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Wells v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 16, 2012

Ann Darlene WELLS, as representative of the estate of Donald L. Wells, deceased, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

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Donna Rizzuto, Scott C. Frost, David C. Van Dyke, James R. Shinar, Mark William Peyser, Tiffany Leigh Carpenter, Howard & Howard Attorneys, PLLC, Chicago, IL, Michael O. Fawaz, Michael Kell, Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC, Royal Oak, MI, for Plaintiff.

George John Yamin, Jr., Joseph M. Polick, Helen Catherine Gibbons, Liza Marie Franklin, Mary Anne V. Spillane, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.


MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge.

Ann Darlene Wells, as representative of the estate of Donald L. Wells, has sued the City of Chicago and a number of Chicago police officers and employees for claims arising from his arrest, confinement, and death. In April 2012, a jury returned a verdict for plaintiff against the City and four of the defendant officers on plaintiff's unlawful detention claim. The jury awarded plaintiff $1 million in compensatory damages against all of the defendants and a total of $150,500 in punitive damages against the four officers. The jury found for all defendants on plaintiff's claims relating to denial of medical care.

Defendants have moved for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's claim or, in the alternative, a new trial or remittitur on the issue of damages. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendants' motion in part and denies it in part.


The present decision assumes familiarity with the Court's January 16, 2012, 2012 WL 116040, decision on the parties' summary judgment motions [docket no. 269].

On Friday April 25, 2008, Donald Wells (Wells), a resident of Michigan, drove his semi-trailer truck through a bus stop and into a Chicago Transit Authority " L" Station located on Cermak Road in Chinatown. Two women were killed, and twenty people were injured. Firefighters removed Wells from the cab of his truck, and paramedics transported him to a hospital.

At the hospital, Chicago police officer Joann Butkus and her partner Rachel Golubiak were waiting for Wells when he arrived in an ambulance shortly before 6 p.m. Butkus followed Wells into the emergency room and stayed close to him while he received treatment for his injuries. Shortly after Wells arrived at the hospital, police investigator Michael Deneen read Wells his Miranda rights and interviewed him for ten or fifteen minutes. Police investigator Elliott Musial formally arrested Wells at 10:20 p.m., and police transported him to a police station shortly thereafter. Wells was interviewed at the station and then placed in a holding cell during the early morning hours of April 26.

Wells remained at the police station until Sunday, April 27. During this time, police investigated the collision and considered, in consultation with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, whether to

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charge Wells with a felony such as aggravated reckless driving or reckless homicide. Wells was never taken before a judge for a probable cause hearing. In the early afternoon on April 27, police learned that tests performed on Wells on April 25 showed that he had no illegal drugs or alcohol in his system after the accident. Ultimately he only received a traffic citation, though police kept investigating the collision until the time of his death.

On April 27, police captain John Farrell arrived at the station around 9:00 p.m. and told Wells that a decision on his release would be made shortly. Farrell then learned that Wells would not be charged with a felony. Farrell testified that before 9:30 p.m., he went to Wells's cell and told him that he was being released. Farrell noticed that Wells had removed all his clothes and became concerned that he might need medical attention and had nowhere to go once released. Farrell left Wells in the cell and went looking for the telephone number of one of Wells's family members. When he returned, Farrell found that Wells had again removed his clothes and saw signs that Wells had been urinating on the floor and defecating on himself. Farrell decided to send Wells to a hospital for evaluation. He initially called for a police vehicle, but after finding that Wells had difficulty walking once removed from his cell, Farrell instead called an ambulance. Wells's arrest record states that he was released from custody at 10:15 p.m. The ambulance arrived and took Wells from the police station at 10:56 p.m. Wells remained hospitalized for six weeks, suffering from pneumonia, renal failure, and failure of multiple organs, and he was never discharged before his death on June 13.

Plaintiff filed this suit in February 2009, claiming that police unlawfully detained Wells and improperly denied him medical care. The case was tried to a jury in March-April 2012. On the detention claim, the jury was instructed that it could find for the plaintiff on liability if it determined that (1) he was kept in custody for more than forty-eight hours before being released or taken before a judge, or (2) he was held in custody less than forty-eight hours, but his release was improperly delayed by keeping him in custody even though (a) there was no probable cause to arrest in the first place, or (b) the police obtained information that dissipated probable cause. See Jury Instructions at 16-17 (docket no. 344).

After trial, the jury rendered a verdict in which it found for defendants on plaintiff's claims related to medical care but for plaintiff on the unlawful detention claim. In particular, the jury found that defendants Michael Deneen, Galo Gutierrez, Maureen McMahon, and Elliott Musial had unlawfully detained Wells and that the City had a policy of unlawful detention. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $1 million for pain and suffering and punitive damages in the amount of $500 against Deneen, $50,000 against Gutierrez, $50,000 against McMahon, and $50,000 against Musial.


Defendants contend that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the unlawful detention claim against the individual defendants and the policy claim against the City. They also contend that they are entitled to a new trial on the issues of compensatory and punitive damages.

A. Judgment as a matter of law

The Court may grant judgment as a matter of law when " a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [nonmoving]

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party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1); see Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293, 300-01 (7th Cir.2010). The Court " do[es] not weigh evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses. Instead, [it] draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Thomas, 604 F.3d at 300-01 (citations omitted).

