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Rashad Swanigan v. City of Chicago

January 4, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Rashad Swanigan sued a number of Chicago police officers and their employer, the City of Chicago, for violations of his civil rights as the result of an incident where he was held for an extended period of time after being arrested. (See N.D. Ill. Case No. 07 C 4749) ("2007 Suit"). That case went to trial against two subsets of those officers, and the jury awarded Swanigan damages on his unlawful detention claim. A year after he filed that case, Swanigan filed the instant case against the City, asserting that the City itself was liable for the violations of Swanigan's rights under Monell v. City of New York Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) because a municipal policy or practice caused the violations ("Monell Suit"). As is common practice in this District, the Court stayed this Monell Suit in favor of proceeding with the 2007 Suit because the City agreed, consistent with its usual practice (and Illinois law), to indemnify the officers. Swanigan now moves to lift that stay and proceed on his Monell claim challenging two allegedly unconstitutional practices by the Chicago Police Department (CPD): the "hold past court call" procedure and the "cleared-closed" procedure. As detailed below the Court denies Swanigan's motion and dismisses the case because there is no actual case or controversy as to either procedure and, in addition, Swanigan has not stated a claim for which relief can be granted as to the "clear-closed" procedure.


A. 2007 Suit

In August 2007, Swanigan filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against almost two dozen Chicago police officers as well as the City, alleging that he was falsely arrested and unlawfully detained in August 2006. The Court recounted the facts of the case in full in its lengthy opinion on the parties' summary judgment motions (see Swanigan v. Trotter, 645 F. Supp. 2d 656 (N.D. Ill. 2009)); the following facts will relevant for the purposes of this motion.

On August 22, 2006, two CPD patrol officers, spotted Swanigan leaving a bank on Chicago's north side. The officers had received information at their morning roll call regarding the "Hard Hat Bandit," who allegedly had robbed a number of banks on the City's north side wearing a yellow hard hat. The officers ran the plates on Swanigan's car, and the system indicated that they were suspended due to an insurance problem. When they approached, the officers saw Swanigan "hotwiring" the car. Though Swanigan protested that he, in fact, had insurance, he did not produce an insurance card and the officers arrested him. The officers then searched Swanigan's car and found a knife as well as a yellow hard hat. Believing that Swanigan could be the Hard Hat Bandit, a more senior officer approved Swanigan's arrest for traffic violations and told the arresting officers to contact the detectives investigating the bank robberies. The detectives then started investigating Swanigan for a different crime, namely the recent robbery of a Popeye's Chicken restaurant, not the traffic violations for which he was actually arrested.

In order to round up witnesses for various lineups for the Popeye's Chicken robbery, the detectives put a "hold" on Swanigan, meaning he would not be released from custody, or go to court, without the "hold" being released. Without the "hold," Swanigan could have been released the same day he was arrested. However, as a result of the "hold," he was held for two additional days (under conditions he found uncomfortable) while he was placed in various lineups. Several witnesses identified Swanigan as the Popeye's Chicken robber. On the evening of August 26, 2006, Swanigan's hold ended and he was released after a state prosecutor declined to charge Swanigan with the Popeye's Chicken robbery. All told, he spent 51.5 hours in custody, the vast majority after his fingerprints had cleared the CPD's database. Approximately two weeks later, a CPD sergeant reviewed the reports generated by the detectives with respect to Swanigan and marked the file "Cleared - closed other exceptional." The sergeant picked that designation because the CPD closed its investigation after prosecutors refused to approve charges. That sergeant testified that the detective's report identified Swanigan as the offender in the Popeye's Chicken robbery and that employees of the restaurant had picked Swanigan out of lineups. (See Case No. 07 C 4749, Doc. 168-21.)

In August 2011, the case went to trial before this Court on Swanigan's false arrest claim (as to the three arresting officers) and his unlawful detention claim (as to eight officers involved in his detention). The jury found for the arresting officers on Swanigan's false arrest claim, but awarded him $60,000 in damages on his unlawful detention claim, finding seven of the eight officers liable. The jury did not award any punitive damages.

B. Monell Suit and the Stay

In August 2008, a year after he filed the 2007 Suit, Swanigan filed the Monell Suit challenging a pair of allegedly unconstitutional practices by the CPD, the "hold past court call" procedure and the "clear-closed" procedure. Specifically, Swanigan alleged in his complaint that the "hold" procedure allows the police to arrest individuals without a warrant on minor crimes and then hold them for unreasonable periods of time while officers drum up more evidence of different, unrelated crimes. In his motion to lift the stay, Swanigan clarifies that the "hold" procedure is unconstitutional because it unreasonably delays an independent finding of probable cause by a neutral magistrate.*fn1 Though the thrust of Swanigan's Monell complaint (and his motion to lift the stay) is against the "hold" procedure, he also takes issue with the CPD's "cleared-closed" procedure, where by a criminal investigation is "cleared"-meaning "solved," according to Swanigan- indicating an arrestee or suspect was the perpetrator, even if that person is not charged with the crime. In other words, the procedure "permits the closing of official police department records with innocent suspects identified as actual career offenders." (Doc. 17 at 1.) In his motion to lift the stay, Swanigan adds that he is still erroneously identified in police records as the perpetrator in the Popeye's Chicken robbery, even though that crime was perpetrated by the Hard Hat Bandit, who Swanigan concedes was caught and imprisoned several years ago. (Id. at 2.)

In December 2008, the City moved to consolidate the Monell Suit (then pending before another court) with the 2007 Suit because they arose from the exact same facts. The Court granted that motion, and the City stipulated in the 2007 Suit that it would indemnify the officers for compensatory damages and attorneys' fees awarded under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and accept one dollar in nominal damages against it if any compensatory damage award was entered against one of the individual officers.*fn2 The Court then stayed the Monell Suit, as is common in this District, because if a jury found against the officers, the City would pay in any event and Swanigan would not have to demonstrate a municipal policy or practice (or engage in the extensive discovery Monell cases typically require) to recover directly from the City. See, e.g., Medina v. City of Chicago, 100 F. Supp. 2d 893, 895 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (listing the advantages of staying discovery in Monell claims until after the claims against the individuals are complete).

Consistent with the stipulation, the City offered, with its briefing on the instant motion to lift the stay, a proposed certification of entry of judgment against it in both the 2007 Suit and the Monell Suit. That certification states that the City "agrees to entry of judgment against the City for compensatory damages" and that the City "waives its right under Monell . . . not to be held liable in damages under section 1983 without proof that the City by its 'policy, custom or practice,' and with the requisite degree of culpability, caused the alleged constitutional violation." (See Doc. 21-1 at 2.) The City also reiterated its "irrevocable" commitment to indemnify the individual officers, and set out that the City "agrees to pay nominal damages (not to exceed one dollar), as plaintiff has proven a violation of a substantive constitutional right and actual compensable injury." (Id.)


A. "Hold Past Court Call" ...

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