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Montaño v. City of Chicago

July 23, 2008

ESTEBAN MONTAÑO, DAVID MENDEZ, JULIO PERALES, RICARDO RUIZ, AND YESENIA MENDEZ, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 97 C 8035-Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JUNE 7, 2007

Before BAUER, ROVNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

This civil-rights suit against the City of Chicago and several of its police officers is before this court for the third time. The plaintiffs seek recovery for injuries they received when police confronted and forcibly arrested them during Mexican Independence Day festivities in Chicago in September 1997. They asserted numerous claims for relief against the City and the individual officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and several state-law theories. The case has been before four different district court judges and three appellate panels and has a correspondingly long and complicated procedural history. We will simplify the litigation story where we can.

The last time the case was here, we vacated the district court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' federal and state-law claims as procedurally improper and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the district court again dismissed the claims, this time as a sanction for abuse of the judicial process, specifically, perjury by some of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs now appeal that order and also seek review of two earlier orders granting: (1) mid-trial, a Rule 50(a) judgment as a matter of law in favor of six officers on certain of the false-arrest, excessive-force, and unlawful strip-search claims under § 1983; and (2) summary judgment in favor of the City on the plaintiffs' claim under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and in favor of seven officers on various false-arrest and failure-to-intervene claims.

We affirm in part and reverse in part. Summary judgment was properly granted on the Monell claim and the false-arrest and failure-to-intervene claims. As the officers now concede, however, the entry of the Rule 50(a) judgment was improper; with two exceptions discussed below, there was sufficient evidence to submit those claims to the jury. Finally, as to the claims that survived the Rule 50(a) judgment but were mistried and later dismissed as a sanction for perjury, we agree with the plaintiffs that the imposition of this penalty was unwar-ranted. The district court's perjury findings were entirely conclusory and failed to correspond to the legal definition of perjury. The supposed instances of perjury identified by the court-certain inconsistencies between the plaintiffs' deposition and trial testimony-amounted to impeachment evidence but nothing more.

I. Background

The plaintiffs allege flagrant mistreatment by Chicago police officers during and after the celebration of Mexican Independence Day in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood on September 14, 1997. The five plaintiffs were forcibly arrested and jailed following an altercation between officers and several celebrants on the corner of 25th and Whipple. The plaintiffs describe the incident as a violent police-initiated beating followed by illegal arrests and strip searches at the station house; the City and the officers deny any wrongdoing. A more detailed description of the incident (some of which was caught on videotape by a bystander) and the detentions that followed it can be found in our earlier opinion in this case, Montaño v. City of Chicago, 375 F.3d 593, 594-95 (7th Cir. 2004) ("Montaño I"), and will not be repeated here. To understand the present appeal, however, we think it necessary to recount the messy procedural history of this long-running lawsuit.

In November 1997 the plaintiffs filed a nine-count complaint against 16 (later amended to 21) officers and the City of Chicago. Five counts (excessive force, false arrest, malicious prosecution, failure to intervene, and conspiracy) were federal claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, including a count against the City based on Monell; the other four were related state-law claims. After initially being assigned to Judge Aspen and then transferred to visiting Judge Moody in September 1998, the case was transferred again in November 2000, this time to visiting Judge O'Meara. On September 25, 2001, the court granted summary judgment to the City on the Monell claim and to individual officers on many of the federal claims.*fn1 The court also relinquished jurisdiction over the state-law claims, which the plaintiffs promptly refiled in state court.

The federal claims left standing-for use of excessive force (against Officers Atilano, LaFrancis, Toolis, and Lopez), false arrest (against Officers Atilano and LaFrancis), and unlawful strip search (against Officers Maduzia and Lambert)-proceeded to jury trial in November 2001 but got no further than the close of the plaintiffs' case-in-chief. The district court granted the officers' motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on all but two counts. The court then declared a mistrial on the two remaining counts: Montaño's excessive-force claim against Officer Lopez and Yesenia Mendez's strip-search claim against Officer Lambert. Before the two claims could be retried, however, the court stayed the case pending resolution of the state-court proceedings.

In December 2001 the plaintiffs appealed the summary judgment and the Rule 50 judgment, but a motions panel of this court dismissed the appeal as premature. Montaño v. City of Chicago,Nos. 01-4284 & 02-1034, Ct. Order 2 (7th Cir. Mar. 20, 2002). The panel also dismissed the plaintiffs' challenge to the stay order because their notice of appeal failed to specifically mention it. Id.; see FED. R. APP. P. 3(c)(1)(B). Finally, the motions panel dismissed the officers' untimely cross-appeal of the stay order and the order declining supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. Montaño v. City of Chicago, Nos. 01-4284 & 02-1034, Ct. Order 2-3 (applying Abbs v. Sullivan,963 F.2d 918, 925 (7th Cir. 1992)). On March 19, 2002, the district court sua sponte dismissed the two remaining federal claims without prejudice pending resolution of the state-court proceedings. The court refused the officers' request to vacate that dismissal order and the earlier order relinquishing supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. The officers appealed and a different panel of this court addressed these issues in Montaño I.

The first order of business in Montaño I was to resolve some thorny issues of appellate jurisdiction. 375 F.3d at 597-99, 601. On the merits we sided with the officers and vacated both the March 19 order dismissing the surviving federal claims and the September 25 order relinquishing jurisdiction over the state-law claims. Id. at 602. The result was the reinstatement of Montaño's excessive-force claim, Yesenia Mendez's strip-search claim, and all of the state-law claims. We also ordered the case reassigned on remand pursuant to Rule 36 of the Circuit Rules of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Id.

The case was reassigned to Judge Der-Yeghiayan. Ten months later the officers moved for dismissal as a sanction against the plaintiffs and their attorney. They claimed the plaintiffs committed perjury and fabricated certain testimony, and their attorney knowingly offered such testimony and engaged in other misconduct during the jury trial. In addition to dismissal, the officers sought an award of attorney's fees and costs against the plaintiffs' attorney pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

Invoking its inherent power, the district court granted the motion for dismissal, concluding that a "drastic sanction is warranted . . . because if Plaintiffs' fraud upon the court were successful it would have had a tremendous impact on the trial and . . . the lives of the [accused] officers." The court further noted that "[t]here was not simply an isolated instance of perjury, but rather . . . a coordinated effort by Plaintiffs to present a false version of the events . . . to support their case." Although the judge dismissed what remained of the plaintiffs' case, he declined to sanction their attorney. Judge DerYeghiayan was not convinced the attorney knew his clients "were going to commit perjury," noting that "although guilty of some misconduct at trial, [plaintiffs' counsel] cannot be held accountable for the perjury committed by Plaintiffs."

This appeal is from the district court's final order dismissing the plaintiffs' federal and state claims with prejudice. The plaintiffs also seek review of the court's orders granting summary judgment in favor of the City and certain officers and granting the ...


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