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Cefalu v. Rocuskie

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

April 17, 2014



MICHAEL T. MASON, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is plaintiff Rosalia Cefalu's ("plaintiff" or "Cefalu") post-trial motion [86]. In this case, plaintiff brought a claim for false arrest against two police officers, James Rocuskie and James Horn ("defendants"). The case was tried before a jury on November 19 and 20, 2013. The jury found in favor of both defendants. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's post-trial motion is denied.


Shortly after midnight, on April 15, 2011, Cefalu was a passenger in a black Jeep traveling in the Village of Glenview, Illinois. At 12:03 am, Officer Rocuskie pulled up behind the Jeep at a red light. After he noticed that the Jeep had expired license plates, Officer Rocuskie initiated a traffic stop. Once the Jeep was pulled over, the driver of the vehicle, Ron Allen (who was Cefalu's boyfriend at the time) provided Officer Rocuskie with two different vehicle registrations, both of which Officer Rocuskie noted were unusual. When Officer Rocuskie called this information in, he was informed that the vehicle was reported stolen. Officer Rocuskie then placed Allen under arrest and Officer Horn, who had arrived at the scene, placed Cefalu under arrest. Officer Horn then transported Cefalu to the police station where she was detained. The Jeep was towed to the police station and drugs were found in the trunk. Felony drug charges were subsequently brought against both Cefalu and Allen. These charges were later dropped against Cefalu. No charges were brought against either individual in connection with the stolen vehicle, although the vehicle was returned to the dealership in Iowa from which it had been stolen.

Cefalu initially filed a complaint against defendants alleging false arrest, unlawful search and seizure, and malicious prosecution. Prior to trial, however, she dropped her claims for unlawful search and seizure and malicious prosecution, and the sole issue for the jury at trial was her false arrest claim. After deliberating for approximately 1.5 hours, the jury reached a verdict in favor of both defendants.

Currently pending before the Court is plaintiff's motion for a new trial. Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to a new trial under Rules 59(a) and 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We address each of plaintiff's arguments below.

II. Plaintiff's Rule 59(a) Motion for A New Trial

Under Rule 59(a), in deciding whether to grant a new trial, we must determine whether "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, ... or if for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the moving party." Willis v. Lepine, 687 F.3d 826, 836 (7th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to a new trial under Rule 59(a) because: 1) the Court erred in not properly instructing the jury; 2) the Court erred in allowing Officer Rocuskie to testify about certain topics; 3) the Court erred in prohibiting plaintiff from using newspaper articles at trial; 4) evidentiary rulings made during the trial amount to cumulative error; and 5) the jury's verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Before we begin our analysis, we note that although Rule 59(a) permits the Court to grant a new trial, as a practical matter, "a new trial should be granted only when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks [the Court's] conscience.'" Warfield v. City of Chicago, 679 F.Supp.2d 876, 882 (N.D. Ill. 2010) ( quoting Davis v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 445 F.3d 971, 979 (7th Cir. 2006)). Indeed, "[g]ranting a new trial is not something to be done lightly." Rasic v. City of Northlake, No. 08 C 104, 2010 WL 3365918, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 24, 2010). Where a jury has reached a verdict, that verdict "will be set aside as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury' could have rendered the verdict." Moore ex rel. Estate of Grady v. Tuelja, 546 F.3d 423, 427 (7th Cir. 2008) ( citing King v. Harrington, 447 F.3d 531, 534 (7th Cir. 2006)).

In addition, "[t]he party seeking a new trial based on alleged legal errors bears a heavy burden.'" Rasic, 2010 WL 3365918, at *6 ( quoting Alverio v. Sam's Warehouse Club, Inc., 253 F.3d 933, 939 (7th Cir. 2001)). "The party first must show an abuse of discretion in the Court's rulings, which alone is a steep hill to climb." Id. She must then "show that any alleged errors were substantial enough to deny [her] a fair trial, which requires proof that a significant chance exists that they affected the outcome of the trial." Rasic, 2010 WL 3365918, at *6 (internal quotations omitted).

A. The Court Did Not Err In Denying Plaintiff's Request for Additional Jury Instructions

Plaintiff first argues that this Court erred by refusing to include two jury instructions she proposed on the issue of probable cause. She asked the Court to include an instruction outlining a "particularity requirement" for probable cause. She also asked the Court to include an instruction describing the elements for possession of a stolen vehicle under the Illinois criminal code.

"On a motion for a new trial based on improper instructions to the jury, we ask whether the instructions, when considered in their entirety and not in isolation, were sufficient to inform the jury of the applicable law." Alcala v. Emhart Indus. Inc., 495 F.3d 360, 363 (7th Cir. 2007). To receive a new trial on this ground, the movant must demonstrate "both that the instructions did not adequately state the law and that the error was prejudicial to [her] because the jury was likely to be confused or misled." U.S. v. White, 443 F.3d 582, 587-88 (7th Cir. 2006) ( citing Boyd v. Illinois State Police, 384 F.3d 888, 894 (7th Cir. 2004)). When assessing whether prejudice has resulted, the Court must consider the instructions as a whole, along with all the evidence and arguments in the case, and then decide whether the jury was misinformed about the applicable law. Id.

1. Jury Instruction on the Particularity Requirement For Probable Cause

In her proposed jury instructions, plaintiff submitted the following instruction ("Plaintiff's Proposed No. 6") to the Court, outlining a ...

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