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Brzozowski v. Singh

November 12, 2008

STANLEY BRZOZOWSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SATJIT SINGH, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant Satjit Singh for summary judgment on the complaint of Stanley Brzozowski. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

On June 6, 2006, Brzozowski's son was driving a 1991 GMC Jimmy truck owned by Brzozowski.*fn1 Singh, a police officer for the City of Chicago, stopped the truck and observed a substance he thought to be heroin in the possession of Katherine Mazur, who was a passenger in the truck. Singh arrested Mazur, issued two traffic tickets to Brzozowski, and had the vehicle impounded in a City lot.

On June 8, 2006, Camy Brzozowski, Brzozowski's wife, requested an administrative hearing to contest the impoundment of the truck. The form she filled out listed Brzozowski as the owner of the truck and provided an address for him in Northlake, Illinois. The City mailed a notice to Brzozowski at that address informing him that the hearing would be held at 2 pm on July 6, 2006. The hearing took place on that day, but none of the Brzozowskis appeared. A default judgment was entered in the amount of $2,110, and notice of the outcome was mailed to Brzozowski at the same Northlake address. On August 23, 2006, the City disposed of the vehicle.*fn2

In January 2008, Brzozowski filed suit against Singh, seeking return of his truck. Shortly thereafter, Singh filed the instant motion for summary judgment.

LEGAL STANDARD

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). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the non-movant. Buscaglia v. United States, 25 F.3d 530, 534 (7th Cir. 1994). The movant in a motion for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by specific citation to the record; if the party succeeds in doing so, the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554 (1986). In considering motions for summary judgment, a court construes all facts and draws all inferences from the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2513 (1986).

With these principles in mind, we turn to Singh's motion.

DISCUSSION

Initially, we note that Brzozowski is proceeding pro se. While his lack of formal legal training necessitates that we give his filings a liberal reading, we note that he is no stranger to the federal courts, having been a party to five suits in this district, including at least two other suits brought under § 1983. Brzozowski was informed, pursuant to Local Rule 56.2, of the procedures pertinent to a motion for summary judgment, and any noncompliance with them will carry the usual consequences despite his pro se status. See, e.g., Pearle Vision, Inc. v. Romm, 541 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2008).

Brzozowski's complaint does not set out the specific cause of action he brings against Singh, but its contents are consistent with a claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff seeking relief under that statute must allege that a person or persons acting under color of state law deprived him or her of a right secured by federal law or the federal Constitution. Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764 (7th Cir. 2007). Though the factual situations underlying § 1983 claims are varied, at bottom they are all tort actions, requiring a showing of a duty owed to the plaintiff that was breached, thereby causing actual damage. Garza v. Henderson, 779 F.2d 390, 395 (7th Cir. 1985) (prison disciplinary procedures); Lossman v. Pekarske, 707 F.2d 288, 291 (7th Cir. 1983) (child custody rights).

Furthermore, Brzozowski does not set forth particularized theories of recovery in his complaint or supporting papers. However, he appears to seek relief under two separate theories: one relying on the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure and the other looking to the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee that a municipality cannot deprive a citizen of property without due process of law. We examine each contention in turn.

A state actor who unreasonably seizes property in violation of the Fourth Amendment can be found liable to the property owner for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Soldal v. Cook County, 506 U.S. 56, 70, 113 S.Ct. 538, 548 (1992); Siebert v. Severino, 256 F.3d 648, 656-59 (7th Cir. 2001). However, seizures that are founded on probable cause are reasonable and do not lead to liability. Lee v. City of Chicago, 330 F.3d 456, 466 (7th Cir. 2003). Singh has asserted, via affidavit, that Mazur had a folded piece of tin foil that fell from her lap to her purse and that he believed that the foil contained heroin. This is sufficient to establish probable cause that the truck contained unlawful drugs, thereby making its seizure reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and mandating that Singh have it towed to a City facility under the Section 7-24-225(b) of the ...


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