United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
November 12, 2004.
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
JON WOODALL, ERNEST HALVORSEN, and CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATTHEW KENNELLY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Angel Rodriguez has sued Chicago police detectives Jon Woodall
and Ernest Halvorsen under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that they
violated his right to a fair trial. He alleges that Woodall and
Halvorsen coerced a witness to falsely identify him as a murderer
and withheld this information from the prosecution at his trial.
Rodriguez has also sued the City of Chicago for indemnification
pursuant to 745 ILCS 10/9-102. The defendants have moved for
summary judgment. For the reasons outlined below, the Court
denies the defendants' motion.
On March 10, 1998, a jury in the Circuit Court of Cook County
convicted Rodriguez of murder, and a judge sentenced him to sixty
years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for entering a
grocery store and shooting Ibrahim Zayed, the owner of the store.
The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction on March 31,
2000 because of the lack of reliable evidence against Rodriguez.
On June 6, 2003, Rodriguez filed this suit against Woodall and Halvorsen, two of the detectives involved in the murder
investigation, alleging that they wrongfully pressured a witness
into falsely identifying him as the shooter and failed to inform
prosecutors of this.
Halvorsen evidently first became involved with the murder
investigation on January 15, 1997, when he was asked to locate
Andrew Bolton, a seventeen year old who was working with Zayed at
the time of the shooting, to show him a photo array of possible
suspects. Defs' 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 11. Halvorsen showed Bolton six
photos, but he failed to identify anyone. But Halvorsen did not
stop there; in an affidavit, Bolton claims that Halvorsen
repeatedly came to his house and showed him photographs. Bolton
Aff. ¶ 10. In March 1997, Halvorsen showed Bolton an array of six
photos that included a picture of Rodriguez. Bolton selected
Rodriguez's picture. Id. at ¶ 20; Bolton Dep. at 10-12.
Rodriguez contends that Halvorsen coerced Bolton to identify
Rodriguez by repeatedly showing Bolton photo arrays that always
included Rodriguez's picture and by threatening Bolton. Pl's 2d
Am. Compl. ¶ 44. As evidence of this misconduct, Rodriguez
directs the Court's attention to Bolton's affidavit. In that
affidavit, Bolton stated that Halvorsen "repeatedly" came to his
house and showed him photographs and asked if Bolton could
identify the killer from the photographs. Bolton Aff. ¶ 10.
Bolton said that Halvorsen "suggested to me that I had something
to do with" the murder, which made Bolton scared he could be
charged. Id. ¶ 11. Bolton stated that he ultimately chose
Rodriguez from the photo array "only because his photograph was
always included with other photographs that were shown to me,"
which suggested to Bolton that the police wanted him to select
Rodriguez. Id. ¶ 14.
Halvorsen acknowledges that he presented photo arrays to Bolton
on two separate occasions, but he claims that he "did not pick out, point to or
suggest that Bolton choose plaintiff's photograph in any way."
Defs' 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 21. As evidence that he conducted the photo
arrays properly, Halvorsen refers the Court to Bolton's testimony
during his deposition that the police did not suggest that he
select Rodriguez's picture and that paragraph 18 of his affidavit
is inaccurate in that regard. Bolton Dep. at 11-12, 26. Bolton
also testified at the criminal trial that he truthfully picked
out Rodriguez from the photo array. Crim. Trial Tr. at 88.
Detective Woodall's only involvement with the Zayed murder
investigation occurred in March 1997, when he conducted a line-up
for Bolton and Tyrone Reaves, the two witnesses to the murder.
Reaves was just outside the store after the shooting and saw the
suspect fleeing down the sidewalk. During the line-up, Bolton
purportedly identified Rodriguez as the shooter. Crim. Trial Tr.
at 133. Rodriguez, however, contends that this identification was
coerced by Woodall.
