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Orlando Edwards and Lee Edwards v. Chicago Police Officer J. Haritos

March 8, 2012

ORLANDO EDWARDS AND LEE EDWARDS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER J. HARITOS,
STAR NO. 16873; AND OFFICER P. PARK, STAR NO. 13949 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge James F. Holderman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, Chief Judge:

In their First Amended Complaint filed on August 23, 2010, Plaintiffs Orlando Edwards and Lee Edwards each brought claims against defendant police officers John Haritos and Paul Park for false arrest, malicious prosecution, excessive force, and failure to provide medical attention, for a total of sixteen claims. (Dkt. No. 40.) Following a four-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for the defendants on plaintiffs' claims of false arrest and on Lee Edwards's claims of malicious prosecution, for defendant Haritos on Orlando Edwards's claim of excessive force, for defendant Park on Lee Edwards's claim of excessive force, and for Orlando Edwards on his claims of malicious prosecution against defendants Haritos and Park. (Dkt. No. 130.) The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the other counts. The jury awarded Orlando Edwards $2,367 in compensatory damages and $2,333 in punitive damages ($778 from Haritos and $1,555 from Park). (Id.)

During trial, the defendants timely filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) (Dkt. No. 118.), which the court denied (Dkt. No. 121).

Pending before the court is defendants' "Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Motion to Alter Judgment." (Dkt. No. 133.) For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On March 3, 2008, Chicago police officers Park and Haritos responded to a domestic battery call from Jerome Reed at 5736 West Ohio St. in Chicago, Illinois. (1/10/12 Trial Tr. 7-8.) The evidence at trial presented two conflicting accounts of the events that occurred when they arrived. Park and Haritos testified that Orlando Edwards and Lee Edwards, two African-American boys at the home, threatened to kill Park and Haritos while they were standing at the door of the residence. (Id. at 43-44; 1/12/12 Trial Tr. 70.) Park also testified that Jerome Reed identified Lee Edwards as the person who hit him, thus causing Reed to initiate the domestic battery call. (1/10/12 Trial Tr. 60.) Park stated that when the officers entered the residence to arrest Lee, Orlando Edwards jumped on Park's back and put his arm around Park's neck. (Id. at 83-89.) Park then arrested Orlando Edwards, who was "fighting with me [and] flailing his arms." (Id. at 193.)

Haritos and Park took Orlando Edwards to the police station, where they charged him with battery, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault of a peace officer. (See Id. at 118; 1/12/12 Trial Tr. 106; Dkt. No. 134, Ex. 1.) The charges were later stricken with leave to reinstate. (1/12/12 Trial Tr. 104.)

Orlando and Lee Edwards told a different story. According to Orlando Edwards, Orlando and Lee never threatened the officers (Id. at 236), Orlando never jumped on Park's back or put his arms around Park's neck (Id. at 240), and Orlando did not flail his arms or fight when Park tried to arrest him (Id. at 241). Lee Edwards also testified that Lee and Orlando never threatened the officers (Id. at 140-41), and neither Lee nor Orlando stated that Jerome Reed identified Lee Edwards as the person who hit him. Moreover, Lee Edwards stated that during the incident Haritos repeatedly called him a nigger (Id. at 159, 194), and used profane language (Id. at 138, 149). Orlando Edwards also testified that even though he was not resisting, Officer Park repeatedly punched him while he was being arrested, causing lacerations to his face. (Id. at 251-52.)

ANALYSIS

I. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, judgment as a matter of law is appropriate when "a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 149 (2000)(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)). In performing this analysis, the court "must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Waite v. Bd. of Trs., 408 F.3d 339, 343 (7th Cir. 2005).The court "will overturn a jury verdict . . . only if [it] conclude[s] that no rational jury could have found for [the non-movant]." Id. (citation omitted). Based on the deference afforded to the jury's verdict, the Rule 50 standard "is obviously a difficult standard to meet." Id.; see also Sheehan v. Donlen Corp., 173 F.3d 1039, 1043 (7th Cir. 1999) ("Attacking a jury verdict is a hard row to hoe.").

Defendants claim that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Orlando Edwards's claims of malicious prosecution. A claim of malicious prosecution requires the plaintiff to prove "(1) the commencement or continuance of an original criminal or civil judicial proceeding by the defendant; (2) the termination of the proceeding in favor of the plaintiff; (3) the absence of probable cause for such proceeding; (4) the presence of malice; and (5) damages." Logan v. Caterpillar, Inc., 246 F.3d 912, 921-22 (7th Cir. 2001). Here, the defendants contend that Orlando Edwards failed to show the absence of probable cause to charge him with battery, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault of a peace officer. In support, the defendants argue that both Park and Haritos testified that they believed they had probable cause for the charges because Orlando jumped on Park's back, battered Park, and resisted arrest by Park by flailing his arms and struggling. They note, correctly, that in determining the existence of probable cause in a malicious prosecution case, "[i]t is the state of mind of the person commencing the prosecution that is at issue-not the actual facts of the case or the guilt or innocence of the accused." Sang Ken Kim v. City of Chi., 858 N.E.2d 569, 574 (Ill. App. Ct. 2006).

The defendants overlook, however, that the jury need not believe the defendants' own testimony about their state of mind, but may infer the defendants' state of mind from other evidence. The jury could have believed the testimony of Lee and Orlando Edwards about the events of the evening, for example, leading them to conclude that Park and Haritos were lying. The jury could then reasonably infer that Park and Haritos had fabricated their story to create probable cause when there was none previously.*fn1 The testimony of Lee and Orlando Edwards alone was thus more than enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find the absence of probable cause for the charges against Orlando Edwards.

Next, the defendants contend that there was no evidence of malice to support the jury verdict.

The jury was instructed, however, that "[m]alice may be inferred from the absence of probable cause when the circumstances are inconsistent with good faith by the prosecutor and where the want of probable cause has been clearly proved." (Dkt. No. 110, at 9.) That instruction was a correct statement of the law. See Mack v. First Sec. Bank of Chi., 511 N.E.2d 714, 717 (Ill. App. Ct. 1987); see also Gauger v. Hendle, 954 N.E.2d 307, 333 (Ill. App. Ct. 2011). Here, if the jury believed that Park and Haritos were lying, it could reasonably have believed that Park and Haritos lacked ...


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