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Brandie Atkins, As Administrator of the Estate of v. City of Chicago

January 25, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 05 C 6109-Milton I. Shadur, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Posner, Circuit Judge.


Before POSNER, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

This is the second appeal from the dismissal of a federal civil rights suit. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court initially dismissed it under Rule 25(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the ground that the motion to substitute the plaintiff's widow for the (original) plaintiff, who died while the suit was pending, was untimely. We reversed, 547 F.3d 869 (7th Cir. 2008), instructing the district judge to allow the substitution. That kept the case alive, but the judge has again dismissed it, this time on the merits-he ruled that the complaint failed to state a claim. Hence this second appeal.

In October 2003 Chicago police stopped a car in which William O. Atkins, the plaintiff's decedent, was a passenger, and arrested him on the strength of a parole-violation warrant bearing the name "William Atkins." He was held at the police station overnight and then transferred to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, which placed him in Stateville prison. From the moment of his arrest he steadfastly denied that he was the William Atkins named in the warrant, but alternatively and inconsistently claimed that he was indeed the same Atkins but that his parole had expired, so that he could not have violated it-which seems in fact to be the case.

Released from the Department's custody after 37 days when the parole board acknowledged that he was being detained in error, Atkins sued the arresting officers, who are employees of the City of Chicago, plus the City itself, prison guards at Stateville, and other employees of the Department of Corrections. The state defendants are accused of having unjustifiably protracted a mistaken detention and imposed impermissible hardships during the detention, all in violation of rights conferred by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The charge against the City defendants is that the arrest was unconstitutional be- cause it was not based on probable cause; and we'll start there.

When arrested, Atkins denied that he was the William Atkins named in the warrant and noted discrepancies between his identifying characteristics and the description in the warrant. Although both Atkinses were of the same race and sex and had the same first and last names, our William Atkins was slightly taller and some-what heavier than the person described in the warrant and had a middle initial, which the name on the warrant lacked. But oddly-if they were different people-the month and day of their birth (though not the year) were the same and the first three digits of their social security numbers were also the same.

The police did not have probable cause to stop the vehicle in which our William Atkins was riding, but clearly if he was the William Atkins named in the warrant the illegality of the stop did not invalidate the arrest. United States v. Johnson, 383 F.3d 538, 544-45 (7th Cir. 2004); United States v. Green, 111 F.3d 515, 521 (7th Cir. 1997); contra, United States v. Lopez, 443 F.3d 1280, 1285-86 (10th Cir. 2006). In Green we said the question was whether "the causal chain has been sufficiently attenuated to dissipate the taint of the illegal conduct," 111 F.3d at 521, and in like vein in Johnson we considered whether "a lawful arrest based on any outstanding warrant for a passenger in the vehicle constituted an intervening circumstance that dissipated any taint caused by an initial traffic stop that had lacked reasonable suspicion," 383 F.3d at 544, and concluded that it did. But a simpler way to justify the result in those cases (and this one), without talking about "taints" and "dissipation" and "intervening circumstances" (and what do those terms mean, really?), is to note simply that the arrest was based on a valid warrant rather than on anything turned up in the illegal search. If police stopped cars randomly, looking for persons against whom there were outstanding warrants, the drivers and passengers not named in warrants would have good Fourth Amendment claims. But a person named in a valid warrant has no right to be at large, and so suffers no infringement of his rights when he is apprehended unless some other right of his is infringed, as would be the case had the police roughed up Atkins gratuitously in the course of trying to determine whether he was the person named in the warrant. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396-97 (1989); Catlin v. City of Wheaton, 574 F.3d 361, 366 (7th Cir. 2009); Cortez v. McCauley, 478 F.3d 1108, 1127 (10th Cir. 2007) (en banc). But that is not the plaintiff's complaint.

Yet in the course of making an arrest on the basis of an outstanding warrant the police may learn something that shows that the warrant does not actually create probable cause to arrest the person they're arresting- suppose the warrant in this case had identified the person to be arrested as a woman, named Wanda Atkinson. The police would know at a glance that the William Atkins they were about to arrest was not the person named in the warrant and if they arrested him anyway it would be an illegal arrest because the mistake would not be "understandable" or "the arrest a reasonable response to the situation facing them at the time." Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 804 (1971). As nearly as we can determine, the police who made the arrest made no mistake, as distinct from whoever failed to notice that Atkins's parole had expired before his alleged violation of it. And if the police did make a mistake, it was a reasonable one.

Anyway the plaintiff's real complaint is not about the initial error but about the time it took to correct it-the state defendants are thus the main target. Atkins was transferred from the Cook County jail to Stateville within a day of his arrest, but it was another 36 days before the prison released him, having finally satisfied itself that he was not a parole violator. The complaint alleges that he protested continuously against his detention.

Due process requires government to follow reasonable procedures for minimizing mistaken deprivations of liberty. In determining what is reasonable "the court must consider the weight of the interest at stake, the risk of error, and the costs of additional process." Hernandez v. Sheahan, 455 F.3d 772, 777 (7th Cir. 2006); see Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334-35 (1976); cf. Sutton v. City of Milwaukee, 672 F.2d 644, 645-47 (7th Cir. 1982). The interest in liberty increases in weight the longer a person is detained, and the accuracy of the procedures for avoiding mistaken detentions that is constitutionally required increases concomitantly. In the case of persons arrested for violating parole, a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause must be conducted "as promptly as convenient after arrest while information is fresh and sources are available," and a plenary hearing must be held within a "reasonable time after the parolee is taken into custody"-normally two months. Morrisey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 484-88 (1972). Parole proceedings are traditionally administrative rather than judicial, so the hearing need not be held before a judicial officer. Id. at 486. Illinois's procedures, codified at 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 1610.140, comply with the standard set forth in the Morrisey case. Faheem-El v. Klincar, 841 F.2d 712, 722-23 (7th Cir. 1988) (en banc).