Rodriguez alleges that Woodall pressured Bolton to select
Rodriguez as the shooter by pointing at Rodriguez during the
line-up and making comments about his criminal record and
background. Specifically, Bolton stated in his April 23, 2003
affidavit that despite the fact that he knew Rodriguez was not
the shooter, he selected Rodriguez out of the line-up due to
pressure from Woodall who was "constantly saying, `this got to be
the guy he is from around the area and is known.'" Bolton Aff. at
¶ 16. Similarly, when asked during his deposition in this case
whether the officer told him to pick out a certain person, Bolton
answered that before he picked anyone, the officer pointed at
Rodriguez and said "Look at this guy. His background, it's messed
up. He the only one around the neighborhood be robbing and
stealing, doing you know, doing a lot of crimes." Bolton Dep. at 14.*fn1
Bolton further testified that the officer at the line-up
suggested that he, Bolton, might have been involved in the Zayed
murder and threatened that if he did not pick someone out of the
line-up, the police might start questioning him. Id. at 36-38.
Somewhat inconsistently, however, Bolton later seemed to say that
he had already picked Rodriguez out of the line-up when the
officer made this statement. Id. But a jury reasonably could
understand Bolton to be saying that this threat was made before
the identification; arguably nothing else makes sense.
Reaves corroborates key aspects of Bolton's testimony in his
own affidavit. He states that although Bolton initially told the
officer that none of the suspects in the line-up were the
shooter, the officer then asked if he was sure it was not number
three, because "[h]e fits the description." Reaves Aff. at ¶¶
23-24. Reaves testified that Bolton at that point acknowledged
that Rodriguez looked like the shooter and became positive that
he was the shooter after the officer continued to make references
to Rodriguez's background and neighborhood. Id. at ¶¶ 25-27.
Woodall contends, however, that the evidence submitted by
Rodriguez contradicts Bolton's sworn testimony at the trial and
his deposition in this case. During Rodriguez's criminal trial,
Bolton testified that he picked out Rodriguez from the line-up.
Defs' 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 35. Later, in his May 17, 2004 deposition,
Bolton confirmed that he had testified truthfully at the trial
when he said that Rodriguez had killed Zayed, id. ¶ 43, and
also admitted that at the time of the line-up, he was sure that Rodriguez was the shooter and
that he had told the truth when he picked him out. Id. at ¶¶
41-42; Pl's 56.1 Resp. at ¶¶ 41-42. Woodall likewise points out
that despite the fact that Reaves denied in his affidavit himself
picked Rodriguez out of the line-up, this was at odds with his
testimony before the grand jury that he did pick Rodriguez out of
the line-up as Zayed's murderer. Reaves Aff. at ¶ 22; Grand Jury
Tr. at 16. Finally, the defendants highlight the fact that Bolton
testified that he did not read the affidavit before he signed it
and that it was not notarized in his presence. Bolton Dep. at
22-23. (Bolton testified at his deposition, however, that only
two paragraphs of the affidavit were inaccurate paragraphs 15
and 18. See id. at 23-28.)
Summary judgment is appropriate where "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R. Civ. P.
56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the
Court must construe all facts and draw all reasonable and
justifiable inferences in favor of Rodriguez, the non-moving
party in this case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
1. § 1983 Claims for Deprivation of Right to Fair Trial
Rodriguez claims that Halvorsen and Woodall violated his right
to a fair trial as guaranteed by the Due Process Clauses of the
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by intentionally influencing and
coercing Bolton to falsely identify Rodriguez as Zayed's murderer
and failing to disclose this coercion to prosecutors or Rodriguez's defense
counsel.*fn2 To succeed in a § 1983 action, Rodriguez must
demonstrate that he was deprived of a federal right by one or
more persons acting under color of state law. Ienco v. City of
Chicago, 286 F.3d 994, 997-98 (7th Cir. 2002). Section 1983
provides a remedy for certain trial-related government
misconduct, in particular Brady violations, that violate the
due process rights of an accused. Newsome v. McCabe,
256 F.3d 747 (7th Cir. 2001); Ienco, 286 F.3d at 998. A colorable due
process claim of this sort must include allegations that the
detectives obstructed justice or withheld information or evidence
necessary to ensure that the defendant received a fair and
impartial trial. See, e.g., Ienco, 286 F.3d at 998-99;
Patterson v. Burge, 328 F. Supp. 2d 878, 889 (N.D. Ill. 2004);
see Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Thus, to survive
summary judgment, Rodriguez must submit evidence sufficient for a
reasonable trier of fact to find that the detectives violated his
constitutional right to a fair trial.
