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Elgswin Davis v. City of Chicago

May 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.,


Plaintiff Elgswin Davis has sued the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Officers A.Z. Silva and A. Azevedo for violations of state and federal law stemming from his arrest on August 10, 2008. Counts I, II, and III are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging unlawful seizure of Plaintiff (Count I), unlawful seizure of Plaintiff's property (Count II), and unreasonable detention (Count III). Count VI is a Monell claim for failure to train. Plaintiff's remaining claims allege state law violations for malicious prosecution (Count IV) and false imprisonment (Count V). Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment [73] on Counts I, II, III, and VI. The Court dismisses without prejudice Plaintiff's state law claims for malicious prosecution (Count IV) and false imprisonment (Count V).

I. Factual Background

At approximately 9:00 p.m. on August 10, 2008, Plaintiff Elgswin Davis was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked vehicle located on Ridgeway Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. The engine and the headlights to the vehicle were off. The parked car was registered to Plaintiff's wife, Charlene Davis. Plaintiff and his friend, Maurice Cook, had just returned to the car after purchasing cigarettes at a nearby store. After returning to the car, Cook sat in the front driver's seat. Less than a minute later, a police car traveling northbound on Ridgeway drove past the parked vehicle, then reversed and stopped behind Plaintiff's vehicle. The street lights on Ridgeway Avenue were on and working at the time that the patrol car approached Plaintiff's location, while the headlamps on the vehicle in which Plaintiff sat were off. Both Defendant Officers believed that being in a parked vehicle with your headlights off on a lighted street is a violation of the City of Chicago Municipal code, but they were mistaken.

Officers Azevedo and Silva were in the patrol car. Officer Azevedo testified that after stopping his car he noticed an expired registration tag on the rear license plate of the parked vehicle. Officer Azevedo testified that he ran the license plates prior to approaching the vehicle and confirmed that the registration was in fact expired. Officer Silva testified that he did not recall observing the license plate, nor did he recall Officer Azevedo saying anything about an expired registration. Silva testified that he "assume[ed]" that the license plates were run at the same time as the officers ran Plaintiff's name (i.e. after the occupants of the car has been ordered out of the vehicle).

After coming to a stop, Defendant Officers Silva and Azevedo exited their patrol car; Officer Azevedo walked to the driver's side of the vehicle to speak with Cook and Officer Silva approached the passenger side of the parked car to speak with Plaintiff. Officer Azevedo requested identification from Cook, but Cook denied having a license on his person. When Cook was unable to produce identification, Azevedo asked Cook to get out of the vehicle for further questioning and he complied.

According to Plaintiff, Officer Silva asked Plaintiff, "what [are] you doing?" and Plaintiff stated that he "just came out of the store." Once Officer Azevedo escorted Cook to the rear of the vehicle, Officer Silva then asked Plaintiff to step out of the vehicle. According to Plaintiff, he got out of the vehicle and Officer Silva asked him for identification, which Plaintiff produced. Officer Silva then led Plaintiff to the back of the vehicle where he searched Plaintiff against the trunk. During this time, Officer Azevedo searched the inside of the vehicle. According to Plaintiff, Officer Azevedo did not find anything inside the car during his search.

After searching Plaintiff, Officer Silva went into his squad car and ran the Plaintiff's name through the computer while Plaintiff remained with his hands upon the trunk. While running the name search, Officer Silva said to Plaintiff, "Oh, you out on parole?" to which the Plaintiff responded, "Yes." According to Plaintiff, Silva then went to a grassy area next to the vehicle and searched through the grass with his foot. After a few minutes, Plaintiff saw Officer Silva bend down and pick up something from the grass. Officer Silva showed Plaintiff the object that he had picked up from the grass and stated, "I found this under your seat."

Officer Silva's account differs substantially from Plaintiff's. According to Silva, after Silva asked Plaintiff to exit the vehicle, Silva observed a zip-lock bag with powder residue on the floorboard of the car between the seat and the door.*fn1 Silva alerted his partner that there were narcotics next to the seat, at which time Azevedo retrieved the zip-lock bag. Both sides agree that Plaintiff was eventually placed into handcuffs and put in the back of Defendant Officers' squad car. After approximately 10-15 minutes, Defendant Officers took Plaintiff to the 11th District station for processing. The officers did not arrest Maurice Cook or give him any citations for violating the Municipal Code. Once they arrived at the police station, the officers ordered a tow of Plaintiff's vehicle.

On August 10, 2008, Plaintiff was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Defendant Officers also issued two citations to Plaintiff for (i) an expired registration under the Municipal City Code 09-76-160(f)*fn2 and (ii) headlights sunset/sun-up under Municipal City Code 09-76-090(b). Plaintiff made his initial appearance before a judge on August 11, 2008, and was detained at the Cook County Jail until September 2, 2008, when all charges against him were dismissed as nolle pros. Plaintiff's vehicle was repossessed by his finance company and auctioned off.

The officers relied on a document labeled "Vehicle Code Violations Card, Chicago Police Department" to issue a citation for a violation of the municipal lighting ordinance numbered 9-76-090. Officer Azevedo testified that he intended to write Plaintiff a ticket for a violation of 09-76-090(a), despite the fact that the actual violation is written for 09-76-090(b). Section 09-76-090(b) states as follows:

Whenever a vehicle is parked upon an unlighted street or highway during the hours between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise, such vehicle shall be equipped with one or more lamps which shall exhibit a white light on the roadway side visible from a distance of 500 feet to the front of the vehicle and a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear."

Id. at § 09-76-090(b). Plaintiff's arrest and vice case reports indicate that he was in violation of Municipal Code § 09-76-090(a), for having no lights on when parked upon a lighted street. Subsection (a) states as follows: "Whenever a vehicle is lawfully parked at nighttime upon any lighted street within a business or residence district, no lights need be displayed upon such parked vehicle." Both officers believed that, at the time of the arrest, it was a violation of a city ordinance to be inside a vehicle without its headlights illuminated on a public street in the City of Chicago. However, both sides now agree that it is not a violation to be parked on a lighted street with the headlights off.

As part of their training, all officers take a two-hour class called Municipal Code of Chicago ("Code"). Officers are not required to read the entire Code during the class, but they are given a copy for their own reference. During training, officers are given a guide, known as a Vehicle Code Violations Card, to some of the subjects and sections of the Code. This guide does not contain all of the ordinance violations and does not completely describe the elements of each ordinance. (Id.). Andrea Hyfantis ("Hyfantis"), an attorney for ...

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