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Swift v. Rinella

October 31, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction

One year ago, Tony Swift filed suit in this Court against two Williamson County, Illinois Sheriff's Deputies -- Kyle Rinella and Jeff Hutchinson ("Defendants"). Swift claimed that while he was being booked at Williamson County Jail in August 2007 on charges of disorderly conduct, Defendants assaulted him, battered him and violated rights secured to him the by the United States Constitution.*fn1

More specifically, Swift alleges the following. On August 4, 2007, having been transported to Williamson County Jail and while being fingerprinted as part of the booking process, Swift was shouted at and repeatedly punched in the face. Swift was then placed in a cell. A short while later, a guard or sheriff's deputy informed Swift he was being "bonded out." After being escorted back to the area where release papers were to be signed, Swift was cursed at, body-slammed, struck, dragged down a hall "out of public sight," and beaten by Defendants. As he lay on the floor, Swift was told to stand up. Then Defendant Rinella shouted at him "don't resist," and tasered him. Swift fell to the ground again. While "prostrate" and "non resisting" on the floor, Swift was tasered twice more by Rinella. Swift was left for 20 minutes until "another guard came along and pulled the taser darts out" of Swift's body. Despite the fact Swift was vomiting, bleeding, and told he needed stitches, Defendants delayed providing medical care (Amended Complaint, Doc. 14, p. 3).*fn2

Swift asserts that Rinella and Hutchinson, acting under of color of state law, used excessive force against him and conspired to deny his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, violating 18 U.S.C. § 1983 and 18 U.S.C. § 1985. Swift also claims that Defendants' conduct constituted assault and battery under state law. Swift prays for damages of $2,000,000 for Counts 1, 2, 3 and 4 (each) plus $200,000 for Counts 5, 6, 7 and 8 (each).

Defendants answered the complaint in January 2008 (Doc. 24). Discovery was undertaken via a schedule entered by United States Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier (Doc. 27). A settlement conference was set and canceled by Judge Frazier (see Docs. 28, 32). The case is scheduled for trial on December 8, 2008, with a final pretrial conference on November 21, 2008. A single pending motion is before the Court -- Defendants' August 22, 2008 motion for summary judgment (Doc. 33). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES that motion.

B. Applicable Legal Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Breneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008), citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986), and Krieg v. Seybold, 481 F.3d 512, 516 (7th Cir. 2007). Accord Levy v. Minnesota Life Ins. Co., 517 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 2008).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion, this Court must view the evidence and all inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. TAS Distributing Co., Inc. v. Cummins Engine Co., Inc., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007); Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764 (7th Cir. 2007). However, the non-movant "must present specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," Jordan v. Summers, 205 F.3d 337, 247 (7th Cir. 2000). And the Court can finda genuine issue of material fact "only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists [which would] permit a jury to return a verdict for that party." Argyropoulos v. City of Alton, 594 F.3d 724, 732 (7th Cir. 2008), quoting Sides v. City of Champaign, 496 F.3d 820, 726 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court now turns to the standards governing Swift's claims in the case sub judice.

Defendants' motion focuses on Swift's § 1983 claims for excessive force. Paragraph one of the combined motion/supporting memorandum mentions Swift's § 1985 claims and his assault and battery claims. The rest of the pleading addresses Swift's § 1983 excessive force claims only -- Counts 1 and 2 of the amended complaint. Defendants insist they are entitled to summary judgment on those claims, because they "acted reasonably under the circumstances" and "are entitled to qualified immunity" (Doc. 33, p. 1).

Claims of excessive force during arrest are analyzed under Fourth (not Eighth) Amendment jurisprudence. For instance, in Lopez v. City of Chicago, 464 F.3d 711 (7th Cir. 2006), an arrestee filed a § 1983 suit against police officers who had shackled him to the wall of a windowless interrogation room for four days after arresting him, leaving him in the nine-by-seven foot room while they investigated the case. The Seventh Circuit instructed: "The district court should have analyzed the detectives' conduct under the Fourth Amendment ... [which] protects against unreasonable seizures; [since] an arrest is a seizure...." Id., 464 F.3d at 718.

Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from the use of excessive force during arrest, and Fourth Amendment claims must be assessed under a reasonableness standard.

Where, as here, the excessive force claim arises in the context of an arrest..., it is most properly characterized as one invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment.... This much is clear from our decision in Tennessee v. Garner, [471 U.S. 1, 5 (1985)].... Today we make explicit what was implicit in Garner's analysis, and hold that all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force -- deadly or not -- in the course of an arrest ... should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its "reasonableness" standard....

Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989).

As the Seventh Circuit explained earlier this year, the issue under the Fourth Amendment is whether the officers' actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them. "The officers' intent in using force is irrelevant in a Fourth Amendment case.... Only its reasonableness matters - which means whether it was excessive in the circumstances, because if it was, it was unreasonable...." Richman v. Sheahan, 512 F.3d 876, 882 ...

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