Defendants contend that there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the individual defendants unlawfully detained Wells and that the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. They also contend that there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Chicago had a policy or practice of unlawful detention.

1. Unlawful detention

A person arrested without a warrant is entitled under the Fourth Amendment to " a prompt judicial determination of probable cause." County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 47, 111 S.Ct. 1661, 114 L.Ed.2d 49 (1991). It is generally sufficient if the government provides a probable cause hearing within forty-eight hours of arrest. Id. at 56, 111 S.Ct. 1661. If the arrested person is held less than forty-eight hours without a judicial probable cause determination, to establish a constitutional violation he must show that the hearing " was delayed unreasonably." Id. By contrast, if police hold an individual more than forty-eight hours without providing a probable cause hearing, the government has the burden of " demonstrat[ing] the existence of a bona fide emergency or other extraordinary circumstance" to show that the individual's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. Id. at 57, 111 S.Ct. 1661.

a. Detention of more than forty-eight hours

Defendants contend that plaintiff presented insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that police held Wells for more than forty-eight hours or that they held him for less than forty-eight hours for an improper purpose. They argue that Wells was in police custody starting at 10:20 p.m. on April 25, when Musial formally arrested him, and ending around 9:15 p.m. on April 27, when Farrell told Wells that he was going to be released. Plaintiff contends that the defendants held Wells for more than forty-eight hours and that they held him for an improper purpose. Specifically, plaintiff claims that defendants they arrested Wells without probable cause and held him while investigating to justify his arrest and that they did not release him promptly when the evidence showed he was not intoxicated, had gotten adequate sleep the night before the accident, and had a clean driving record. See Riverside, 500 U.S. at 56, 111 S.Ct. 1661 (unreasonable to hold an arrestee while gathering information to justify his arrest).

The Court concludes that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Wells was held more than forty-eight hours. First, a reasonable jury could have concluded that Wells was in custody before 10:20 p.m. on April 25. " An arrest requires either physical force ... or ... submission to the assertion of authority." California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 626, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 113 L.Ed.2d 690 (1991) (emphasis omitted). Police are considered to have made a " show of authority" to which a person can submit " ‘ only if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.’ " Id. at 627-28, 111 S.Ct. 1547 (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980) (plurality)) (internal quotation marks omitted). " Examples of circumstances

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that might indicate a seizure, even where the person did not attempt to leave, would be the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled." Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870; see Carlson v. Bukovic, 621 F.3d 610, 619 (7th Cir.2010) (adopting factors listed in Mendenhall ). Other circumstances that could affect whether a reasonable person believes he is free to leave include whether he was ever told he was free to leave and " whether the suspect eventually departed the area without hindrance." DeLuna v. City of Rockford, 447 F.3d 1008, 1014 (7th Cir.2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). " The reasonable person-free to leave standard is an objective one, and both the officer's and the encountered individual's subjective beliefs during the encounter are not determinative as to whether a seizure occurred." Carlson, 621 F.3d at 619 n. 15.

Butkus testified that she and her partner Golubiak arrived at the scene of the accident and that their superior ordered them to follow the ambulance carrying Wells to the hospital. Def. Ex. C at 4-5. They arrived before Wells's ambulance and relieved other police officers who were already there. Id. at 6-7. Butkus testified that they followed Wells into the trauma center and remained close to him. Id. at 7-8. Butkus asked Wells questions at the hospital, and Wells told her that he had not been able to stop his truck and prevent the accident. Id. at 8. Looking for identification, she reached into and searched Wells's pants, which had been removed and placed under Wells's gurney. Id. at 10. She removed his wallet from the pants in order to locate identification. Id. at 10, 27. Butkus testified that she and her partner observed the hospital staff treating Wells and remained within fifteen or twenty feet of him while he was at the hospital. Id. at 11. Butkus also spoke with a nurse and learned that initial toxicology tests performed on Wells were negative for drugs or alcohol. Id.

Butkus testified that she had been ordered to maintain custody of Wells, and the jury heard deposition testimony in which Butkus stated that she considered Wells her prisoner and that she did not have authority to let him leave. Id. at 22-23. She testified that maintaining custody of Wells meant that she was " monitoring him and his movements and his condition, et cetera." Id. at 25. Butkus also stated that Golubiak followed Wells when Wells was taken from the emergency room to get a CT scan, and the jury heard deposition testimony in which Butkus stated that she herself had followed Wells at that time. Id. at 30-31.

Deneen arrived at the hospital at approximately 6:00 p.m., shortly after Wells, Butkus, and Golubiak had arrived. Def. Ex. C at 13-14; Def. Ex. D at 4. Deneen testified that he interviewed Wells for ten or fifteen minutes, and the jury heard deposition testimony in which Deneen acknowledged reading Wells his Miranda rights. Def. Ex. D at 5-6. He stated that he did not interfere with Wells's medical treatment but that any time medical staff moved away from Wells he moved back in to ask more questions. Def. Ex. E at 16. During that time, Butkus and Golubiak remained just outside the area where Wells was receiving treatment, within sight and less than twenty feet away. Def. Ex. C at 14. Butkus also testified that two other detectives ...

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