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Williams v. City of Chicago

September 29, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


This suit arises out of a traffic stop, vehicle search, and arrest that occurred on April 29, 2006. Plaintiff Bruce Williams has sued Chicago Police Officers Robert Keller and Daniel Smith and the City of Chicago on three counts,*fn1 alleging that the officers illegally searched his person and vehicle. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons given below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Around 2:40 p.m. on April 29, 2006, Plaintiff was driving his 1990 Toyota Camry on West Greenleaf in Chicago. (Defs.' Amended 56.1 Statement of Facts (hereinafter "Defs.' 56.1") ¶ 2; Arrest Report, Ex. D to Defs.' 56.1.) Officers Keller and Smith stopped Plaintiff, who was alone in the car, after noticing his taillights were not working properly. (Defs. 56.1 ¶ 11.) Officer Keller, who had been driving the squad car, walked to the driver's side of Plaintiff's car, while Officer Smith walked to the passenger's side. (Id.)

At this point, the parties' versions of the facts diverge. According to Plaintiff, when Officer Keller reached Plaintiff's car window, he "immediately" asked Plaintiff to step out of the car. (Pl.'s 56.1 Statement of Facts (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1)¶ 7.) Keller then asked for Plaintiff's driver's license and proof of insurance, which Plaintiff provided. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.) Plaintiff asserts that Officer Keller then ordered him to the rear of his vehicle and directed him to empty his pockets onto the trunk. (Id. ¶ 10.) After Plaintiff complied with this request, Keller handcuffed Plaintiff and searched his person. (Id. ¶¶ 11-13.) Keller came across Plaintiff's contact lens case, which contained two Viagra pills.*fn2 (Id. ¶15.) When Officer Keller asked Plaintiff what the pills were, Plaintiff responded that the pills were Viagra and that he had a prescription, but that he did not need to carry around a whole bottle. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 17.)

In the meantime, according to Plaintiff, Officer Smith had entered Plaintiff's car and was searching the inside. (Id. ¶ 18.) The interior of the car was messy because Plaintiff kept "a lot of stuff" in the car. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, the bullets inside the car were concealed beneath all of the clutter and were not readily visible. (Id. ¶ 20.) Nonetheless, Smith found the bullets during the search of the car, after Plaintiff was already handcuffed. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 21.) Plaintiff was charged with "felony possession of a controlled substance, possession of ammunition without a valid [firearm owners identification ("FOID")] card, and driving an unsafe vehicle." (Id. ¶ 22.)

Officers Keller and Smith tell a different story. Defendants claim that Officer Keller asked Plaintiff for a driver's license and proof of insurance while Plaintiff remained in the car. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 12.) At the same time, Officer Smith approached the car from the passenger's side and saw, as he walked by, a box lying on the floor of the car. (Id. ¶ 13.) He recognized the name brand on the box as that of an ammunition company. (Id. ¶ 14.) Smith then signaled to Keller to direct Plaintiff to exit the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 16.) Keller told Plaintiff to exit the car, escorted him to the rear, and then told Plaintiff to place his hands on the trunk. (Id. ¶ 17.) Smith removed the box of ammunition--which contained thirty-two live rounds of 9 mm bullets--and showed them to Plaintiff at the rear of the car. (Id. ¶ 18.) After Plaintiff stated that he did not know who owned the bullets, did not own a gun, and did not have a FOID card, Keller handcuffed Plaintiff and placed him in custody. (Id. ¶¶ 19-28.) At this time, Smith searched Plaintiff's vehicle, but recovered nothing else. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 30.) Keller then conducted a custodial search of plaintiff's person at the scene of the arrest, and found two pills in a contact lens case. (Id. ¶ 31, 32.) Officer Keller inquired as to the pills, and Plaintiff responded that they were Viagra, that he had a prescription but not with him, and that he could confirm the prescription by calling his pharmacy. (Id. ¶¶ 33-37.)

Plaintiff was arrested and charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance, 720 ILCS 570/420(c), and Possession of Ammunition Without a FOID, 430 ILCS 65/2(a)(2). (Id. ¶ 46.) He was also issued a citation for Operating an Unsafe Vehicle, in violation of the Chicago Municipal Code § 9-40-170. (Id.) On May 17, 2006, less than three weeks after the arrest, the criminal charges against Plaintiff were dismissed. (Id. ¶ 47.)


Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). When considering a summary judgment motion, the court construes the facts and draws reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004).

Plaintiff asserts that Officers Smith and Keller conducted warrantless searches of his person and vehicle, both of which were unjustified by any exception to the warrant requirement. The court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Count I, the unlawful search of Plaintiff's person, because the search occurred after Plaintiff had been placed in custodial arrest. The court denies summary judgment as to Officer Smith for Count II, the unlawful search of Plaintiff's vehicle, primarily because it is unclear when the search took place, and it is properly disputed that Officer Smith saw the ammunition in plain view. Because Count II survives, Plaintiff's Count III indemnification claim survives as well.

Count I -- Illegal Search of Plaintiff's Person

Defendants argue that the search of Plaintiff's person is justified because the broken taillights gave the officers probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and search his person. A search incident to a valid arrest is permissible without a search warrant, even if the arrest is for a minor traffic violation. See United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 235 (1973) ("all custodial arrests [are] alike for purposes of search justification"). The proper question here, then, is whether the defendants made a valid arrest.

Plaintiff argues that he was not in fact subjected to a custodial arrest at the time his person was searched (Pl.'s Mem. In Resp. To Defs.' Mot. For Summ. J. (hereinafter "Pl.'s Mem.") at 2), but his own version of events defeats this contention. "A suspect is under custodial arrest when 'a reasonable person in the suspect's position would have understood the situation to constitute a restraint on freedom of movement of the degree which the law associates with formal arrest.'" Ochana v. Flores, 347 F.3d 266, 270 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Ienco, 182 F.3d 517, 523 (7th Cir.1999)). Although the parties dispute the timing of the events here, they agree that, when Plaintiff's person was searched, he had already been ordered out of the vehicle, escorted to the rear, and handcuffed. A reasonable person who had left his car and been handcuffed would not have thought that he was free to leave. Furthermore, drivers may be properly arrested for traffic violations such as the one committed by Plaintiff. Atwater v. City of Lago ...

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