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Rouei v. Village of Skokie

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

July 28, 2014

DAVOUD ROUEI, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF SKOKIE and JEFFREY GROBERSKI, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Dovoud Rouei, Plaintiff: Scott T. Kamin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Scott T. Kamin, Chicago, IL; Phillip Aaron Brigham, Law Office Of Phillip Brigham, LLC, Chicago, IL.

For Village of Skokie, Defendant: Henry E. Mueller, LEAD ATTORNEY, Corporation Counsel Office, Village of Skokie, Skokie, IL; Debra Ann Harvey, DeAno & Scarry, LLC, Chicago, IL.

For Officer Groberski, Defendant: Laura Lee Scarry, LEAD ATTORNEY, Debra Ann Harvey, Emily Erin Schnidt, Howard P. Levine, James L. DeAno, DeAno & Scarry, LLC, Chicago, IL.

Page 768

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, United States District Judge.

Davoud Rouei [1] has sued Skokie police officer Jeffrey Groberski pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Rouei also asserts his equal protection claim against the Village of Skokie, and he makes a claim against Skokie for indemnification of Groberski, pursuant to 745 ILCS 10/9-102. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Rouei's claims.

Background

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court " constru[es] all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." CTL ex rel. Trebatoski v. Ashland Sch. Dist., 743 F.3d 524, 528 (7th Cir. 2001).

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Rouei is an Iranian-American. On August 18, 2010, at approximately 7 p.m., Groberski conducted a traffic stop of Rouei's vehicle. The stop lasted approximately thirty minutes. Groberski says that he stopped Rouei because it appeared that Rouei was driving without a seatbelt in violation of Illinois law. Groberski bases this on what he says he could see from the side of Rouei's car. Groberski also says that Rouei made a motion as Groberski approached the car, which he says suggested that Rouei was putting on his seatbelt.

Rouei disputes Groberski's contention that he had any basis to believe that he was not wearing a seatbelt. Rouei argues that Groberski could not have seen whether he was wearing his seatbelt, as Groberski was behind Rouei's car, and the car's windows were tinted. Rouei also contends that other evidence shows that he actually was wearing a seatbelt and that Groberski had no legitimate basis to stop him. Finally, Rouei contends that Groberski was motivated by racial or ethnic bias and that Skokie police officers routinely stop drivers on the basis of racial animus.

The traffic stop and its aftermath were recorded both by a camera in Groberski's police car and by a video camera that Rouei had installed inside his car after what he contends was previous harassment by Skokie police officers. The videos, which also include audio recordings of the events, reflect that after approaching Rouei's car, Groberski repeatedly asked him for his driver's license and proof of insurance. Rouei did not respond directly and did not provide these items; rather, he repeatedly asked why Groberski had stopped him, said Groberski had no legitimate basis for the stop, and asked Groberski to call his supervisor to the scene. Groberski would not say why he had stopped Rouei and told Rouei that he would tell him this only after Rouei provided his license and proof of insurance. Rouei became increasingly agitated as the encounter continued.

After fifteen minutes or more passed and another officer arrived on the scene, Groberski ordered Rouei out of his car, saying that he was going to place Rouei under arrest for not " following a lawful order" to produce his license and proof of insurance. Rouei complied, and Groberski handcuffed Rouei and placed him under arrest. Groberski told Rouei, " " Okay, step out of the vehicle" Rouei replied, " Fine, fine, I have my seat--," and Groberski or the other officer said, " Undo your seatbelt and step out." Rouei complied, saying " I'm coming out, I'm coming out."

Once Rouei had gotten out of the car, Groberski handcuffed Rouei and placed him under arrest. Rouei was transported to the police station, where Groberski issued him citations for failing to wear a seatbelt, refusing to provide his license on demand, and refusing to provide proof of insurance on demand. Pl.'s Ex. A at C005-C006. In addition, Groberski signed a misdemeanor complaint charging Rouei with obstructing a police officer. Defs.' Ex. I at C004.

Rouei says that at the station, Groberski stated he had run Rouei's license plate prior to the traffic stop, see Pl.'s Ex. C ¶ 10, and thus, Rouei says, Groberski had learned Rouei's Iranian name at that time. Rouei also claims that Groberski made several racially offensive comments at the station, including that Rouei " wasn't hairy like a Middle Eastern" while he was searching him; " that nigger is going to get screwed," in reference to a black male being escorted out in handcuffs; and that Rouei was a " terrorist." Id. ¶ ¶ 7, 9, 11.

After a bench trial, Rouei was found guilty of obstructing a police officer and

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not guilty of failing to wear a seatbelt and failing to produce his driver's license. The citation for failing to provide proof of insurance was dismissed before trial.

The trial judge's guilty finding on the obstruction charge was reversed on appeal on July 23, 2013. Pl.'s Ex. E. The Court summarizes the appellate court's ruling not because it is necessarily admissible in evidence (the Court need not decide that issue at this point), but for purposes of background and context. The appellate court, which had reviewed the video evidence, ruled that " the record reveals with certainty that [Rouei] was wearing his seatbelt at the time [Groberski] approached the vehicle and communicated with him." Id. at 3. The court said that once Groberski realized this, " any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity dissipated," and he should have terminated the stop. Id. The court concluded that Groberski " impermissibly prolonged the stop" by asking Rouei for his license and insurance and failing to tell Rouei the reason for the stop. Id. at 3-4. For this reason, the court concluded, the request was unauthorized and could not be the basis for a conviction for obstructing a police officer. Id. at 4. The court also noted that based on Rouei's video recording, at no point during the stop did Rouei pull his seatbelt over his shoulder; " [i]n fact, the video shows that [Rouei] put on his seatbelt at the beginning of his ride in the vehicle." Id.

Rouei filed this suit in August 2012. As indicated earlier, defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Skokie on Rouei's section 1983 claim against the village but otherwise denies defendants' motion.

Discussion

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 ...


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