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Michael Bennett, Jr. v. Officer Vahl (#7350)

June 10, 2011

MICHAEL BENNETT, JR. PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER VAHL (#7350), A CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; OFFICER BLAIR (#18771), A CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY;
OFFICER BARSCH (#18387), A CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY;
SERGEANT O'DONNELL (#1927), A CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court is the motion for summary judgment brought by defendants Officers Vahl, Blair, and Barsch, and Sergeant O'Donnell (collectively, "defendants"). [Dkt 44.] Defendants argue that plaintiff Michael Bennett's claim is barred by the statute of limitations. (Defs.' Mot. at 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the court agrees. Defendants' motion is granted.

Background

1. Procedural history

Bennett filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pro se, alleging that on November 7, 2006, defendants unlawfully stopped him based on an unreliable anonymous tip and unlawfully searched him and the vehicle he had been driving. (Compl.) [Dkt 1.] The District Judge appointed counsel to represent Bennett. [Dkt 5.]*fn1 The parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction. [Dkt 33.] Defendants subsequently filed the present motion for summary judgment limited to the issue of the statute of limitations. The relevant facts are substantially uncontested. Bennett admitted all of defendants' statements of fact pursuant to Local Rule 56.1. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1 ("Pl.'s Resp.").) [Dkt 49.]*fn2 Defendants denied only two of Bennett's additional statements of fact. ( Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s 56.1 Add'l Stmt. ("Defs.' Resp.").) [Dkt 51.] After oral argument on the motion, Bennett was permitted to file an additional exhibit [dkt 54], and defendants filed a supplemental memorandum [dkt 55].

2. Factual background

The timeline, which is materially undisputed, is critical to the motion.

On November 7, 2006, defendants, who are Chicago Police Officers, detained Bennett, who had just parked the white Volvo station wagon he had been driving, based upon an anonymous tip that a black man in a white station wagon bearing temporary tags had a gun under the hood of the vehicle. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 5-6.) Defendants conducted a pat-down of Bennett, searched the vehicle, found a gun under the hood, and arrested him. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt¶ 7.) Bennett was subsequently charged with various criminal offenses related to possession of the weapon. (Id. ¶ 8.) Thereafter, Bennett drafted two pro se motions entitled "Motion to Suppress Evidence and Quash Arrest," which he filed in his criminal case on July 17 and 20, 2007. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 9-11; Ex. D, E.) Those motions are significant here because this lawsuit was not filed until more than two years later. As discussed below, the parties dispute whether the operative filing date for this lawsuit is August or October 2009, but in either event, it is more than two years after July 2007.

In his motions, Bennett argued, among other things, that the anonymous tip was an insufficient basis on which to detain him and search the vehicle and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment rights. (Id.) In his first motion, Bennett argued that defendants did not have probable cause because "[t]he Chicago Police had no substantial evidence to support an alleged anonymous tip . . . ." (Id., Ex. D ¶ 1.) In the second motion, Bennett argued:

[The] Police Officers did not have probable cause to search Defendant's father [sic] vehicle for gun, although officers had anonymous tip which described automobile driven by black male, while containing a firearm under the hood area of the vehicle, officers found Defendant standing nearby (outside of the vehicle matching that description [)], nothing at the scene suggested that a crime had been committed and defendant was the perpetrator. (Id., Ex. E ¶ 3.)

At the time he filed those motions to suppress, Bennett possessed the following documents from the Chicago Police Department: his arrest report, the case report, a supplementary report, inventory reports, his own criminal record, and a report of his purported statements to police. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13.) The case report, dated November 7, 2006, stated that the police "had been given info. by an Anonymous individual" which led them to detain Bennett, believing he and the vehicle he was driving matched the description given by the anonymous person. (Pl.'s Suppl., Ex. A.) [Dkt 54.] Bennett relied upon those documents in formulating his July 2007 motions. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 14-15.) The record does not disclose when Bennett obtained those documents.

On November 14, 2007, a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, held a hearing in the criminal case on Bennett's motion to suppress evidence at which Bennett proceeded pro se. (Pl.'s 56.1 Add'l Stmt. ¶ 1, Ex. A, Tr. Nov. 14, 2007.)*fn3 To Bennett, that hearing is significant on the present motion because, he says, the statute of limitations could not have begun to run until that hearing where he learned "key facts" about the circumstances of the stop and search. (Pl.'s Mem. at 6.) [Dkt 48.] Alternatively, he argues, if the statute of limitations began to run earlier, there should be equitable tolling because the criminal court judge's comments and ruling at the November 2007 hearing directed Bennett away from his potential claims. (Id. at 7-8.)

At the hearing, Bennett questioned defendant Vahl about the circumstances behind the anonymous tip, including how Vahl came into contact with the informant and whether the informant gave any basis for his information. (Id. at 50-57.) Vahl testified that the officers met the informant after pulling him over for a routine field interview an hour or two before they arrested Bennett. (Id. at 51-52.) He testified the officers had no contact with the anonymous informant prior to that day. (Id.)

During the hearing, the criminal court judge stated that he would decide whether the police had probable cause to arrest Bennett. (Id. at 10.) He suggested to Bennett that whether Bennett was in the car when the police detained him was significant, stating, "[I]f I believe that you weren't in the car, you win, right? Is that what you're arguing? . . . ...


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