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Thomas v. City of Peoria

July 14, 2008

JOSEPH A. THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PEORIA, ILLINOIS & SONNI WILLIAMS, ASSISTANT CORPORATION COUNSEL OF THE CITY OF PEORIA DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is the City of Peoria's ("Peoria") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 52) and Sonni Williams' ("Williams") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 53.) Plaintiff Joseph Thomas has filed a single Response to both Motions (Doc. 56.) Peoria has filed a single Reply in support of its Motion (Doc. 58.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

On January 30, 2005, Plaintiff, Joseph Thomas, was stopped for a traffic violation by Peoria Police Officer Joshua Allenbaugh. At the stop, Officer Allenbaugh discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for a Joshua Thomas. The address contained on the arrest warrant did not match Joseph Thomas' address, but the driver's license numbers did match. Believing the warrant contained a typographical error and was actually intended for Joseph Thomas, Officer Allenbaugh arrested Plaintiff based on the warrant and transported him to the Peoria County Jail. Plaintiff paid a $100 bond and was released. On February 10, 2005, Plaintiff appeared before Circuit Court Judge Albert Purham. Judge Purham found that Joseph Thomas was not the Joshua Thomas listed in the arrest warrant and ordered the bond be refunded.

Even now, it is unclear how Plaintiff's driver's license number appeared on an arrest warrant intended for Joshua Thomas. The mistake can be traced back to an affidavit completed by Defendant, Sonni Williams. The affidavit stated that Joshua Thomas had failed to pay his outstanding parking tickets, but contains Plaintiff's driver's license number. Plaintiff does not allege that Williams had any personal motivation to have Plaintiff arrested, but simply wrote down the wrong number because she was "deliberately indifferent."

Plaintiff attempts to establish a pattern of deliberate indifference and points to another mistake that Williams has led to a separate false arrest. Specifically, Plaintiff points to a case of Lindell Wright. A fine was imposed against Wright for violating a Peoria city ordinance. The circuit court extended the time for Wright to pay the fine. Williams was unaware that the court had provided an extension and filed a petition for rule to show cause. When Wright could not be served with the show cause order, she obtained an arrest warrant for Wright and had him arrested.*fn1

Plaintiff has now brought suit complete with claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law for abuse of process and false arrest. Plaintiff also sought relief on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals who had been arrested by the city for parking violations. This Court previously denied class certification and granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Specifically, the Court found inter alia Defendant Williams was not entitled to absolute immunity. Additionally, both Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity at that stage of litigation.*fn2 Defendants Williams and Peoria now bring separate Motions for Summary Judgment on the remaining claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no issues of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the factual evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. A genuine issue for trial exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party is responsible for informing the Court as to the portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating an "absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

ANALYSIS

I. Defendant Peoria's Liability under § 1983

Defendant Peoria asserts it has no liability for Plaintiff's action arising under § 1983. A municipality is not liable for the actions of its agents through a theory of respondeat superior. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Plaintiff must instead establish there was a policy or custom attributable to municipal policy makers and that such a policy was a moving force behind the constitutional deprivation. White v. City of Markham, 310 F.3d 989 (7th Cir. 2002). Peoria argues Defendant Williams, as an Assistant Corporation Counsel for Peoria, is not a policy maker for the City of Peoria nor was she acting in furtherance of any policy or custom of the municipality.

A. Defendant Williams as a Policy Maker

Courts look to state law for guidance to determine whether an individual is an agent under ยง 1983. McMillian v. Monroe County, 520 U.S. 781 (1997). Local law will always direct a court to an official that has the responsibility for setting policy. Eversole v. Steele, 59 F.3d 710, 716 (7th Cir. 1995). From there, policy making authority may be delegated to another, giving ...


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