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Wells v. Coker

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division

May 7, 2014

JAMES WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF COKER, in his Individual Capacity and CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, A Municipal Corporation, Defendants.

OPINION

COLIN S. BRUCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, James Wells, filed his Complaint (#1) on December 30, 2008, seeking compensatory and punitive damages pursuant to a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim filed against Defendants, Jeff Coker and the City of Springfield. The case is currently before this court on Defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment (#194). This court has carefully reviewed the arguments of the parties and the documents they filed. For the following reasons, Defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment (#194) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

Just prior to midnight on December 31, 2007, Plaintiff woke up from a nap and retrieved two handguns. He then stepped onto his back porch, looked around to ensure no one else was present, and shot his Colt 9 millimeter in the air in celebration of the New Year. The weapon was pointed at an approximate 45 degree angle from ground level. Plaintiff fired the gun five or six times.

As Plaintiff was shooting his weapon into the air, police officers, including Defendant Jeff Coker, approached his yard. The officers were on patrol in the area looking for individuals with guns celebrating the New Year. Coker discharged his service weapon three times at Plaintiff. Plaintiff was shot multiple times and taken to St. John's Hospital. As a result of the incident, Plaintiff pled guilty to Reckless Conduct. Plaintiff also brought the instant suit against Defendants, alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

While Plaintiff and Defendants agree to the above facts, there are a number of facts that they disagree on. Defendants claim that Coker, who was approximately 20 feet from Plaintiff, announced his presence by yelling, "Springfield Police. Drop the gun." Defendants then claim that Plaintiff turned towards Coker, pointing the gun in his direction. It was not until the gun was pointed at Coker that he fired his weapon at Plaintiff. On the other hand, Plaintiff contends that Coker shot him without first announcing his presence. Further, Plaintiff claims that he never turned his body or pointed his gun in the direction of Coker or any other police officer.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 20, 2011, Defendants filed their first motion for Summary Judgment (#153). U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough granted Defendants' motion on September 20, 2011 (#159). Judge Myerscough reasoned that Defendants' were entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff was judicially estopped from denying that he had pointed a gun at Coker. The court's reasoning was based on the fact that Plaintiff had plead guilty to a charge that included the statement that he had pointed the gun in Coker's direction. On Appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court after finding that neither judicial estoppel nor other doctrines of preclusion apply to the facts of the case. Wells v. Coker, 707 F.3d 756 (7th Cir. 2013). Importantly, the Seventh Circuit's opinion did not address whether summary judgment was warranted for reasons other than those announced in Judge Myerscough's opinion.

SECOND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Defendants filed their Second Motion for Summary Judgment (#194) on February 25, 2014. In it, Defendants claim that Defendant Coker is entitled to summary judgment because the undisputed facts show that he is protected by qualified immunity and that he is immune from liability pursuant to the Illinois Tort Immunity Act. It further claims that Defendant City of Springfield is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to establish a causal link between a policy, custom, or practice adopted and promulgated by the City and the alleged constitutional deprivation. Plaintiff filed his response (#195) on March 27, 2014, arguing that Defendants have failed to meet their burden of establishing that there are no disputed material facts at issue in this case. Defendants filed a Reply (#196) on April 9, 2014. The motion is fully briefed and ready to be ruled upon.

ANALYSIS

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a district court "has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial." Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). In making this determination, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Gordon v. FedEx Freight, Inc., 674 F.3d 769, 772 (7th Cir. 2012). To show that there is a "genuine" issue and therefore successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Beyrer, 722 F.3d 939, 951 (7th Cir. 2013), quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. ...


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