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Krischel v. Hennessy

July 9, 2008

LINDA KRISCHEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PETER HENNESSY, PAUL CIHOCKI, JOSEPH STUBBS AND UNIDENTIFIED OAK LAWN POLICE OFFICERS DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John F. Grady, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons explained below, we grant their motion in part and deny it in part.

BACKGROUND

This lawsuit stems from plaintiff Linda Krischel's arrest and prosecution for domestic battery and resisting arrest. On January 25, 2005, Krischel returned to her home in Oak Lawn, Illinois after having dinner and drinks (specifically, three beers) at a local restaurant. (Def.'s Local R. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of their Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter, "Defs.' Stmt"), at ¶¶ 5-6.) Krischel smelled marijuana as she entered her home and confronted her 15 year-old son, Michael Knudsen, who was upstairs in his bedroom. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶¶ 7, 10, 13.) The two argued and continued to do so for "a long time" before Krischel called the police. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 11; Krischel Dep. at 29-30.) She generally recalls telling the 911 operator that "I need the police because my kid's been smoking dope upstairs probably and I wanted [sic] him out of there." (Krischel Dep. at 29-30.) She also told the dispatcher that her son was "pushing" her. (Id. at 30.) After Krischel's call, defendant Peter Hennessy, an Oak Lawn police officer, received a computer generated 911-dispatch transmission in his squad car stating: "Domestic Disturbance 16YO SON VS THE MOTHER/MOM HAS HAD A FEW COCKTAILS." (Id. at ¶ 12.)*fn1 Hennessy, defendant Paul Cihocki and a third officer responded to the transmission and arrived at Krischel's home within several minutes of her 911 call. (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 13; Krischel Dep. at 31; Def. Resp. to Pl. Stmt. ¶ 6.) The officers told Krischel and Knudsen, who were still arguing when they arrived (Defs.' Stmt. ¶¶ 16-17), to separate and "call it a night." (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19.) As soon as Knudsen confirmed that the officers had left, he returned downstairs to resume his argument with his mother. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) Krischel again called 911, telling the operator "[i]f you don't get this kid out of here, I'm gonna beat his ass." (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 11.) Hennessy again received a computer generated 911-dispatch transmission, this time stating "Domestic Disturbance mom called and adv that shje [sic] just beat the crap out of her 16yo child mom sounds intoxicated." (Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 23.) Hennessy arrived back at Krischel's home approximately two minutes after Krischel's second 911 call, and Krischel let him in through the back door. (Id. at ¶ 24-25.)

At this point, Krischel's and Hennessy's accounts sharply diverge. Hennessy contends that Krischel "rushed back into her home" after opening the door. (Id. at ¶ 38.) He followed her into the kitchen, which Knudsen had just entered. (Id. at ¶ 40.) Krischel then began to punch Knudsen "repeatedly in the back of the head." (Id.) When she ignored Hennessy's order to stop, he grabbed her by her upper arms to restrain her, "took her down to the ground" and handcuffed her. (Id. at ¶ 41.) In Krischel's version of events, Hennessy stood near her in the kitchen and Knudsen stood approximately five or six feet away.*fn2 (Id. at ¶ 27.) Her son continued to insult her, at which point she "went to walk towards" him. (Id. at ¶ 27.) She testified at her deposition that she was, at that point, "[p]robably thinking about slapping" her son. (Krischel Dep. at 44.) She also testified, however, that she had not hit her son at any point that evening and did not say or do anything threatening as she moved towards him. (Id.; Pl. Stmt. at 14-15.) She "didn't even get a step in" before Hennessy grabbed her, spun her around and slammed her to the floor. (Krischel Dep. at 45.)*fn3 With one foot on her back, Hennessy instructed Krischel to give him her free hand to be handcuffed, and she complied. (Pl. Stmt. ¶ 20.) After a "while" - the record does not reveal exactly how much time elapsed - defendants Cihocki and Stubbs entered the kitchen. (Krischel Dep. at 49.) Krischel claims that they let her sit for 10 minutes in a "puddle" of her own blood before grabbing her tightly by her arms, jerking her up off the floor and "jerk[ing] her all around." (Id. at ¶ 25.) They continued to hold her arms tightly, bruising her, as they walked her out to a waiting ambulance. (Id. at ¶ 26-27.) Krischel spent two days in the hospital receiving treatment for her injuries. (Crim. Trans. at 45.) At her criminal trial, she was awarded a directed verdict on the charge of resisting arrest (id. at 26) and found not guilty of domestic battery (id. at 46).

