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Brad Thompson v. Timothy J. Houlihan

March 4, 2011

BRAD THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TIMOTHY J. HOULIHAN, ENNIO E. MORENO
AND
THE COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On May 25, 2007, Defendants Timothy J. Houlihan, Ennio E. Moreno, and two of their fellow officers attempted to execute an eviction order at the home of Plaintiff Brad Thompson. Things did not go well, and the encounter ended with Thompson arrested and charged with resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer. Thompson has filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Houlihan, Moreno, and the Sheriff of Cook County, Thomas Dart, alleging that Houlihan and Moreno used excessive force and falsely arrested him in violation of his constitutional rights. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. They argue that Plaintiff's § 1983 claim is barred by a release that Plaintiff signed in exchange for dismissal of the criminal charge against him, and that the claim fails on its merits because the officers had a reasonable basis to arrest the Plaintiff.

For the reasons explained here, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

As this case is before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences that flow from them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the nonmoving party. Ziliak v. AstraZeneca LP, 324 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2003).

I. The Incident

On May 25, 2007, Houlihan and Moreno, Cook County Sheriff's Police Officers assigned to the warrants and evictions unit, were assigned along with two of their fellow officers to execute an order of possession for the house at 3430 West Evergreen. (Defendants' Statement of Material, Uncontested Facts (hereinafter, "Defs.' 56.1") ¶¶ 9, 10.) The front entry of the house is concealed within an enclosed front porch that has windows on three sides and a wooden door that opens onto stairs leading from the porch to the sidewalk. (Id. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff Thompson is a 31-year old high school graduate who has taken some college classes. On May 25, 2007, Thompson, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, was on leave to visit his family who resided in the house. (Id. ¶ 7.) He arrived at the residence at approximately 8:00 a.m. that morning. (Thompson Dep. 10:22-23.) Approximately ten minutes later, Thompson learned that several people who appeared to be sheriffs had arrived in front of the residence. (Id. at 13:17-21.) Thompson knew at the time that the property had been subject to foreclosure proceedings, but was unaware of the details of those proceedings because they were being managed by his brother Victor. (Id. at 20:16-23.) Upon learning of the officers' presence, Thompson called Victor, who told Thompson that an appeal had been filed and that the eviction had been stayed. (Id. at 14:18-19; 20:24-21:11.)

While Thompson was on the phone, Defendants Houlihan, Morena, and another officer approached the house with an eviction order signed and approved by a representative of the company that held title to the property. (Defs' 56.1 ¶ 11; Thompson Dep. 17:10-13, 21:15-24.) The officers knocked on the door several times, and upon receiving no answer, forced entry into the enclosed porch. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 14, 15.) When Thompson heard the officers forcing the door of the porch open, he ended his phone call, stepped out to the porch, and positioned himself to block the officers from entering the home through the front door. (Id. ¶ 17.) Angry about the damage to the porch door, Thompson began screaming at the officers. (Id. ¶ 19.) Officer Moreno asked Thompson to calm down and explained that the bank now owned the house. (Id. ¶ 20.) Thompson did calm down, but he refused to allow the officers to enter, accused them of trespassing, demanded to see paperwork authorizing the eviction, and advised the officers that his brother had filed an appeal from the foreclosure, with the result that the eviction must be stayed. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.)

After approximately ten minutes, Moreno produced a set of handcuffs and warned that he would have to arrest Thompson. (Id. ¶ 24.) At this point, Houlihan rushed toward Thompson and pushed him, startling Thompson and prompting him to pull his arm away. (Id. ¶ 25; Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts (hereinafter, "Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 6.) Moreno then cuffed Thompson's right hand, announcing that Thompson was under arrest. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 29.) Once Moreno had restrained Thompson's right hand, Houlihan pushed Thompson and attempted to restrain his left arm. (Thompson Dep. 45:18-46:9.) Thompson claims that his sudden action startled him, prompting him to pull his arm from Houlihan's grasp. (Id. at 48:3-4.) In the course of the arrest, the officers pushed Thompson into a flimsy plastic table, which broke, causing Thompson and the officers to fall to the floor. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 30-31.) Thompson screamed at the officers, who picked him up and pressed him against a large window to finish attaching handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 31.) As Moreno gripped Thompson's right wrist, and Houlihan pulled his left wrist down toward the handcuffs, the window shattered and both Thompson and Houlihan fell through the window to the porch. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 35.) Thompson suffered a series of cuts on his arms which required approximately 52 stitches. (Id. ¶ 38.) Thompson was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer, and was released on bond that evening. (Id. ¶ 40; Thompson Dep. 79:20-22.)

II. The General Release

Thompson retained attorney Robert Aronson to represent him on the criminal charges. Aronson, a veteran criminal defense attorney, has often been successful in negotiating for dismissal of charges when he deems this in his client's best interests. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 43; Plaintiff's Conceded Facts that are Undisputed and Material ¶ 43.) Without any advance discussion with Thompson, Aronson approached the Assistant State's Attorney ("ASA") to propose a dismissal of the criminal case against Thompson in return for Thompson's agreement to release any claims he might make arising from the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45; Thompson Dep. 20:15-17.) The ASA agreed. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 46.)

On September 10, 2007, Aronson and Thompson met in a small room in the back of the courtroom where Thompson was scheduled to appear later that day. (Thompson Dep. 19:1.) Aronson and Thompson were alone in the room. (Id. at 19:5-6.) In Thompson's presence, Aronson prepared a handwritten document entitled "General Release" which reads in full as follows:

GENERAL RELEASE For $10.00 and other good and valuable consideration I, Brad Thompson, hereby release all deputy sheriffs, the sheriff's department and all their agents, servants and employees of and from all civil liability for all injuries sustained by me on May 25, 2007, in the incident at 3430 West Evergreen, Chicago, Cook County Illinois. Signed this 10th day of September, 2007. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 46, 48.) Both parties agree that "[o]ther good and valuable consideration" was the dismissal of the criminal case. (Plaintiff's Conceded Facts that are Undisputed and Material ¶ 50.)

When Aronson finished drafting the handwritten release, he presented it to Thompson and told him to sign it. (Id. ¶ 53.) Aronson did not otherwise explain the agreement; he did not tell Thompson that the document would release the officers of liability, and he did not tell Thompson that his criminal case would be dismissed if he signed it. (Id. ¶ 49.) As Thompson began to read the agreement, Aronson screamed at Thompson, ordering that he sign it. (Id. ¶ 53.) Intimidated, but believing that Aronson was acting in his best interest, Thompson signed the release without reading beyond the heading "General Release." (Id. ¶¶ 53-54; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 18.) Thompson followed his signature by writing "UCC 1-308 All Rights Reserved Without Prejudice." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 55.) Thompson explained at his deposition he often signs documents (including, for example, his driver's license), when he does not understand them. (Thompson Dep. 26:18-21.) In this instance, Thompson claims he added the UCC language because he was not given a chance to read the document before he signed it. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 17.) Thompson claims he believed that he was not giving up any rights by signing the agreement. (Id. ¶ 15.)

After Thompson signed the release, the ASA entered the room and Aronson gave him the release. (Defs.' 56.1 ΒΆ 56.) Thompson himself did not discuss the release-dismissal agreement with the Assistant State's Attorney or anyone else serving in a prosecutorial function, and he was surprised when his criminal case was dismissed ...


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