THOMAS P. LALLY, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on several post-trial motions: Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), and in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 ; Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees ; Plaintiff's bill of costs ; and Defendants' bill of costs . For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' post-trial motion , grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees ; denies Plaintiff's bill of costs ; and grants in part and denies in part Defendants' bill of costs .
In this lawsuit, Plaintiff asserted federal claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and violation of freedom of speech and state law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff sought both compensatory and punitive damages. Prior to trial, on March 27, 2012, the City and Defendant Officers served Plaintiff with a Rule 68 offer of judgment, which offered Plaintiff $40, 001.00 plus reasonable attorneys' fees and costs accrued to date. Plaintiff did not accept the offer and the matter proceeded to trial on September 4, 2012. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendants Kaupert and Norberg on his federal and state claims for false arrest and false imprisonment and for Defendants on all of the other claims. The jury awarded Plaintiff $1.00 in compensatory damages and $25, 000.00 in punitive damages ($15, 000.00 as to Defendant Kaupert and $10, 000.00 as to Defendant Norberg).
II. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or New Trial
On a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50, a court must determine whether the evidence presented at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, is sufficient to support the verdict. Massey v. Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Illinois, 226 F.3d 922, 924 (7th Cir. 2000); see also Hall v. Gary Community Sch. Corp., 298 F.3d 672, 675 (7th Cir. 2002). Although a mere scintilla of evidence is not sufficient to sustain a verdict, the Court is not to substitute its view of the contested evidence in place of the jury's determination. Filipovich v. K & R Express Sys., Inc., 391 F.3d 859, 863 (7th Cir. 2004). A jury verdict is not to be set aside if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, there exists within the record any reasonable basis to support the verdict, leaving issues of credibility and weight of evidence to the jury. Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). In other words, the test is whether "no rational juror could have found for the prevailing party." Turner v. Miller, 301 F.3d 599, 602 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Emmel v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Chicago, 95 F.3d 627, 630 (7th Cir. 1996) (the court is limited to assessing whether no rational jury could have found for the plaintiff). A trial court may grant a motion for a new trial where "the clear weight of the evidence is against the jury verdict, the damages are excessive or for some other reason the trial was not fair to the moving party." Scaggs v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 6 F.3d 1290, 1293 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Walden v. Ill. Central Gulf R.R., 975 F.2d 361, 365 (7th Cir. 1992)). However, the Seventh Circuit has cautioned that "only when a verdict is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence should a motion for a new trial challenging the jury's assessment of the facts carry the day." Emmel, 95 F.3d at 629.
A. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Defendants contend that Defendant Officers Kaupert and Norberg had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff Lally and therefore are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on both the federal and state law claims for false arrest and false imprisonment. "[I]f the question of probable cause arises in a damages suit, it is a proper issue for the jury if there is room for a difference of opinion concerning the facts or the reasonable inferences to be drawn from them." Maxwell v. City of Indianapolis, 998 F.2d 431, 434 (7th Cir. 1993). "Accordingly, a conclusion that probable cause existed as a matter of law is appropriate only when no reasonable jury could find that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest * * *." Id. at 434. The question of probable cause can only be taken from the jury "when there is no room for a difference of opinion concerning the facts or the reasonable inferences to be drawn from them." Sheik-Abdi v. McClellan, 37 F.3d 1240, 1247 (7th Cir. 1994). In addressing the evidence, the Court views the evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict reached by the jury. Davis v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 445 F.3d 971, 972 (7th Cir. 2006). If there is any view of the evidence which could support the jury's finding that no probable cause existed, Defendants' motion must be denied. See Costello v. Oppenheimer & Company, Inc., 711 F.2d 1361, 1367 (7th Cir. 1983).
"Probable cause to arrest is an absolute defense to any claim under Section 1983 against police officers for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution." Mustafa v. City of Chicago, 442 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Potts v. City of Lafayette, 121 F.3d 1106, 1113 (7th Cir. 1997)). "This is so even where the defendant officers allegedly acted upon a malicious motive." Id. (citing Simmons v. Pryor, 26 F.3d 650, 654 (7th Cir. 1993)). Police officers have probable cause to arrest an individual when "the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that the suspect had committed" an offense. Kelley v. Myler, 149 F.3d 641, 646 (7th Cir. 1998). The Court evaluates probable cause "not on the facts as an omniscient observer would perceive them, " but rather "as they would have appeared to a reasonable person in the position of the arresting officer-seeing what he saw, hearing what he heard." Id.; see also Woods v. City of Chicago, 234 F.3d 979, 987 (7th Cir. 2000); United States v. Reis, 906 F.2d 284, 289 (7th Cir. 1990) (courts determine the existence of probable cause by applying an objective standard; it is the mindset of the "reasonable officer" and not of the actual arresting officer that matters). The test, an objective one, is whether a reasonable officer would have believed the person had committed a crime. If the test is satisfied "the arrest is lawful even if the belief would have been mistaken." Kelly, 149 F.3d at 646. Thus probable cause has been described as a zone within which reasonable mistakes will be excused. Id.
