTH ELGIN AND SGT. MICHAEL L. FLANINGAM, POLICE OFFICER OF THE VILLAGE OF SOUTH ELGIN, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Ronald Mount filed this lawsuit against the Village of South Elgin ("Village"), Police Chief Larry Jones and Sergeant Michael Flaningam (collectively "Defendants"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Currently before this Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Because Mount knowingly and voluntarily signed a separation agreement releasing Defendants from any and all liability, we grant the motion for summary judgment. (R. 20-1.)

RELEVANT FACTS

Plaintiff Ronald Mount, a South Elgin police officer, was involved in a shooting incident on August 18, 1999. On that date South Elgin police officers attempted to arrest civilian John Bradley, who was in a vehicle near his home. Bradley resisted arrest and would not leave his vehicle, despite the officers' attempts to convince him to do so; rather, Bradley began driving away. At that time Sergeant Amy Moore was standing in front of the driver's side mirror. Mount was standing in front of the vehicle and, as the vehicle moved forward, he jumped backwards and sideways to avoid the vehicle's path. After moving to the passenger side of the truck, Mount fired his weapon fearing that he might receive a battery and be crushed against a nearby tree. His shot hit the vehicle's tire. Bradley escaped apprehension and was arrested at a later date.

In the aftermath of the incident, the Kane County State's Attorney's Office filed criminal charges including aggravated assault and reckless driving against Bradley. The criminal complaint alleged that Bradley "nearly plac[ed] Ofc. Mount in fear of receiving a battery." (R. 24, Pl.'s Facts, Ex. 613, Doty's Criminal Complaint.) Mount learned of the charges against Bradley on August 19, 1999.

Like Bradley, Mount faced repercussions from the incident. Chief Jones suspended Mount pending a disciplinary hearing with the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners ("Board") for the wrongful discharge of a weapon in violation of Illinois law and Village police department policy. According to the disciplinary complaint prepared by Chief Jones, Illinois law allows a police officer to use deadly force when necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. (R. 4, Am. CompL, Ex. B, Compl. and Pet. to Suspend.) Village policy also prohibits firing at a moving vehicle unless required to prevent death or great bodily harm. (Id) Chief Jones' complaint alleged that neither Mount nor Moore were in a position to be injured or killed by Bradley's actions at the time Mount fired his gun. (Id) Mount faced possible dismissal from his position for his actions.

Before his case reached the disciplinary board, Mount resigned from his employment with the Village on September 20, 1999. In conjunction with his resignation, he signed an employment separation agreement and release with the Village on October 11, 1999. In the separation agreement, Mount agreed to release the Village from "any and all liability of any kind . . . arising out of or relating in any way to Mr. Mount's employment." (R. 4, Am. Compl., Ex. D, Separation Agreement.) Mount claims that he entered into the agreement because Chief Jones alleged to the Board that Mount wrongfully fired his weapon in violation of Illinois law and Village policy during the Bradley incident. He also executed the agreement to secure a neutral reference for purposes of future employment.

During the time between his resignation letter and the signing of the separation agreement, Mount consulted with a police union attorney about the release. He also called several other attorneys to discuss the charges pending against him. Mount and the police union attorney exchanged drafts of the separation agreement with the Village's attorney before the release was finalized. Mount reviewed the final separation agreement two days before signing it. His attorney advised him to read the agreement carefully since he thought Mount would not be pleased with portions of the release. Mount followed these instructions, admitting that he "tried to scrutinize [the release] very carefully." (R. 22, Defs.' Facts, Ex. A, Mount Dep. at 169.) On October 11, 1999, Mount signed the separation agreement and release. He still believed the charges against him regarding the unlawful firing of his weapon were false; he thought he was justified in firing his weapon during the Bradley incident because he believed Bradley's vehicle posed a threat to him. (R. 24, Pl's Facts at § 1, ¶ 27.)

On April 12, 2000, Mount learned that the criminal charges against Bradley had been amended to include Moore as an alleged victim of the incident. The amended charges alleged that Bradley placed Mount and Moore in "immediate apprehension of receiving a battery." (R. 4, Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) Mount claims that the charges in the amended criminal complaint were contradictory to Chief Jones' charges to the Board. He said that he signed the agreement not knowing that the charges filed against him with the Board would differ from the criminal complaint against Bradley. (R. 25, Pl.'s Mem. at 5.)

On March 30, 2001, the Court dismissed Mount's original complaint without prejudice for failure to state a valid cause of action. (See R. 2, Mar. 30, 2001 Order.) Mount filed an amended complaint on March 14, 2002. The Village moved to dismiss the amended complaint and strike portions of it under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12. Defendants' motions were denied on May 31, 2002. (See R. 13.) The motion to dismiss the amended complaint based on the release was denied without prejudice to renewing the same arguments in a summary judgment motion. (See id.) Defendants currently move for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 56, which after careful review is hereby granted.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment should be granted "only if there is no reasonably contestable issue of fact that is potentially outcome-determinative." E.E.O.C. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2000). This Court will neither decide factual disputes nor weigh conflicting evidence. Id Instead, this Court limits its inquiry to whether a genuine issue of material fact exists for trial. Id In doing so, we view the evidence and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. A nonmoving party cannot survive summary judgment with a mere scintilla of evidence supporting his position; rather, the party must present definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion. Id. at 437 (citing Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 427 (7th Cir. 1997)).

ANALYSIS

Defendants move for summary judgment based on the separation agreement and release entered into between the Village and Mount. The agreement, if valid, would bar Mount's claims under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Defendants claim that the release is valid, while Mount argues that the release is invalid because of Defendants' improper conduct, specifically that Defendants fraudulently induced Mount into signing the release. The fraud Mount alleges is that Chief Jones represented to the disciplinary board that Mount improperly fired his weapon, while the criminal charges filed against Bradley allegedly justify his use of the ...


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