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Idahosa v. Creve Coeur Police Dep't

April 20, 2007

ROBERT O. IDAHOSA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CREVE COEUR POLICE DEPARTMENT, VILLAGE OF CREVE COEUR, AND BRIAN K. DESPINES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDADE United States District Judge

ORDER

Before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants on November 15, 2006 [Doc. 27] and the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff on December 21, 2006 [Doc. 31]. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

On May 22, 2003, around 5:00 a.m., Plaintiff, who is an African-American male, was following a car occupied by a female acquaintance, a Caucasian. When the two cars entered the Village of Creve Coeur, the lead car, containing the female acquaintance, was pulled over by Defendant, Brian K. Despines, who was a Creve Coeur police officer, for speeding. Plaintiff, in turn, pulled his car over and stopped behind Officer Despines' police cruiser. Officer Despines approached Plaintiff's vehicle and asked why he had stopped. Plaintiff explained that he was following the lead car. At that point, Officer Despines indicated that because the lead car was speeding, Plaintiff also must have been speeding.

Officer Despines issued Plaintiff a speeding ticket. In his deposition, Plaintiff states that he wanted to challenge the ticket. (Robert Idahosa Deposition 30-31). However, he did not appear in Court at first because of a family matter and later because he was on military duty. (Idahosa Dep. 31). He then filed a "motion to vacate" which was denied by the traffic court. (Idahosa Dep. 31). At some point, Plaintiff's license was suspended for failing to pay the ticket. Plaintiff then indicates that he paid a fine in order to get his license back. (Idahosa Dep. 34). Plaintiff also appealed the traffic court's decision to no avail. (Idahosa Dep. 32).

The following facts are disputed. Plaintiff states that prior to taking his driver's license, Officer Despines stated: "what are you blacks doing with our girls?" Officer Despines denies making any racial comments or remarks to Plaintiff. Plaintiff also states that another officer arrived on the scene. This second officer opened the passenger door of Plaintiff's car and proceeded to search the interior of the car. There is no indication in the record as to the identity of this second officer. This second officer is not listed as a Defendant in this action. Officer Despines denies anything but a visual inspection of Plaintiff's car, although he doesn't specifically deny that another officer was on the scene. Finally, Plaintiff states that he was not speeding.

Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed the Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a number of violations of his Constitutional rights. He alleges that Officer Despines discriminated against him on account of his race by issuing the speeding ticket. He states that he was harassed by the officer because of his race. He further states that his right to travel, to use the public roads, and his human rights were violated by Officer Despines. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated. Plaintiff lists as Defendants, in addition to Officer Despines, the Creve Coeur Police Department and the Village of Creve Coeur. The Complaint does not make any specific allegations against these Defendants and merely indicates that they employ Officer Despines. Plaintiff seeks money damages and equitable relief in the form of an apology, training for Officer Despines, and disciplinary actions.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment should be granted 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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court as to portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

Once the movant has met its burden, to survive summary judgment, the "non-movant must show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact remains on issues on which he bears the burden of proof at trial." Warsco v. Preferred Tech. Group, 258 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2001); See also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-24. "The non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; it must go beyond the pleadings and support its contentions with proper documentary evidence." Chemsource, Inc. v. Hub Group, Inc., 106 F.3d 1358, 1361 (7th Cir. 1997). This Court must nonetheless "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Holland v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). In doing so, this Court is not "required to draw every conceivable inference from the record -- only those inferences that are reasonable." Bank Leumi Le-Isreal, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2nd 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991). Therefore, if the record before the court "could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party," then no genuine issue of material fact exists and, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. McClendon v. Indiana Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). However, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court may not weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact; disputed facts must be left for resolution at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

A. Plaintiff's Claims against the Creve Coeur Police Department and Village of Creve Coeur

Plaintiff's Complaint does not make out any specific claim against these two entities. As Defendants point out, however, Plaintiff may bring a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit against a municipality pursuant to the holding in Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).*fn1