Krischel has filed a three-count complaint alleging false arrest (Count I), excessive force (Count II) and malicious prosecution (Count III). Defendants now move for summary judgment on all three counts.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith 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). In considering such a motion, the court construes the evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Pitasi v. Gartner Group, Inc., 184 F.3d 709, 714 (7th Cir. 1999). "Summary judgment should be denied if the dispute is 'genuine': 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Talanda v. KFC Nat'l Mgmt. Co., 140 F.3d 1090, 1095 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The court will enter summary judgment against a party who does not "come forward with evidence that would reasonably permit the finder of fact to find in [its] favor on a material question." McGrath v. Gillis, 44 F.3d 567, 569 (7th Cir. 1995).

B. False Arrest

Defendants contend that they had probable cause to arrest Krischel, foreclosing Krischel's false arrest claim under section 1983. See Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008) ("Probable cause is an absolute defense to a claim of wrongful arrest asserted under section 1983 against police officers."). "Police ordinarily have probable cause if, at the time of the arrest, the 'facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge ... are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.'" Wagner v. Washington County, 493 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979)). "[T]he court must consider the facts as they reasonably appeared to the arresting officer, seeing what he saw, hearing what he heard, and so forth." Holmes v. Village of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 679 (7th Cir. 2007).

Krischel insists that material factual disputes about the January 25 incident defeat defendants' motion for summary judgment. First, she points out that the parties dispute whether she struck her son in Hennessy's presence during his second visit to their home. While this dispute is real, it is immaterial because Hennessy had probable cause to arrest Krischel based upon the 911 operator's transmission alone. See United States v. Mounts, 248 F.3d 712, 715 (7th Cir. 2001) ("[P]olice officers are entitled to rely on the reasonable information relayed to them from a police dispatcher."); cf. Morfin v. City of East Chicago, 349 F.3d 989, 1000 (7th Cir. 2003) ("[T]he parties dispute the events leading to the arrest of Mr. Morfin; one account would support a finding of probable cause and justify a resulting arrest, and the other would not.") (emphasis added). Hennessy could have reasonably believed that Krischel and Knudsen had disregarded his earlier instruction to separate and that their already heated argument escalated to the point of physical confrontation after he left their home. Krischel responds that the 911 operator inaccurately summarized the substance of her call. (Compare Pl. Stmt. ¶ 11 (Krischel told the dispatcher that she was "gonna beat his ass"), with Defs.'s Stmt. ¶ 23 ("Domestic Disturbance mom called and adv that shje [sic] just beat the crap out of her 16yo child mom sounds intoxicated.") (emphasis added).) This is irrelevant because Hennessy did not know what Krischel had actually said to the operator, only what the operator relayed to him. See Mounts, 248 F.3d at 715 ("Whether or not the officers were given faulty (inaccurate) information concerning the present status of Mount's Illinois driver's license is immaterial because police officers are entitled to rely on the reasonable information relayed to them from a police dispatcher."). Based upon what Hennessy knew at the scene, Holmes, 511 F.3d at 679, he had probable cause to arrest Krischel.

In the alternative, Krischel argues that the probable cause established by the 911 operator's transmission "dissipated" before Hennessy arrested her. (Pl. Opp'n at 5-6.) We disagree. There was only a brief interval between when Krischel let Hennessy into her home and the confrontation in the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, she moved towards her son in response to his continued insults. When asked to explain why, she testified that she was "[p]robably thinking about slapping" him. (Krischel Dep. at 44.) At that point Hennessy grabbed her, took her to the floor, then handcuffed her. Defendants Cihocki and Stubbs arrived some time later and escorted her (roughly, she claims) to an ambulance outside her home. While the circumstances were not as dire as the 911 operator's dispatch transmission would have led one to believe, this sequence of events is not inconsistent with Krischel having committed a crime. See, e.g., Sheik-Abdi v. McClellan, 37 F.3d 1240, 1247 (7th Cir. 2004) (Where the defendant officer walked into an ongoing domestic dispute, he was entitled to rely on a third party's statement that a battery had occurred without conducting further investigation.); cf. Davis v. Thillman, No. 93 C 3335, 1994 WL 14620, *4 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 19, 1994) (Before the plaintiff was arrested and taken ...


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