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Morgan v. City of Chicago

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

September 18, 2014

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.



Before the Court is Plaintiff Clifton Morgan's Motion for New Trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.


On May 2, 2011, Defendants Duane De Vries, Christian Tsoukalas, and Anthony Schultz, three City of Chicago Police Officers, arrested Plaintiff Clifton Morgan ("Plaintiff") on the 7700 block of South Greenwood in Chicago. Plaintiff was charged with possession of crack cocaine and resisting arrest. The Circuit Court of Cook County found that the officers arrested Plaintiff without probable cause and dismissed the charges. Following the dismissal, Plaintiff initiated this civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the City of Chicago (collectively, "Defendants") for multiple violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, as well as state law claims associated with his arrest. The matter proceeded to trial on five claims: (1) Defendants unlawfully stopped Plaintiff; (2) Defendants falsely arrested Plaintiff; (3) Defendants used excessive force against Plaintiff; (4) Defendants conspired against Plaintiff; and (5) Defendants maliciously prosecuted Plaintiff. On January 22, 2014, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants on all claims.


A. Standard of Decision

When considering a motion for new trial, "federal law requires a district court to determine whether the verdict is against the weight of the evidence... the damages are excessive, or... for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the [moving party].'" Kapelanski v. Johnson , 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting EEOC v. Century Broad. Corp. , 957 F.2d 1446, 1460 (7th Cir. 1992)). The Court views the evidence "in the light most favorable to the prevailing party" at trial. Id . (citing Carter v. Moore, 165 F.3d 1071, 1079 (7th Cir. 1998)). The moving party bears a heavy burden because "[a] 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 v. Tuleja , 546 F.3d 423, 427 (7th Cir. 2008).

B. Motion for a New Trial

Plaintiff moves for a new trial for two reasons. First, Plaintiff argues that Defendants' peremptory challenges to Jurors Seven and Nine were racially-motivated and violated Plaintiff's constitutional right to equal protection. Second, Plaintiff argues that cumulative procedural and substantive errors deprived him of a fair trial.

1. Plaintiffs Batson claim

As to Plaintiff's first argument, it is well established that "[t]he use of a peremptory strike to remove a potential juror solely because of his or her race violates the Equal Protection Clause." United States v. Taylor , 636 F.3d 901, 904 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 91 (1986)); see also Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co. , 500 U.S. 614, 631 (1991) (applying Batson to civil proceedings). In evaluating a claim that aparty removed a potential juror solely because of race, the Court conducts the familiar three-step inquiry derived in Batson. Harris v. Hardy , 680 F.3d 942, 949 (7th Cir. 2012); Taylor , 636 F.3d at 904-05. First, the movant must make a prima facie case of race discrimination. Hardy , 680 F.3d at 949. If this showing is made, the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the peremptory strike to provide a race-neutral explanation for the strike. Id . Third, the Court decides whether the movant has proved purposeful discrimination. Id.

A prima facie case of discrimination may exist when a party "uses peremptory challenges to eliminate all, or nearly all members of a particular race." Id. at 950 (citing United States v. Stephens , 421 F.3d 503, 512 (7th Cir. 2005). A statistical analysis of the venire may be used to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Miller-El v. Dretke , 545 U.S. 231, 241 (2005) (striking ninety-one percent of eligible African American jurors from the venire established a prima facie case of discrimination); Hooper y. Ryan, 729 F.3d 782, 784 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that a prima facie case of discrimination existed when the prosecutor removed all seven African American jurors from the venire using two challenges for cause and five peremptory strikes); Hardy , 680 F.3d at 951 (describing the State's exclusion of at least seventy-one percent of African Americans from the jury as a staggering showing of discrimination). Here, Defendants removed Jurors Seven and Nine from the venire with their peremptory strikes, equating to fifty percent or two of the four potential African American jurors. Jurors Six and Nineteen were African American and were not removed from the venire. While fifty percent is not all or nearly all, "the burden at the prima facie stage is low, requiring only circumstances raising a suspicion that discrimination occurred." Stephens , 421 F.3d at 512. Plaintiff meets this low burden, so the Court continues the Batson analysis to steps two and three.

"At the second step, nearly any race-neutral reason will suffice, even those that are arbitrary, irrational, or silly." United States v. Rutledge , 648 F.3d 555, 559 (7th Cir. 2011). However, an absence of any explanation may warrant an additional evidentiary hearing. Id . Here, because the underlying incident occurred on the 7700 block of South Greenwood, Defendants' counsel challenged Juror Seven for cause, explaining that "[s]he has friends in the area" and "the case should be decided by people who have no contact with a particular area or know any of the people who may be involved in the particular case." Transcript of Proceedings at vol. 1, p. 50, Morgan v. City of Chi., No. 11-927 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 2014). With regard to Juror Nine, Defendants' counsel similarly stated, "she is familiar with the area here, that she has friends and knows people within that area. I think this case should be decided by people that have no familiarity with the area or may have contacts in any way." Id. at vol. 1, p. 49. Defendants' reason for their strikes, the jurors' familiarity with the neighborhood and its residents, was race-neutral. No evidentiary hearing is necessary.

The third step of Batson "requires the district court to make a finding of fact regarding the [proponent's] credibility after the [proponent of the peremptory strike] has offered arace-neutral reason for the strike." Rutledge , 648 F.3d at 555-56. Credibility determinations can be made in many ways, and the Court is well positioned to make this determination. Id. at 558. Here, the Court denied the challenges for cause because there was no indication that the two jurors knew the particular people involved in the case. After Defendants exercised their peremptory strikes on Jurors Seven and Nine, Plaintiff raised a Batson challenge. The Court found that the jurors' "familiarity with the neighborhood and having friends there" was "a sufficient showing of a ...

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