Defendants argue that the evidence presented at trial established that Defendant Kaupert lawfully directed the arrest of the Plaintiff for obstructing a peace officer and for being wrongfully in a roadway. Tr. Trans. at p. 633. In support of their argument, Defendants cite to Defendant Officers' testimony. For instance, Sergeant Kaupert testified that Plaintiff stepped into the roadway and approached his vehicle. Kaupert further testified that the Plaintiff appeared aggressive to him. Tr. Trans. at p. 624. Kaupert testified that, after Plaintiff stepped into the roadway the first time, he directed him to go back to the sidewalk and Plaintiff complied. Tr. Trans. at pp. 629-620. Other officers testified that Plaintiff was in the roadway, yelling at the officers.
Conversely, Chief Lally testified that after Kaupert arrived at the scene and spoke with Defendant Officers, Kaupert lowered his window on the passenger side of the car and motioned to Plaintiff to come forward to talk. While Defendants claimed at trial, and claim again in their post-trial motion, that Chief Lally was aggressive, yelling, and acting in a manner that prevented Kaupert from communicating with his officers, Chief Lally, whose testimony must be credited for purposes of this motion, denied these assertions and testified that only near the end of the conversation, when Kaupert raised his voice, did Plaintiff raise his voice in response. Chief Lally's testimony is largely confirmed by Officer Ramos, who testified that he could not hear the conversation between Plaintiff and Kaupert-a conversation that Kaupert and Norberg characterize as a shouting match-although Ramos stood 10 feet away.
Without objection from the parties, the Court instructed the jury on obstructing a peace officer as follows:
A person commits the offense of obstructing a peace officer if he knowingly obstructs the performance of any authorized act within the official capacity of one known to him to be a peace officer. There can be no crime of resisting a peace officer unless the person engages in a physical act which imposes an obstacle which may impede, hinder, interrupt, prevent or delay the performance of the officer's duties. The crime of obstructing a peace officer requires more than a mere argument with a peace officer.
Specifically, a person commits obstruction or resistance of a peace officer when, (1) knowing that one is a peace officer, (2) he or she knowingly resists or obstructs (3) the officer's performance of an authorized act. 720 ILCS 5/31-1(a); see People v. Agnew-Downs, 936 N.E.2d 166, 174-76 (2010). The Illinois Supreme Court has held that 720 ILCS 5/31-1(a) does "not proscribe mere argument with a policeman about the validity of an arrest or other police action, but proscribe[s] only some physical act which imposes an obstacle which may impede, hinder, interrupt, prevent[, ] or delay the performance of the officer's duties, such as going limp, forcefully resisting arrest[, ] or physically aiding a third party to avoid arrest." People v. Raby, 240 N.E.2d 595, 599 (1968) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Abbott v. Sangamon Co., Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 719 (7th Cir. 2013); Jones v. Clark, 630 F.3d 677, 684-85 (7th Cir. 2011) (no arguable probable cause to arrest meter reader because there was no physical act); Shipman v. Hamilton, 520 F.3d 775, 779 (7th Cir. 2008) (no probable cause where nurse never physically resisted officer); Williams v. Jaglowski, 269 F.3d 778, 781-83 (7th Cir. 2001) (no arguable probable cause where plaintiff merely refused to give officers her identifying information).
The inquiry for the jury was whether at the time of the arrest a reasonable police officer could have believed that Plaintiff had undertaken (or was about to undertake) a physical act which imposed an obstacle that impeded, hindered, interrupted, prevented, or delayed Defendant Officers' performance of authorized acts. Given the disparity between the officers testimony and Lally's testimony, the jury could have concluded that Defendants did not present sufficient evidence at trial of a "physical act" committed by Plaintiff. Additionally, the jury reasonably could have believed that Plaintiff was not intending to interfere with the officers, but rather that Plaintiff was performing his own duties as Battalion Chief at the time that he conversed with the officers. In fact, there was ample evidence for the jury to conclude that Plaintiff had a duty to request a report or an "RD number, " was in fact requesting one, and, rather than interfering with the officers' duties, was being hindered by the officers in performing his own duties.
Defendants also argue that there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for violating the Chicago Municipal Code by "being wrongfully in a roadway." During trial, Defendants tendered and the Court gave a jury instruction, which read as follows: "A person commits the offense of pedestrians walking on a highway if he knowingly walks along or upon a roadway where an adjacent sidewalk is provided and its use is practicable." Defendants maintain that Plaintiff violated this ordinance and therefore Defendants had probable cause to arrest him. Plaintiff contends that the evidence presented at trial supports a reasonable inference that Plaintiff, in concert with his duties as Battalion Chief at the scene of a fire, was appropriately requesting an "RD" number.
A jury could reasonably conclude that this ordinance was not violated by Plaintiff. First, a reasonable inference from the evidence is that Plaintiff never entered the roadway, but rather stepped into a parking space in order to communicate with Sgt. Kaupert, who never left his vehicle. No evidence was presented at trial that there was "an adjacent sidewalk" that would have provided a path for Plaintiff to walk from the parkway to the passenger side window of Kaupert's vehicle. The jury reasonably could have concluded that the ordinance prohibits a person from walking "along" a roadway rather than on the adjacent sidewalk (or from traveling on foot on a highway or roadway when ...