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Puch v. Village of Glenwood

September 25, 2008

LAWRENCE H. PUCH & JENNIFER C. PUCH, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
VILLAGE OF GLENWOOD, ILLINOIS; KEVIN WELSH, GLENWOOD CHIEF OF POLICE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; OFFICER TH. JOHNSON, GLENWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; OFFICER JOE WILLETT, GLENWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; THE GLENWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT; OTHER UNKNOWN OFFICERS OF THE GLENWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND OTHER UNKNOWN OFFICERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan B. Gottschall United States District Judge

Magistrate Judge Mason

Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case arises from an incident where police entered the home of the plaintiffs, Lawrence and Jennifer Puch (collectively, "the Puches"), and arrested Lawrence Puch ("Mr. Puch"). Following the incident, the Puches filed a seven-count complaint alleging violations of their Fourth Amendment rights, assault, conspiracy, negligent training and supervision, and two counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as counts for respondeat superior and indemnification. Before the court are five motions for summary judgment:*fn1 a motion by defendant Joe Willett ("Willett") for summary judgment; a motion by defendant Village of Glenwood ("Glenwood") for summary judgment; a motion by defendant TH. Johnson ("Johnson") for summary judgment; a motion by defendant Kevin Welsh ("Welsh") for summary judgment; and the Puches' cross-motion for partial summary judgment on their improper entry claim against defendants Johnson and Willett. For the reasons stated below, the plaintiffs' motion is denied, defendant Welsh's motion is granted, defendant Glenwood's motion is granted, and defendants Johnson's and Willett's motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

At all times relevant, the Puches lived at 235 Ellis in Glenwood, Illinois, Welsh was Glenwood Police Department's Chief of Police, and Johnson and Willett were police officers with the Glenwood Police Department.

On September 29, 2004, the Puches were at home. They had been arguing, on and off, for a couple of hours. Willie Bedell ("Bedell") lived across the street from the Puches. That afternoon, Bedell received a phone call from a neighbor who told him the Puches were fighting and screaming and that she had seen a bleeding man in the driveway of the Puches' home. Bedell agreed to call 911, even though he had not seen or heard anything himself, because the neighbor was unwilling to do so despite being worried about the situation.

Bedell placed the 911 call and reported that another neighbor had seen a bleeding man and heard a woman screaming in or near the Puches' home. The Village of Glenwood responded by dispatching an officer to the scene. Officer Johnson arrived at the Puches' house and spoke to Bedell, who was walking his dog at the time Johnson arrived. Johnson heard an argument of some kind coming from inside the home and knocked on the Puches' door. He looked through the window of the Puches' home. Officer Willett arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, having heard a radio report, and Johnson reported the situation to him. Willett also looked through the window. The Puches did not come to the door and indicated to the police officers that they should leave. At Willett's instruction, Johnson kicked in the door and the officers made a warrantless entry into the Puches' home. Shortly after Mr. Puch was arrested, he requested medical treatment. The paramedics were called and Mr. Puch was taken to St. James Hospital. He was later transferred to a Tinley Park Mental Health facility.

II. ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). It is not appropriate if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the record and any inferences to be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the opposing party. See Griffin v. Thomas, 929 F.2d 1210, 1212 (7th Cir. 1991).

In seeking a grant of summary judgment, the moving party must identify "those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). This initial burden may be satisfied by presenting specific evidence on a particular issue or by pointing out "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings, but must designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. "One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . ." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24. "Surmise or suspicion does not rise to the dignity of a genuine issue as to material fact." Kirk v. Home Indem. Co., 431 F.2d 554, 562 (7th Cir. 1970). Consequently, Rule 56 mandates summary judgment "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

A. Cross-Motions For Summary Judgment: Count I, Unlawful Entry*fn3

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the traditional standards for summary judgment apply and each movant must individually satisfy Rule 56's requirements. Blum v. Fisher, 961 F. Supp. 1218, 1222 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (citing I.A.E., Inc. v. Shaver, 74 F.3d 768, 774 (7th Cir. 1996)). The court therefore considers the merits of each motion separately and draws all reasonable inferences and resolves all factual uncertainties in favor of the non-moving party.

