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Dewitt Hughes and Cheranzetta Hughes v. City of Chicago

November 8, 2011


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

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.,


Plaintiffs, Dewitt Hughes and Cheranzetta Stagger-Hughes, sued the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Officers Mark Uczen and Debbie Iza for violations of state and federal law. Counts I and II were brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging unlawful search and seizure of Mr. Hughes' person and Ms. Hughes' car in Count I and unlawful arrest and detention of Mr. Hughes in Count II. Plaintiffs also asserted Monell claims against the City of Chicago in Counts I and II. Plaintiffs' state law claims included False Imprisonment (Count III) and Malicious Prosecution (Count IV) against the officers and Respondeat Superior (Count V) and Indemnification (Count VI) against the City of Chicago. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all counts, which the Court granted in part, denied in part, and took under advisement. The Court granted the motion as to Plaintiffs' § 1983 and Monell claims against the individual officers and the City of Chicago for violation of Plaintiff Dewitt's Fourteenth Amendment due process right. The motion remained under advisement as to Plaintiffs' Monell claim relating to the field testing kits.

Defendants now have brought a second motion for summary judgment [159], this time seeking summary judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining Monell claim. Plaintiffs' Monell claim against the City asserts that the City of Chicago failed to maintain a practice or policy, or to adequately train officers, regarding narcotic field testing kits. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment [159] on Plaintiffs' Monell claim.

I. Factual Background*fn1

On the evening of July 30, 2007, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Dewitt Hughes drove to pick up his wife, Cheranzetta, at the end of her shift as a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority. Cheranzetta had with her a blue, zippered, opaque lunch sack, which she placed on the backseat of the car. Within the lunch sack was a plastic bag containing approximately fifteen vitamins that had been purchased at Wal-Mart earlier that day. On their way home, Dewitt dropped his wife off at Walgreens and headed to his mother's house to retrieve some clothes before returning to Walgreens to pick up Cheranzetta. On his way, Dewitt was pulled over by Officers Mark Uczen and Debbie Iza. Officer Uczen asked Dewitt to exit the car, and Dewitt complied. Uczen then patted Dewitt down. In her deposition, Officer Iza testified that while Uczen was dealing with Dewitt, she walked to the passenger side of the vehicle and saw a plastic bag containing numerous capsules on the passenger's seat. According to Iza, she then got the attention of Officer Uczen, who was at the back of the car with Dewitt. Uczen testified that he looked through the passenger window and also observed a plastic bag with numerous capsules containing a "white powdery substance" on the passenger's seat. One of the officers retrieved the bag from the vehicle and inspected the contents. The officers did not have field test kits for suspected narcotics with them during this stop. Both officers testified that they believed that these kits were not available in the Chicago Police Department. Believing that the capsules contained narcotics, the officers arrested and handcuffed Dewitt. The Hughes' vehicle was impounded.

Plaintiffs' version of the stop and arrest differs from the officers' story at several crucial junctures. First, Cheranzetta testified that she did not leave the vitamins on the front passenger seat when Dewitt dropped her off at Walgreens; rather, she claims that they were stored in her blue, opaque lunch bag that was zippered shut and that she had placed on the back seat after Dewitt picked her up. She also claims that when she went to retrieve her property from her impounded car, the lunch bag was still on the back seat and that it had been searched. Dewitt further stated that his wife's lunch bag was in the back seat of the car, that he never saw the vitamins that night, and that he did not even know that they were in the car. Finally, according to Dewitt, prior to arriving at the police station, the officers refused to answer his questions and did not tell Dewitt what -- if anything -- they had found in his car.

At the police station, Dewitt learned that the officers believed they had found heroin in his car. At some point prior to his initial appearance, Dewitt told them that the pills they found must have been his wife's vitamins. Dewitt's explanation notwithstanding, he was charged with possession of heroin. Dewitt remained in the police station "lock up" facility until his bond hearing on August 1, 2007. He received a $20,000 bond and the judge set his bail at $2,000. Unable to post bail, Dewitt was transported to Cook County Jail. Three days after his bond hearing, he was released from Cook County Jail and put on house arrest with electronic monitoring. After he returned home, and as a result of his house arrest, he was fired from his job as a truck driver. On August 22, 2007, the charges against Dewitt were dismissed pursuant to a nolle prosequi.

After Officer Uczen inventoried the vitamins, he sent them to the Illinois State Police Laboratory for testing. On or about August 9, 2007, Uczen received a copy of the laboratory report from the Illinois State Police Laboratory, which stated that the capsules removed from the Hughes' car had tested negative for the presence of illegal substances. Uczen showed the report to Officer Iza and then filed the report in his desk drawer. The laboratory also transmits the report to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office; however, it is not clear from the record when the assistant state's attorney assigned to Dewitt's case received a copy of Dewitt's lab report. Typically, the state's attorney assigned to the case accesses the report a day or two prior to the scheduled preliminary hearing.

According to the testimony of the assistant state's attorney deposed in this case, there is no expectation that the arresting officer will provide a copy of the lab report to the prosecutor. Officers Uczen and Iza, as well as their supervisor Sergeant Mateo Mojica, testified that they are not aware of any policy or practice that directs officers as to what to do when they receive notification from the Illinois State Police that putative drug material was determined to be non-narcotic. The Chicago Police Department training bulletin on reporting responsibilities for narcotics cases is silent as to any obligation to inform the prosecution of a negative lab result.

The Chicago Police Department has narcotics test kits available for officers to use in certain instances, predominately officers in the narcotics division.*fn2 The test kits are purchased by the Organized Crime Division. The Department maintains that use of the test kits on a department-wide basis would be problematic due to chain of custody and contamination issues as well as the risk that field-testing could result in depleted samples of the suspect narcotics. However, the Department agrees that test kits are used department-wide and that any Chicago police officer can use the field test kits as long as it is for a "legitimate" purpose. The Department does not have a policy instructing officers about what they should do with the results of their field drug testing. There is no formal, department-wide training on the use of the test kits, although the kits include basic instructions.

On the date of Dewitt's arrest, the Chicago Police Department had in effect special orders which instruct officers to inventory, secure, and send all suspect narcotics to the Illinois State Police for testing. The orders do not instruct officers to conduct any "field testing" of suspect narcotics. The CPD does not have any department-wide orders regarding field testing, but, according to Defendants, it does have a special order regarding field testing that pertains to the narcotics division. However, officers in the narcotics division have testified that they were not aware of the order and that at best it is "outdated."

III. Discussion

A.Summary Judgment ...

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