According to Rodriguez, the defendants violated his rights by
influencing and pressuring Bolton to select Rodriguez as the
murderer during the photographic and in-person line-ups and
withholding this information from prosecutors. As evidence of
this misconduct, Rodriguez points to Bolton's statements in his
affidavit and deposition, along with Reaves' testimony that prior
to Bolton selecting Rodriguez, Woodall pointed to him and
suggestively made references to his criminal propensity. The defendants counter that both Bolton and Reaves' affidavits
contradict their sworn testimony at Rodriguez's trial and, as to
Bolton, some aspects of his later deposition testimony about the
circumstances of their identifications. They rely on a rule,
established by the Seventh Circuit in the summary judgment
context, that once a witness gives deposition testimony in a case
that is damaging to a party's cause, that party cannot create a
genuine issue of fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment by
presenting a post-deposition affidavit by the witness that takes
back the damaging testimony. Bank of Illinois v. Allied Signal,
75 F.3d 1162, 1168 (7th Cir. 1996).
It is readily apparent that this rule has no bearing on the
present situation. First, the rule concerns "affidavits that
contradict . . . prior depositions," Bank of Illinois,
75 F.3d at 1168-69. In this case there are no post-deposition
Second, defendants cite no authority holding that once a
witness has testified at a criminal trial, his testimony is
somehow preserved in formaldehyde. Such a rule effectively would
immunize from liability, or even scrutiny, dishonest law
enforcement officers who coerce or otherwise fabricate evidence
to frame an accused. Of course we make no judgment that this is
what occurred here. But there is no basis for a rule that would
effectively preclude the Court, on summary judgment, or a jury,
at trial, from considering a prosecution witness's testimony that
he was coerced or convinced by the police to lie.
Third, Bolton's deposition does not contradict the critical
aspects of his earlier affidavit. There is no significant
contradiction at all with regard to Woodall's actions. As to
Halvorsen, taking the testimony in the light most favorable to
Rodriguez (as we must do at this stage), Bolton appears to be
saying that his affidavit is wrong only in that only that
Halvorsen did not expressly suggest that he should select Rodriguez's picture.
But Bolton did not contradict the statements in his affidavit
about the suggestive nature of Halvorsen's actions or his earlier
implied threat to Bolton. In short, Bolton's affidavit, like any
affidavit submitted in support of or in opposition to summary
judgment, is properly taken at this stage of the case as
indicating he would testify consistently with it at trial, except
perhaps for the one relatively insignificant clarification we
Next, we must determine whether the defendants' purported
conduct amounts to a Brady violation, as Rodriguez claims. The
duty to turn over exculpatory evidence applies to investigating
officers as well as prosecutors. Manning v. Miller,
355 F.3d 1028, 1034 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Kyles v. Whitley,
514 U.S. 419, 438 (1995)); see also Newsome v. McCabe, 256 F.3d 747, 752
(7th Cir. 2001). The Seventh Circuit has held that it was clearly
established long before the events in this case that police could
not withhold exculpatory information about their conduct at
identification procedures. Newsome, 256 F.3d at 752-53; see
also Manning, 355 F.3d at 1033. Given this precedent, and taking
the evidence in the light most favorable to Rodriguez, the Court
finds that a reasonable jury could find against both defendants
on Rodriguez's due process claim. For this reason, the Court
denies the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the
merits of the claims.
2. Qualified Immunity
Woodall and Halvorsen also argue that they are entitled to
qualified immunity on Rodriguez's § 1983 claims. Though the issue
of qualified immunity is a question of law for the court, it
nevertheless involves consideration of the plaintiff's factual
contentions. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 528 (1985). As
a threshold question, the Court must determine whether, taken in the light most favorable to Rodriguez, the facts as
alleged show that the detectives' conduct violated a
constitutional right. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01
(2001). As the Court has just discussed, the answer to this
initial inquiry is yes with regard to both detectives. Viewing
the facts in favor of Rodriguez, a reasonable jury could conclude
that both Halvorsen and Woodall engaged in the alleged conduct
and that this constitutes a Brady violation that deprived
Rodriguez of his due process right to a fair trial.
