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Ratliff v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

July 8, 2013

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court are Defendants' Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law [127], Defendants' Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial or remittitur and renewed motion for direct verdict [137], and Plaintiff's motion for partial judgment as a matter of law [131]. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies all three motions [127, 137, 131]. Plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees and costs will be considered under separate order.

I. Background

On November 29, 2012, following a four-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict against Defendants in this matter, and the following day the Court entered judgment on the verdict. As to Defendant Officer James Carroll, a verdict in favor of Plaintiff was entered on the claims of false arrest, illegal search and seizure, and malicious prosecution. As to Defendant Officer Brian Murphy, a judgment on the jury verdict was entered on the claims of false arrest and illegal search and seizure. The jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $30, 000, punitive damages against Defendant Officer Carroll in the amount of $15, 000.75, and punitive damages against Defendant Officer Murphy in the amount of $5, 000.

Defendants have moved for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, and remittitur. Plaintiff contends that Defendants have failed to make the threshold showing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law or a new trial because Defendants' motion fails to refer to the trial record. According to Plaintiff, Defendants cannot meet their initial burden to show that the jury lacked a sufficient evidentiary basis, that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, that the damages were excessive, or that the trial was somehow unfair because Defendants have not cited or identified any of the evidence or proceedings from the trial.

Although Plaintiff pointed out Defendants' failure to cite to the record in his response brief, Defendants did not request leave to supplement their initial motion (a request that the Court routinely grants). Even more startling, Defendants did not file a reply brief to address the plethora of legal authority cited in Plaintiff's response, despite being given leave to do so. Perhaps Defendants' decision is not that surprising, given the overwhelming evidence presented at trial of Defendants' unconstitutional conduct. But such tactics-which have occasioned lengthy delays in resolving the post-trial matters in this case-have nonetheless frustrated the legal process. Although the Court declines to wholly deny Defendants' motions, to the extent that citation to the record would be necessary to support a position, Defendants' failure to cite to the trial record or the pretrial conference record will not be excused. See, e.g., Spina v. Forest Preserve Dist. of Cook County, 207 F.Supp.2d 764, 770 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (criticizing party for failing to cite transcript in motion for a new trial); Parr v. Nicholls State University, 2012 WL 1032905, *3 (E.D. La. 2012) ("without the benefit of citation to the trial transcript, the Court has no basis for determining that any error occurred."); Warren v. Thompson, 224 F.R.D. 236, 239-240 fn. 7 (D.D.C. 2004) (criticizing party for failing to reference trial transcripts and finding "no basis for review" of the party's arguments).

II. Legal Standards

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.

III. Challenges to the Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendants argue seven independent bases for relief under Rule 50, contending that the Court erred by failing to enter judgment in Defendants' favor on (1) the unlawful search claim against both Defendants; (2) the claim of unlawful search against Plaintiff's person; (3) the claim of unlawful seizure of Plaintiff's vehicle; (4) the doctrine of community caretaking; (5) the false arrest claim; (6) the malicious prosecution claim; and (7) the claim for punitive damages. Plaintiff has responded to all of Defendants' arguments, and, despite being given leave to do so, Defendants have not replied.

A. The Search of Plaintiff's Vehicle

Defendants argue that Defendant Murphy's search of the vehicle for Plaintiff's wallet was reasonable and that Defendant Carroll's entry into the vehicle to move it off private property into a legal parking space was reasonable as a matter of law. Defendants do not cite any evidence or trial testimony in support of their argument.

"[S]earches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment - subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.'" Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338 (2009) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967)). Police may lawfully "search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest [without a warrant] only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search" ( Gant, 556 U.S. at 343), or when, "it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.'" Id. (quoting Thornton v. United States, 541 U.S. 615 (2004)). The Gant Court specifically rejected the notion that the Fourth Amendment authorizes a vehicle search incident to every recent occupant's arrest. Gant, 556 U.S. at 343.

First, evidence relevant to Plaintiff's alleged "assault" could not be found in the vehicle. By definition, the only means by which Plaintiff could have assaulted Defendants, or caused a reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm, was with the air hose in his hand at the time of the alleged threat. No evidence of assault could be found in the vehicle, as the objective nature of the crime of assault would require an analysis of what the officers knew at the time of the alleged assault. Anything found inside the car would not support the charge.

Perhaps anticipating the foregoing analysis, Defendants primarily argue that legitimate government interests in properly identifying persons taken into custody or in securing an arrestee's property outweigh the minimal privacy invasion occasioned by Defendants' searches in this case. See, e.g., U.S. v. Kelly, 267 F.Supp.2d 5, 14 (D.D.C. 2003) (holding that an officer's seizure of a firearm during the course of lawful traffic stop was reasonable on the basis of the plain view doctrine). Yet "[t]o qualify for the [search incident to arrest] exception * * * the arrest must be lawful * * *." United States v. Wesley, 292 F.3d 541, 545 (D.C. Cir. 2002); see also Ochana v. Flores, 347 F.3d 266, 270 (7th Cir. 2003) ("Generally, it is legal to search a vehicle incident to a lawful custodial arrest * * *.") (emphasis added). Defendants' argument fails to analyze the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff and also fails to account for the jury's conclusion that the arrest of Plaintiff was unlawful. Both Plaintiff and the surveillance video contradicted Defendants' self-serving narratives about the legality of Plaintiff's arrest. The jury clearly disbelieved Defendants as to the validity of the arrest. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, there were no circumstances that justified either Plaintiff's arrest or the search of Plaintiff's vehicle; rather, the evidence overwhelming points to the conclusion that Defendants were simply harassing ...

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