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Cobige v. City of Chicago

October 25, 2010

MAURICE COBIGE, AS SON, NEXT FRIEND, AND SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF PATRICIA COBIGE, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge

On February 25, 2010, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff Maurice Cobige, Son, Next Friend, and Special Representative of the estate of Patricia Cobige, deceased, in the amount of $5 million dollars in compensatory damages against Defendant Chicago Police Officers. More specifically, the jury awarded $2 million dollars in compensatory damages for Plaintiff's Failure to Provide Medical Care claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Thomas Motzny, Rene Dimalanta, Julia Lawler, and Piotr Czarniecki and Plaintiff's state law Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress ("IIED") claim against Defendants Motzny, Dimalanta, and Lawler. The jury also awarded an additional $3 million dollars for Plaintiff's Illinois Wrongful Death Act claim against Defendants Motzny, Dimalanta, and Lawler for the sum total of $5 million dollars in compensatory damages. The jury also awarded punitive damages against Defendants Motzny, Dimalanta, Lawler, and Czarniecki in the amount of $1,000.00 each on Plaintiff's Failure to Provide Medical Care claim. On the other hand, the jury found in favor of Defendant Civilian Detention Aide Maria Diaz and against Plaintiff on all claims alleged against Diaz. Before the Court is Defendant Officers' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and/or Motion for a New Trial Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59(a).*fn1 For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendants' motions.

LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Judgment As a Matter of Law Pursuant to Rule 50(b)

In assessing a motion under Rule 50(b), courts view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the party who prevailed under the verdict and do not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000); Tate v. Executive Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 546 F.3d 528, 531-32 (7th Cir. 2008) ("Once a jury has spoken, we are obliged to construe the facts in favor of the parties who prevailed under the verdict."). In deciding whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate, courts must consider the totality of the evidence to determine whether the jury was presented with a "legally sufficient amount of evidence from which it could reasonably derive its verdict." Massey v. Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Ill., 226 F.3d 922, 924 (7th Cir. 2000). As the Seventh Circuit has noted, "the standard is steep. A verdict will be set aside as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury could have rendered the verdict." Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 560 F.3d 647, 658 (7th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

II. New Trial Pursuant to Rule 59(a)

In the alternative, Defendants seek a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a). In ruling on a motion for new trial, courts determine whether "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive, or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party." Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 610 F.3d 434, 440 (7th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). A verdict will be set aside as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if "no rational jury" could have rendered the verdict. See Moore ex rel. Estate of Grady v. Tuelja, 546 F.3d 423, 427 (7th Cir. 2008). More specifically, federal courts will not "set aside a jury verdict if a reasonable basis exists in the record to support the verdict, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, and leaving issues of credibility and weight of evidence to the jury." Id.; Smith v. Northeastern Ill. Univ., 388 F.3d 559, 569 (7th Cir. 2004) ("party seeking to reverse a district court's denial of a motion for a new trial bears a particularly heavy burden") (citation omitted).

BACKGROUND

On June 10, 2006, Chicago police officers arrested decedent Patricia Cobige. (R. 351-1, Trial Tr., at 649.) At approximately 12:30 p.m., the police officers transported Cobige to the 25th District Police Station because it has a women's lockup. (Id. at 654, 1297.) Once in lockup at the 25th District Police Station, trial evidence revealed that Cobige was in pain. (Id. at 47.) Specifically, Cobige's cellmate, Barbara Flores, testified at trial that when Cobige was first in lockup she appeared to be sick and that she was slumped over and moaning. (Id. at 47-48.) Flores further testified that Cobige told the jail guards at least a dozen times that she was sick, needed to see a doctor, and needed to go to the hospital. (Id. at 51, 74.)

Furthermore, Flores testified that on the following day, June 11, 2006, she heard Cobige ask the jail guards if she could go to the hospital at least three times. (Id. at 52.) Again, Flores testified that Cobige looked sick and that she was slumped over. (Id.) Flores also testified that Cobige told Defendant Officer Lawler that she was sick, but that Officer Lawler ignored her. (Id. at 53.) Flores further explained that the police officers then handcuffed them for bond court and she was handcuffed to Cobige. (Id. at 54.) Flores testified that at that time Cobige had trouble walking to the police wagon and that she held Cobige's arm to help her walk. (Id. at 55.)

Flores also testified that Defendant Officers Dimalanta and Czarniecki transported the women to bond court. (Id. at 56, see also id. at 97.) While waiting outside of the police wagon, Officer Dimalanta told the women that "if anyone complains that you're sick or injured, I'm not going to take you to the hospital. I'm just going to bring you back here. Our goal is to get to court, get our bonds and get out." (Id. at 57.) Officers Dimalanta and Czarniecki then transported the women to the Cook County Courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue. (Id., see also id. at 101.) Once in the court's lockup, Flores observed that Cobige was doubled over. (Id. at 58.) Also, Flores testified that Cobige told a guard that she had to go to the hospital. (Id.)

At trial, Cook County Deputy Sheriff Patrina McCoy testified that she had worked at the criminal courts building at 26th and California on June 11, 2006. (Id. at 231.) Deputy McCoy testified that while she was screening the women for bond court, she noticed that something was wrong with Cobige. (Id. at 232-33.) Further, Deputy McCoy testified that Cobige told her that her stomach hurt and that she felt like her stomach was bleeding. (Id. at 234-35.) Deputy McCoy then asked Cobige if she wanted medical attention, but Cobige said no and that she wanted to see the judge. (Id. at 236.) Deputy McCoy then sent Cobige out with Cook County Sheriff's Deputy Ariel Lindsey. (Id. at 238.)