Next, the Court must examine whether that right was clearly
established at the time the detectives' disputed conduct took
place. Id.; Manning v. Miller, 355 F.3d 1028, 1033-34 (7th
Cir. 2004). Rodriguez easily clears this second hurdle. Long
prior to the actions of Halvorsen and Woodall, it was well
established that investigators who withhold exculpatory evidence
about identification procedures from defendants violate the
defendant's constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial.
Newsome, 256 F.3d at 752-53; see also Manning,
355 F.3d at 1034 (holding that although no decision prior to defendant's
actions dealt with a factually identical Brady claim, it was
sufficient for purposes of the inquiry that the investigators
withheld exculpatory evidence from the defendant). Thus, the
Court concludes that detectives Woodall and Halvorsen are not
entitled to summary judgment on their defense of qualified
3. City's Motion for Summary Judgment
Rodriguez's lone claim against the City of Chicago is for
indemnification pursuant to 745 ILCS 10/9-102. In Illinois, a
public entity can be directed to pay any tort judgment or
settlement for compensatory damages for which an employee acting
within the scope of his employment is liable. Id. As this Court
has determined that Woodson and Halvorsen could potentially be
held liable for violating Rodriguez's constitutional right to a
fair trial, the City is likewise potentially liable to Rodriguez. Summary judgment is therefore inappropriate,
and the Court denies the City's motion.
4. Statute of Limitations
The defendants ask the Court to revisit the issue of whether
Rodriguez's claims are timebarred by the applicable statute of
limitations. Defendants presented a similar argument to the Court
in their motion to dismiss Rodriguez's second amended complaint.
In that motion, defendants maintained that the statute of
limitations began to run once the Illinois Appellate Court
overturned Rodriguez's conviction in August 2000. The Court found
that although the reversal was a necessary predicate for
Rodriguez's suit, the constitutional violation of which he
complained was not the conviction itself, but rather the
detectives' failure to disclose that they had influenced and
coerced Bolton to falsely identify Rodriguez. Because defendants
could not show that Rodriguez necessarily should have known of
the detectives' misconduct before June 6, 2001, their motion to
dismiss was denied. Defendants now contend that since that
ruling, discovery has revealed that Rodriguez was on notice of
these claims far more than two years prior to June 6, 2003 when
he filed this action.
Both parties agree that Rodriguez's § 1983 claims are governed
by Illinois' two year, personal injury statute of limitations. A
§ 1983 cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knew or should
have known that his constitutional rights were violated. Barry
Aviation Inc. v. Land O'Lakes Municipal Airport Comm'n,
377 F.3d 682, 688 (7th Cir. 2004). Thus, the two year statute of
limitations starts to run "when a reasonable person would know
enough to prompt a deeper inquiry into a potential cause."
Nemmers v. United States, 795 F.2d 628, 632 (7th Cir. 1986).
Rodriguez bears the burden of showing that the discovery rule
applies. Koelle v. Zwiren, 284 Ill. App. 3d 778, 786-87, 672 N.E.2d 868, 874 (1996) ("When a
plaintiff asserts the discovery rule in response to a statute of
limitations defense, the burden is on plaintiff to show that the
rule applies."); see generally, Bontkowski v. Smith,
305 F.3d 257, 762 (7th Cir. 2002) (when federal court borrows state
statute of limitations, it also borrows state tolling doctrine).
To preclude summary judgment, Rodriguez therefore must submit
evidence showing that there exists a genuine issue of material
fact as to whether he reasonably could have known prior to June
6, 2001 that he had been injured by the detectives' misconduct.
Rodriguez maintains that he was unaware that Woodall and
Halvorsen had actually coerced Bolton to identify Rodriguez until
April 2003, when he learned of the misconduct through Bolton's
affidavit. Defendants argue that Rodriguez's trial strategy in
the criminal case and the fact that he contended at the criminal
trial that Bolton had falsely identified him show that Rodriguez
had notice of these claims as early as 1998. This argument is
wholly without merit. As Rodriguez avers, and the Court noted in
denying the motion to dismiss, the fact that he knew he had been
wrongly identified does not translate into knowledge that the
conviction resulted from a Brady violation. Mistakes can be
made without a guiding human hand, and this is particularly true
of eyewitness identifications.
