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Karen Fitzgerald v. Officer M. Santoro

January 31, 2012

KAREN FITZGERALD PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER M. SANTORO, ET. AL,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff has sued the Village of Schaumburg, two individually identified police officers, and one individually identified paramedic asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful entry, unlawful seizure, and excessive force, and state law claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Now before me is defendants' motion for summary judgment on all of these claims, which I grant for the reasons that follow.

I.

In the early morning hours of February 6, 2010, the individual defendants responded separately to dispatch calls stating that an intoxicated female caller had contacted the Palatine Police Department, and, in what plaintiff herself characterizes as an "unfocused and rambling" call, made statements that the desk officer interpreted as suggesting that she was "very depressed" and possibly suicidal. After ascertaining plaintiff's identity and home address based on information she provided during the call, the Palatine desk officer contacted dispatch to request that officers be sent to plaintiff's home for a well-being check.*fn1 Defendant Officers Santoro and Cram and defendant paramedic Ashcraft were then dispatched to plaintiff's building, where they entered without a warrant, and, I will assume, without her consent.*fn2 Both officers were familiar with plaintiff at the time, having responded to several previous calls to her residence, including on one occasion in which plaintiff had injured herself--apparently without realizing it--and had required hospitalization.*fn3

At the time defendants entered plaintiff's home on the night in question, her speech was slurred and her gait unsteady, and a glass of wine was on the table nearby, all of which led defendants to conclude that plaintiff was, indeed, heavily intoxicated. Plaintiff admits that she had drunk at least two glasses of wine in the hour-and-a-half preceding defendants' arrival; that she had eaten nothing for the previous twenty-four hours; and that she had not slept in three days. Defendants spent approximately thirty minutes talking to plaintiff about her condition and how she was feeling. Asked about her call to the Palatine Police Department, plaintiff denied that she had said she was suicidal, but she admitted that she had been "very aggravated by a number of things," including that her ex-boyfriend had obtained an order of protection against her, and wanted to talk to someone about her problems.

Confronted with plaintiff's denial of suicidal thoughts or statements, Officer Santoro stepped out of plaintiff's home and called dispatch to confirm that she had, indeed, made such statements to the Palatine desk officer. After receiving confirmation, Officer Santoro returned to plaintiff's residence, conferred with Officer Cram and the paramedics,*fn4 and decided that plaintiff should be taken to a hospital for evaluation. Plaintiff refused to accompany them voluntarily. Defendants suggested that, alternatively, plaintiff could call a friend to stay with her at home, but plaintiff was unable to reach anyone.

Ultimately, defendants forced plaintiff to accompany them to the hospital. Officers Santoro and Cram each took one of plaintiff's arms and escorted her to, then placed her on, a gurney. Plaintiff resisted these efforts by pulling away from the officers and screaming at the top of her lungs. Officer Santoro used a "wrist lock" to control plaintiff's right arm, while Officer Cram held plaintiff in an "arm bar escort" position.*fn5 Plaintiff's right wrist was then handcuffed to the gurney, and her body was secured with straps for transport by ambulance to the hospital.

Once inside the ambulance, plaintiff attempted to free her right hand from the handcuff and to unstrap the security straps, then sat up in an effort to get off the gurney.*fn6 Officer Cram moved to secure plaintiff, who continued to struggle, by placing her right hand in a wrist lock with his right hand while reaching back for his handcuff key with his left. According to defendants' uncontroverted evidence, plaintiff then placed her left hand on her right forearm and forcefully jerked or "torqued" her body away in attempt to free herself from Officer Cram's grasp. Cram Dep., Exh. D to Def.'s L.R.

56.1 Stmt., 32:3-6. At that point, a "popping," or "snapping" sound could be heard in plaintiff's wrist. Id., 32:6; Fitzgerald Dep., Exh. 2 to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt., 163:4-5. Plaintiff claims to have no recollection of jerking her hand away in the manner defendants describe, but she agrees that she "probably" did so. Fitzgerald Dep., Exh. 2 to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt., 160:21-161:2.

After the "popping" sound was heard, plaintiff calmed down, was given an ice pack for her wrist, and was transported to the emergency room at St. Alexius Hospital. A hospital report that plaintiff includes in her L.R. 56.1 submissions identifies "depression" as her "chief complaint" on admission but states that plaintiff "denies any suicidal or homicidal ideation." Exh. 3 to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt.

II.

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

Turning first to plaintiff's § 1983 claims, I conclude that plaintiff has not raised a triable issue as to whether defendants violated the constitutional rights she asserts because they had probable cause both to enter her residence and to commit her involuntarily, and because, on the undisputed evidence, the force they used to seize her was no greater than was necessary. Moreover, I conclude that even if probable cause for defendants' entry and seizure were lacking, they are entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's § 1983 claims.

Although, as a general rule, warrantless entry into a home is per se unreasonable, an "exigent circumstances" exception exists when law enforcement officers "reasonably believe a person within is in need of immediate aid." U.S. v. Richardson, 208 F.3d 626, 629 (7th Cir. 2000). To ascertain whether the exigent circumstances doctrine applies, I must "analyze the situation from the perspective of the officers at the scene" and ask whether they had "an ...


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