Deputy Lindsey testified that she worked on June 11, 2006 and that Deputy McCoy explained Cobige's situtation to her. (Id. at 323, 327.) Deputy Lindsey also testified that when she asked Cobige how she was, Cobige replied that her stomach was hurting and that she felt like her insides were bleeding. (Id. at 328-29.) After that, Deputy Lindsey told Cobige that they were not going to bond court. (Id. at 329.) While Cobige was walking back, she was hunched over holding her side. (Id. at 329-33.) Deputy Lindsey then returned Cobige and her paperwork to a Chicago police officer because Cobige needed a medical clearance for bond court. (Id. at 331, 336.) Furthermore, Deputy Lindsey testified that she told Cobige to tell the police officer that she felt like her stomach or insides were bleeding. (Id. at 337.) Cobige then told the Chicago police officer that she felt like her insides were bleeding. (Id. at 339.)

Although Deputy Lindsey did not identify Officer Dimalanta as the police officer to whom she turned Cobige over, Officer Dimalanta testified that while he was at the criminal courts building on June 11, 2006, a deputy called out his district and turned Cobige and her paperwork over to him. (Id. at 1175-77.) Thereafter, Officer Dimalanta explained to Officer Czarniecki why the bond court rejected Cobige. (Id. at 106-08.) At trial, Defendant Sergeant Motzny testified that Officer Dimalanta called him shortly thereafter and told him that the bond court had rejected Cobige for a medical reason. (Id. at 1257-58.) Sergeant Motzny further testified that he told Officer Dimalanta that if Cobige was sick, Officer Dimalanta should take her to the hospital. (Id. at 1258-59.) Officers Dimalanta and Czarniecki, however, did not take Cobige to the hospital, but returned her to the 25th District Police Station. (Id. at 109-10, 1191.)

Officer Dimalanta testified that when they returned from bond court he told either Officer Lawler or Defendant Civilian Detention Aide Maria Diaz that the bond court had rejected Cobige for medical reasons. (Id.)

At trial, Diaz testified that she worked at the 25th District women's lockup on June 11, 2006 from 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., and she was there when Cobige returned from bond court. (Id. at 558-59.) Diaz testified that Officer Dimalanta took off Cobige's handcuffs and told her that Cobige had stomach cramps. (Id. at 577.) Diaz also observed that Cobige was bent over. (Id. at 627.) Further, Officer Lawler testified that Officer Dimalanta explained to her that Cobige had been rejected from bond court because of her stomach cramps. (Id. at 917.) Further, Diaz testified that she tried to get Cobige medical assistance because the bond court had rejected her due to a medical reason and that Cobige needed a medical screening to go back to bond court the next day. (Id. at 559-60, 583.) Diaz also testified that she told Officer Lawler two times to call Defendant Sergeant Motzny about Cobige needing a medical clearance. (Id. at 560-62, 664.) Thereafter, Officer Lawler informed Diaz that Sergeant Motzny was not going to send Cobige to the hospital. (Id. at 586, 665.) In fact, no one took Cobige to the hospital during the 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. shift on June 11, 2006. (Id. at 586.) Meanwhile, Sergeant Motzny, who admitted that he was in charge of lockup on June 11, 2006, never checked on Cobige while she was in lockup that day even though he was repeatedly informed that Cobige was in pain. (Trial Tr. at 1256-57, 1260.)

After talking to Officer Lawler, Diaz monitored Cobige for the remainder of her 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. shift. (Id. at 589-91.) Near the end of her shift, Cobige told Diaz that her pains were getting worse. (Id. at 595-96, 604-05.) Diaz then told Officer Lawler to call Sergeant Motzny because Cobige's stomach pains were getting worse. (Id. at 596, 606.) Officer Lawler attempted to call Sergeant Motzny, but did not reach him. (Id. at 607.) At the end of her shift, Diaz informed the police officer replacing her about Cobige's situation, namely, that Cobige was sick and needed medical attention. (Id. at 611-12, 615-17.) Diaz specifically stated to the replacing officer that she hoped the afternoon sergeant would "do the right thing." (Id. at 633.) Officer Lawler, on the other hand, admitted that she did not inform the third shift that Cobige needed to go the hospital for her stomach pains or clearance for bond court the next day. (Id. at 1003, 1094.) When Diaz returned to work on Monday, June 12, 2006, she found out that Cobige had died in lockup. (Id. at 672.) Indeed, Civilian Detention Aide Priscilla Jones testified that she found Cobige dead on the floor of her cell at approximately 1:20 a.m. on June 12, 2006. (Id. at 392, 444.)

ANALYSIS

I. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

A. Failure to Provide Medical Care Claim

Defendants first argue that there was insufficient evidence that Officers Lawler's, Motzny's, Dimlanta's, and Czarniecki's failure to provide Cobige with medical care was objectively unreasonable.*fn2 To establish Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment denial of medical care claim, Plaintiff had the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence that (1) Defendants' failure to provide Cobige with medical care was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances, and (2) Defendants' conduct caused Cobige harm. See Williams v. Rodriguez, 509 F.3d 392, 403 (7th Cir. 2007); Lopez v. City of Chicago, 464 F.3d 711, 718-19 (7th Cir. 2006). Certain factors guide courts in what constitutes objectively unreasonable conduct in the context of a medical needs case, including: (1) whether the officer was aware of the arrestee's medical ...


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