Atkins had a preliminary hearing on the seventh day after his arrest but failed to persuade the hearing officer that it was a case of misidentification. He muddied the waters by arguing that he should be released because his parole had expired. Probably it had expired, but to offer contradictory grounds was bound to arouse the hearing officer's suspicion. Alternative pleading is permissible but a person who says both that I am not the X named in the parole-violation warrant and I am that X but my parole expired is calling himself a liar. The hearing officer's failure to find misidentification thus was reasonable.

The full hearing took place 29 days later, and Atkins was released on that day. The delay was well within the two-month deadline set by the Brewer case. The plaintiff contends that guards and miscellaneous prison staff have a continuing constitutional duty, even when there are constitutionally adequate formal administrative remedies against unjustified imprisonment, to conduct an exhaustive investigation of a prisoner's claim of misidentification. Prisons would be unmanageable if the contention were accepted. "Given the requirements that arrest be made only on probable cause and that one detained be accorded a speedy trial, we do not think a sheriff executing an arrest warrant is required by the Constitution to investigate independently every claim of innocence, whether the claim is based on mistaken identity or a defense such as lack of requisite intent. Nor is the official charged with maintaining custody of the accused named in the warrant required by the Constitution to perform an error-free investigation of such a claim. The ultimate determination of such claims of innocence is placed in the hands of the judge and the jury." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145-46 (1979). We have rejected a rule "under which every deputy [sheriff] must be open to persuasion for as long as a person is in custody." Hernandez v. Sheahan, supra, 455 F.3d at 777. Such a rule "would create a substantial possibility that by presenting his contention over and over even a guilty suspect would eventually find a deputy who did not understand the weight of the evidence and let him go. That would frustrate the public interest in carrying out the criminal law." Id.; see also Askew v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 894, 895 (7th Cir. 2006); Pasiewicz v. Lake County Forest Preserve District, 270 F.3d 520, 524 (7th Cir. 2001).

One could argue for drawing a distinction between a person arrested for a parole violation who denies he violated his parole and a person arrested for a parole violation who denies that he is the person named in the arrest warrant. The fact that parole violations are adjudi- cated administratively is one of the terms of parole, and by accepting parole a prisoner accepts the procedures, held constitutional by the Supreme Court, for adjudicating parole violations. "Revocation deprives an individual, not of the absolute liberty to which every citizen is entitled, but only of the conditional liberty properly dependent on observance of special parole restrictions." Morrissey v. Brewer, supra, 408 U.S. at 480. But a person arrested for a parole violation who had not actually been named in the arrest warrant-who might never have been convicted of a crime, and therefore never have been paroled, in his life-is not someone who accepted administrative adjudication as the price of parole. He could therefore argue for the same right as a person arrested on other grounds- the right to a judicial (not administrative) determination of probable cause to hold him, conducted within two days (not seven days) of the arrest, as required by County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 56-57 (1991), and Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 125 (1975); cf. Hernandez v. Sheahan, supra, 455 F.3d at 777; Patton v. Przybylski, 822 F.2d 697, 700-01 (7th Cir. 1987); Brown v. Patterson, 823 F.2d 167, 169 (7th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(a)(1). The argument could be bolstered by noting that Illinois law allows parole-violation warrants to be issued by parole officials, without any involvement of a judicial officer. 730 ILCS 5/3-14-2(c), -2(c-1); People ex rel. Johnson v. Pate, 265 N.E.2d 144, 146 (Ill. 1970); People ex rel. Jefferson v. Brantley, 253 N.E.2d 378, 379 (Ill. 1969).

Against this it can be argued that to entitle a person who is arrested for violating parole and claims mis- taken identity to a judicial hearing would give every such arrestee a right to two hearings: a judicial hearing to verify his identity (for he could always deny that he was the person named in the warrant, though he would risk punishment for perjury if were lying) and, if his claim of mistaken identity was rejected, an administrative hearing to determine whether he had in fact violated his parole. Before a new constitutional right is declared, it would be prudent to inquire into the relative merits of judicial and administrative determinations of identities of alleged parole violators. We shouldn't disparage factfinding by non-judicial hearing officers; much factfinding is delegated to them, on the theory that specialization in adjudicating a particular type of legal dispute may offset any disadvantages flowing from the lesser independence of such officers. And it is not always lesser: Illinois judges, unlike the parole board's hearing officers, are elected. Nor are issues of mistaken identity fraught with legal subtleties that only judges can plumb. It is far from clear, therefore, that there would be a gain in accuracy from requiring a judicial hearing on top of the administrative hearing that is already required, let alone a gain great enough to outweigh the administrative burden that such a requirement would place on the state-a state that happens to be on the brink of bankruptcy, if not over the brink.

In any event, there is no need to decide in this case whether there might be a constitutional entitlement to a judicial hearing in cases of alleged mistaken identity of parole violators. For even if the question were answered in the plaintiff's favor, it would not warrant any relief. The question is novel, and the defendants therefore protected from liability for damages for possibly answering it incorrectly by the doctrine of qualified ...

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