Moreover, Rodriguez's counsel at no point during the criminal
trial argued that Bolton's confession was the product of the
coercive police techniques he has since uncovered. Indeed, it is
relatively safe to assume that had Rodriguez been aware of the
detectives' alleged misconduct at the time of trial or on appeal,
his defense counsel would have moved to exclude the
identifications on that basis. In any event, defendants are
essentially arguing for a rule that any criminal defendant who
believes he was wrongly convicted must, on that basis alone,
discover the grounds for a lawsuit within two years of his conviction
being overturned, at peril of being forever barred from suit.
They have offered no authority in support of such a rule, and the
Court declines to adopt the proposal.
Defendants also argue that there is evidence indicating that
Rodriguez's family was on notice soon after the criminal trial
that Rodriguez's constitutional rights may have been violated.
Ruth Pena, Rodriguez's sister, testified that in August 1999, she
made a complaint to the Chicago Police Department's Office of
Professional Standards claiming that her brother was framed by
the detectives because they falsely arrested her brother,
improperly conducted the line-up, and had shown Bolton only one
photo of her brother during the photo array. Pena Dep. at 40,
77-83. Though Pena admits she suspected wrongdoing by the
officers, she stated that at the time she filed the complaint,
she had no evidence of this. Id. at 83. Defendants concede that
Pena lacked a factual basis for her complaint, as her belief that
wrongdoing occurred came from observing trial testimony. See
Pl's 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 3; Defs' 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 3. And her
suspicion that Woodall framed her brother was also based on her
discovery in 1999 or 2000 that Woodall was involved in unrelated
criminal wrongdoing for which he was later indicted and
convicted. Defs' 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 61; Pl's 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 61. In
short, Pena had no facts suggesting that the detectives engaged
in misconduct during the identification procedures in her
Defendants also point to the testimony of Rodriguez's brother,
George Rodriguez, that "right after" his brother's conviction, he
learned that police had allegedly told Bolton whom he should pick
in the line-up. Defs' 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 62; Pl's 56.1 Resp. at ¶
62. George acknowledged that he conveyed this information to his
brother. Defs' 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 63; Pl's 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 63. But
George's actual testimony about what he "knew" is much less
helpful to defendants; it appears only that he heard from some unknown
source that some other officer (identified in his deposition as
Ray Cuvera) had told Bolton that Rodriguez was the offender. G.
Rodriguez Dep. at 42. This apparent third-hand information
appears to have been little more than street talk or rumor; it is
insufficient to entitle the defendants to summary judgment on the
statute of limitations defense.
In sum, though a reasonable jury could find the evidence cited
by defendants sufficient to establish that Rodriguez was on
notice of his injury prior to June 6, 2001, a jury likewise
reasonably could conclude that mere speculation and rumor did not
give Rodriguez notice that he had been injured by wrongful
conduct sufficient to trigger the statute of limitations. It is
not uncommon for convicted felons or their families to think that
the conviction was the result of a frame-up, but that is not
enough to start the clock running without more.
Rodriguez has met his burden of showing that material facts are
in dispute concerning the point at which Rodriguez should have
reasonably been aware of the detectives' misconduct. Summary
judgment is therefore inappropriate. See Kedzierski v.
Kedzierski, 899 F.2d 681, 683 (7th Cir. 1994) (holding that
summary judgment is not appropriate when material facts are in
dispute as to when a reasonable person should have known he was
wrongfully injured); Koelle, 284 Ill. App. 3d at 787,
672 N.E.2d at 874 (noting that the question of when an injured party
knows or should know of his injury is a question of fact for the
jury unless it is apparent from the undisputed facts that only
one conclusion can be drawn).
For the reasons stated above, the Court denies defendants
Woodall, Halvorsen, and City of Chicago's motions for summary
judgment [docket no. 38]. The case is set for a status hearing on November 16, 2004 at 9:30 a.m. Trial counsel are directed to
appear, as the Court intends to reset the trial date.