The Puches move for summary judgment on their § 1983 unlawful entry claim, arguing that Willett and Johnson entered their home without a warrant and in the absence of exigent circumstances in clear violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. Willett and Johnson argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate the Puches' constitutional rights where a 911 call provided sufficient information to justify a warrantless entry, or, in the alternative, they reasonably believed that, under established Seventh Circuit law, they were acting in accordance with the boundaries of the exigent circumstances exception.

1. Legal Standard: Warrantless Searches

The Fourth Amendment ensures "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Puches correctly note that warrantless searches of a home are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, "subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Katz. v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967); see U.S. v. Veras, 51 F.3d 1365, 1371 (7th Cir. 1995). One of those exceptions is "'when police have a reasonable belief that exigent circumstances require immediate action and there is no time to secure a warrant.'" U.S. v. Jenkins, 329 F.3d 579, 581 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting U.S. v. Lenoir, 318 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2003)). The test for whether exigent circumstances exist is objective, not subjective; therefore, "'the government must establish that the circumstances as they appeared at the moment of entry would lead a reasonable, experienced law enforcement officer to believe that someone inside the house . . . required immediate assistance.'" U.S. v. Richardson, 208 F.3d 626, 629 (7th Cir. 2000) (quoting U.S. v. Arch, 7 F.3d 1300, 1303-05 (7th Cir. 1993)). A report of a crime in progress heightens the concern for the safety of others and, in such circumstances, "police judgments regarding warrantless entries 'should be afforded an extra degree of deference.'" Id. (quoting Reardon v. Wroan, 811 F.2d 1025, 1029 (7th Cir. 1987)).

The Puches argue that the sanctity of a private citizen's home has long been afforded Fourth Amendment protection and the facts show that Johnson and Willett did not have an objectively reasonable basis for believing exigent circumstances existed. They admit that "[m]ost facts surrounding the February 29, 2004 incident at Plaintiffs' residence are in dispute," yet they contend that there is an absence of material fact in regard to the unconstitutionality of the actions of Johnson and Willett. See Pls.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. at 2.

Typically, on a plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment, the court reviews the facts in the light most favorable to the defendants to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists; however, in this case defendants Johnson and Willett have raised the defense of qualified immunity. A court reviewing a defendant's entitlement to qualified immunity undertakes a two part inquiry to determine: (1) whether the facts alleged, when taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right; (2) if so, whether the right was clearly established such that a reasonable officer would understand that the conduct was unlawful. Leaf v. Shelnutt, 400 F.3d 1070, 1080 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201-02 (2001)). Thus, in this case, the analysis of the Puches' cross-motion for summary judgment mirrors that employed to decide Johnson and Willett's cross-motions.

The parties' statements of material fact are replete with disputed facts, resolution of which depends on a credibility assessment inappropriate for summary judgment. Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 634 (7th Cir. 2001).*fn4 Nevertheless, a careful parsing of the parties' statements of facts allows extraction of the following facts as undisputed and known to the officers at the time of the entry. On September 29, 2004, Bedell, the Puches' neighbor, placed a 911 call. He reported that his neighbor had seen a bleeding man and heard a woman screaming in or near the Puches' home.*fn5 Johnson arrived at the scene and spoke to Bedell.*fn6 Johnson heard an argument of some kind coming from inside the home.*fn7 At least one of the Puches heard Johnson knock on the door.*fn8 Johnson could see at least one of the Puches through the window and he could likewise be seen.*fn9 At least one of the Puches said or did something to indicate that Johnson should go away.*fn10 Willett arrived on the scene, having heard a radio report, and Johnson reported the situation to him.*fn11 Willett also looked through the window.*fn12 One or both of the Puches knew the officers were at the door.*fn13 The Puches heard Johnson say: "Open the door."*fn14 The Puches did not come to the door and, at Willett's instruction, Johnson kicked in the door.*fn15

The Puches argue that, in light of the facts, the officers' actions*fn16 were obviously violative of the Fourth Amendment. The Puches contend that no probable cause existed because the 911 call did not come from an eyewitness and the officers failed to give sufficient weight to evidence that suggested the situation was not emergent, such as the fact they could see Mr. and Mrs. Puch through the windows. The Puches argue that the officers acted rashly and failed to investigate fully before breaking down their door, especially given that Johnson and Willett did not see any property damage or evidence of any act of violence. They suggest that Johnson and Willett are covering up the ...


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