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Vincent E. Blackwell and Angela Ford v. andrew P. Kalinowski

July 25, 2011

VINCENT E. BLACKWELL AND ANGELA FORD PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ANDREW P. KALINOWSKI, PAWEL RYSZKA, AND THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mag. Judge Michael T. Mason

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Michael T. Mason, United States Magistrate Judge:

Before the Court are plaintiff Vincent Blackwell ("Blackwell") and defendants Andrew Kalinowski, Pawel Ryszka ("Defendant Officers"), and the City of Chicago's post-trial motions. This case involves claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution brought by plaintiff Blackwell and a claim for unlawful search of a vehicle brought by plaintiff Angela Ford ("Ford"). The case was tried before a jury between May 2, 2011 and May 5, 2011. Before the case was submitted to the jury, defendants filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law on Blackwell's malicious prosecution claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). Defendants argued that Blackwell had not demonstrated that the criminal charges against him were terminated in a manner indicative of his innocence. This Court denied defendants' Rule 50(a) motion and the case was submitted to the jury.*fn1

The jury found in favor of Blackwell on both of his claims and against Ford on her unlawful search claim. The jury awarded $5,000 in damages to Blackwell on his false arrest claim and $0 in damages on his malicious prosecution claim. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), Blackwell filed a motion for a new trial on the issue of damages only on his malicious prosecution claim. Ford did not file any post-trial motions. Defendants filed a joint motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) and for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b). As discussed more fully below, defendants' joint motion under Rules 59(a) and 50(b) [111] is denied and Blackwell's Rule 59(a) motion [108] is denied.

I. Defendants' Motion For A New Trial On The False Arrest Claim.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, in deciding whether to grant a new trial, we must determine whether "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive [or insufficient], or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party." Briggs v. Marshall, 93 F.3d 355, 360 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting McNabola v. Chicago Transit Auth., 10 F.3d 501, 516 (7th Cir. 1993)). Defendants argue that they are entitled to a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) because: (1) this Court erred in excluding the criminal court transcript of the hearing and Judge Kirby's ruling on Blackwell's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence; (2) this Court erred in refusing to give defendants' proposed jury instruction on the definition of probable cause for false arrest; and (3) this Court erred in refusing to admit Blackwell's felony robbery conviction under Federal Rule of Evidence 609. Defendants claim that they were unfairly prejudiced by each of these errors. We address each of defendants' arguments in turn.

A. The December 18, 2007 hearing transcript

Defendants argue that this Court erred in excluding a portion of the December 18, 2007 transcript of the hearing on Blackwell's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence in the underlying criminal case. "No error in either the admission or the exclusion of evidence ... is grounds for granting a new trial ... or otherwise disturbing a judgment or order, unless refusal to take such action appears to the court inconsistent with substantial justice." Fed. R. Civ. P. 61. (Emphasis added). The Seventh Circuit has held that "a trial judge's evidentiary errors satisfy this standard only if a significant chance exists that they affected the outcome of the trial." Hasham v. California State Bd. of Equalization, 200 F.3d 1035, 1048 (7th Cir. 2000).

According to defendants, the Honorable John Kirby's ruling in Blackwell's criminal case "makes clear that he did not find that the Defendant Officers had no probable cause to arrest Plaintiff Blackwell, but only quashed his arrest and suppressed evidence that he had narcotics on the night of the incident." Defendants contend that they were unfairly denied the opportunity to counter Blackwell's testimony that a finding of no probable cause was made in his criminal case with the transcript of Judge Kirby's ruling.

Defendants' argument makes no sense. It is true that Judge Kirby did not explicitly state on the record that the Defendant Officers had no probable cause to arrest Blackwell. However, based on our reading of the December 18, 2007 transcript, Judge Kirby clearly granted Blackwell's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence because he found that the Defendant Officers had no probable cause to arrest Blackwell. At the December 18, 2007 hearing, Officer Kalinowski testified that he and his partner were driving eastbound on Monroe Street, they saw Blackwell driving westbound, and they pulled him over because he was not wearing a seatbelt. The Defendant Officers testified to the same facts at trial.

Defendants argue that Judge Kirby mistakenly believed that the Defendant Officers were traveling westbound (rather than eastbound), and concede that it can be inferred from the ruling that Judge Kirby did not believe that Officer Kalinowski could have seen whether Blackwell was wearing a seatbelt while driving behind him in the same direction. Whether Judge Kirby misunderstood Officer Kalinowski's testimony is irrelevant here. What is relevant is the fact that Judge Kirby found that there was no probable cause and granted the motion to quash Blackwell's arrest and suppress the narcotics evidence.

Defendants offer no other reason why Judge Kirby granted the motion to quash and suppress. There is nothing in the transcript to suggest that the judge's ruling was based on anything but a finding of no probable cause. Contrary to defendants' suggestion, the transcript does not impeach Blackwell's testimony that a finding of no probable cause was made in his criminal case. Furthermore, both Officer Kalinowski and Officer Ryszka testified at trial that the judge in the underlying criminal case ruled that there was no probable cause for Blackwell's arrest. We find that the exclusion of the hearing transcript is not inconsistent with substantial justice, nor is there a significant chance that it affected the outcome of the trial. Hasham, 200 F.3d at 1048. Consequently, defendants are not entitled to a new trial based on this Court's refusal to admit the December 18, 2007 hearing transcript.

B. Defendants' proposed jury instruction

Next, defendants argue that they were unfairly prejudiced by this Court's refusal to give their proposed jury instruction on the definition of probable cause for false arrest. Defendants do not argue that the jury instructions given by this Court were inaccurate statements of the law. Instead, they contend that we should have included the following language in the jury instruction on the definition of probable cause for false arrest:

The fact that the criminal charges against Plaintiff Blackwell were later dismissed does not by itself mean that there was no probable cause at the time of his arrest.

Defendants' proposed jury instruction is based on Seventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction 7.06. But defendants modified the bracketed portion of paragraph three of that instruction. The ...


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