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Montano v. City of Chicago

March 21, 2006

ESTEBAN MONTANO, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Christine LaFrancis' ("LaFrancis"), Jesse Atilano's ("Atilano"), Richard Toolis' ("Toolis"), and John Zalewski's motion for summary judgment and on Defendants' motion to dismiss and motion for attorney fees. For the reasons stated below, we grant Defendants' motion to dismiss, deny Defendants' motion for attorneys' fees, and deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment as moot.

BACKGROUND

On September 14, 1997, a Mexican Independence Day parade took place on 26th Street in Chicago, Illinois. The parade finished in the afternoon and people continued to celebrate in the parade area into the evening. Officers Atilano and LaFrancis drove through the parade area around 8:00 p.m. and claim that they noticed a large crowd on the corner of 25th Street and Whipple. The officers claim that as they passed the corner in their car they heard the sound of glass breaking near their car and vulgar language directed towards them. The officers claim that they turned their vehicle around to investigate further and the individuals on the corner began to scatter and run. The officers were able to apprehend five of the individuals that were on the corner who are the Plaintiffs in this action. According to the officers, they told Plaintiffs to place their hands on the police car and four of the five individuals were still holding beer bottles and needed to first set down the beer bottles. The officers claim that during a pat down of Plaintiff Esteban Montano ("Montano") a scuffle ensued. Montana contends that excessive force was used and that he was hit in the head and back with a metal flashlight. The other Plaintiffs allegedly interfered with the arrest of Montano and all Plaintiffs were ultimately arrested.

Plaintiffs brought the instant action alleging various federal civil rights claims and state law claims. On September 25, 2001, the prior judge in this action granted summary judgment on some of Defendants' claims. The court also decided at that juncture to sua sponte relinquish its supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims and dismissed the claims without prejudice despite the fact that federal claims remained in the action. Plaintiffs then filed the state law claims in state court. The action proceeded to trial on the remaining federal claims and, after Plaintiffs presented their case-in-chief, the district court entered judgment in Defendants' favor on all of the remaining claims except for two federal claims which were the excessive force claim by Montano against Officer Lopez in his individual capacity and Mendez's claim against Defendant Officer Lambert alleging an illegal strip search. The court then declared a mistrial on those two remaining federal claims.

On November 27, 2001, before the remaining two claims were retried, the court denied Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider the dismissal of the state law claims and the court entered an order staying the action in regards to the two remaining federal claims, until the related state court action was resolved. On March 19, 2002, the court entered an order dismissing the remaining two federal claims without prejudice, pending the outcome of the state-court proceedings. Plaintiffs appealed the district court's rulings and the Seventh Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing the remaining two federal claims without prejudice and abused its discretion in relinquishing its supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. On July 13, 2004, the Seventh Circuit vacated the district court's rulings issued on September 25, 2001, and March 19, 2002. This action was then reassigned to the undersigned judge in March 2005. Thus, the claims that are alive in this action are the federal claims which include the excessive force claim by Montano against Officer Lopez in his individual capacity and Mendez's claim against Defendant Officer Lambert alleging an illegal strip search, and the state law claims. Defendants now move for summary judgment on the state law claims and move to dismiss the entire action as a sanction for alleged perjured testimony by Plaintiffs and other misconduct by Plaintiffs' counsel.

LEGAL STANDARD

A district court has an inherent power to sanction litigants for an abuse of the judicial process before the court. Kovilic Const. Co., Inc. v. Missbrenner, 106 F.3d 768, 772 (7th Cir. 1997). Generally, a court may dismiss a case as a sanction when one of the parties has engaged in "bad faith, fraud, or undue delay . . . ." Id. ; see also Allen v. Chicago Transit Authority, 317 F.3d 696, 703 (7th Cir. 2003)(stating that "[i]n general the severity of a sanction should be proportioned to the gravity of the offense").

DISCUSSION

In the instant action, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs committed perjury during the trial in this action and that Plaintiffs' counsel engaged in misconduct at trial that warrants a dismissal of this action.

I. Perjury at Trial

Defendants contend that Plaintiffs committed perjury during the trial in this action. If a party commits perjury during his trial testimony he commits a "fraud on the court, and it is arguable that a litigant who defrauds the court should not be permitted to continue to press his case." Allen, 317 F.3d at 703(stating that a court should determine if the perjury was harmless). In the instant action, Defendants have pointed to many instances where Plaintiffs committed perjury during the trial before the judge declared a mistrial.

For instance, at trial Plaintiff Ricardo Ruiz ("Ruiz") testified on direct examination that after the altercation at the squad car, he saw Montano being beaten by "a lot of police officers." (Tr 224). However, Ruiz was impeached on cross examination with his deposition testimony during which Ruiz stated that he did not see any police officer do anything to Montano after the scuffle at the squad car. (Tr 332). Ruiz also testified on direct examination at trial that he saw Defendant Nathan Lopez strike Montano outside the paddy wagon when he exited the paddy wagon. (Tr 234) However, Ruiz was then impeached on cross examination with his deposition testimony during which he had testified contrary to the above testimony and had indicated that he did not see any of the Plaintiffs being struck by a police officer during the time in question. (Tr 353).

At trial, Montano testified on direct examination that Atilano struck him in the head and on his back with a flashlight. (Tr 477-78). However, on cross examination Montano was impeached with his deposition testimony during which he indicated that Atilano was merely "trying to" hit him in the face after he was hit in the back, but did not actually hit him in the face. (Tr 511-12). Montano also testified on direct examination that the did not punch an officer before he was allegedly hit in the head with the flashlight. (Tr 400). However, Montano subsequently testified that he was being held by his neck and armpit and that his hands began to accidently move in motion and came into contact with an ...


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