In order to make out such a claim, Plaintiff must come forth with evidence of a policy or regulation that, if enforced, results in a deprivation of a Constitutional right. Id. at 690-691. Plaintiff can accomplish this by presenting evidence of an express policy, a "widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law," or by presenting evidence that "the constitutional injury was caused by a person with final policymaking authority." Roach v. City of Evansville, 111 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

Plaintiff has presented no evidence of an express policy, or that there is a custom or usage, or that any deprivation was caused by a person with final policymaking authority. The one incident that Plaintiff complains of is insufficient to establish such a claim. City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823-824 (1985) ("Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability under Monell, unless proof of the incident includes proof that it was caused by an existing, unconstitutional municipal policy, which policy can be attributed to a municipal policymaker.").

The record is simply devoid of any evidence that would support a Monell claim. Plaintiff's failure to present such evidence is fatal to his claims against the Village of Creve Coeur and the Creve Coeur Police Department. Both are entitled to summary judgment in their favor as a matter of law. Koszola v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 385 F.3d 1104, 1111 (7th Cir. 2004)(noting that the summary judgment stage is when a party must come forth with evidence that he would use to convince a trier of fact of his version of events).

B. Plaintiff's claims against Brian K. Despines

1. Qualified Immunity

a. Introduction

Defendants first argue that Despines is entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity must be determined at the earliest possible time in a lawsuit because it is immunity from suit rather than a defense to liability. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-201 (2001). In order to determine whether Despines is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must first ask: "Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?" Id. at 201. At the summary judgment stage, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in repeating this first question, held that "First, the plaintiff must present evidence that, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, would allow a reasonable fact finder to determine that he has been deprived of a constitutional right." Washington v. Haupert, ___ F.3d ___, 2007 WL 896186, *4 (7th Cir. 2007); See also Mannoia v. Farrow, 476 F.4f 453, 457 (7th Cir. 2007) ("Although the privilege of qualified immunity is a defense, Plaintiff carries the burden of defeating it."). If the answer is yes, the Court must then ask whether the right was clearly established. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Plaintiff has alleged three Constitutional violations: his Equal protection rights were violated; his right to travel was violated; and his right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure was violated. Each allegation will be taken in turn.

b. Equal Protection

Plaintiff alleges that his equal protection rights were violated when Despines issued him a ticket on account of his race.*fn2 Police officers are prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from "selective enforcement of the law based on considerations such as race." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996). In order to prevail on this claim, Plaintiff must show that "the defendants' actions had a discriminatory effect and were motivated by a discriminatory purpose." Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 621 (7th Cir. 2001); Billings v. Madison Metropolitan School District, 259 F.3d 807, 812 (7th Cir. 2001) (indicating that a Plaintiff can show an equal protection violation by showing that "a state actor has treated him differently from persons of a different race and that the state actor did so purposefully"); See also United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456, 465 (1996) (in a selective prosecution case stating that a plaintiff must show the government's policy "had a discriminatory effect and that it was motivated by a discriminatory purpose" (citations and quotation marks omitted)).

In order to determine whether the Despines' actions had a discriminatory effect, Plaintiff must come forth with evidence that he is a member of a protected class, that he is similarly situated to members of the unprotected class, and that he was treated differently from members of the unprotected class. Chavez, 251 F.3d at 636; United States v. Barlow, 310 F.3d 1007, 1011 (7th Cir. 2002) (stating that in order "to establish discriminatory effect, an African American claimant must demonstrate that a law or regulation was enforced against him, but not against similarly situated individuals of other races."). There is no question that Plaintiff, an African-American, is a member of a protected class. However, Plaintiff has identified no similarly situated person of the unprotected class who was treated differently.*fn3 Nor has Plaintiff presented any statistical evidence that he was treated differently from other motorists in the unprotected class who were similarly situated. Chavez, 251 F.3d at 640. As Plaintiff has failed to come forth with any evidence ...


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