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Dobrzeniecki v. Vela-Sailsbery

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

October 6, 2014



JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, District Judge.

On November 9, 2009, Peter Dobrzeniecki ("Peter"), the adult son of plaintiff Susan Dobrzeniecki ("Susan"), was shot in the face, setting in motion a series of events that included the involuntary commitment of Susan and a warrantless search of the Dobrzenieckis' Sauk Village, Illinois home by the police. On November 8, 2011, Susan and her now-deceased husband, Thomas Dobrzeniecki, Sr. ("Thomas"), filed this lawsuit against several Sauk Village police officers, as well as St. James Hospital and two of its emergency room doctors.[1]

During the course of this litigation, Susan has amended her complaint four times. (Dkt. Nos. 5, 30, 99, 178.) Susan's fourth amended complaint ("Fourth Amended Complaint") (Dkt. No. 178 ("Am. Compl.")) contains six counts: two claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sauk Village Acting Chief of Police Rebecca Vela-Sailsbery ("Vela-Sailsbery")[2] for illegal seizure of Susan's person (Count I) and her purse and keys (Count II); a § 1983 claim against Vela-Sailsbery and three other Sauk Village police officers-Timothy Holevis ("Holevis"), Robert Grossman ("Grossman"), and Christopher Mueller ("Mueller") (collectively, the "Sauk Village Defendants")-for illegal entry into and search of the Dobrzenieckis' home (Count III); and claims for medical malpractice (Count VI), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VII), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count VIII) against Dr. Heidi Brown ("Dr. Brown") and St. James Hospital ("St. James") (collectively, the "Hospital Defendants").[3] The Sauk Village Defendants and the Hospital Defendants have moved separately for summary judgment on all of Susan's claims. (Dkt. Nos. 168, 171, 207.) For the following reasons, the Sauk Village Defendants' motion is denied, and the Hospital Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.


In November 2009, Susan, Thomas, and their son Peter lived together in Sauk Village, Illinois. (Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 3.) Susan remains a Sauk Village resident as well as a Sauk Village employee, where she has worked as a building inspector or an administrative clerk since 2003, with the exception of a six-month period in 2009. (Dkt. No. 178 ¶ 11.) Until his death in 2013, Thomas suffered from multiple sclerosis. (Dkt. No. 244 ¶ 24.) Susan contends that in November 2009, Thomas was not physically capable of walking without assistance of a family member or a rollater, nor was he capable of walking downstairs. ( Id. ) The Sauk Village Defendants dispute Thomas's physical limitations, (Dkt. No. 244 ¶ 24), notwithstanding the fact that Vela-Sailsbery has previously stated on a sworn document that Thomas was "bed ridden" in November 2009 (Dkt. No. 213 at 3).

I. Peter's Shooting

Early on the morning of November 9, 2009, Susan's son Peter was shot in the face in Chicago Heights, Illinois. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 2.) At about 10:30 a.m., in the parking lot outside Susan's place of work, Vela-Sailsbery told Susan that her son had been shot, ( id. ¶ 3), after which Susan became upset and started crying because she thought that her son might be dead or dying ( id. ¶ 4). Susan said something to the effect of "I'm a good person. Why does this keep happening to me? If he dies, I want to die." ( Id. ¶ 5.) Sherry Jasinski ("Jasinski"), Susan's supervisor and best friend, drove Susan to St. James to see her son. ( Id. ¶¶ 6-7.)

After telling Susan that Peter had been shot, Vela-Sailsbery spoke with Sauk Village Chief of Staff Burnetta Hill-Corley ("Hill-Corley") in the Sauk Village administrative building. ( Id. ¶ 8.) According to her testimony, Vela-Sailsbery then left the administrative building to go to lunch with her assistant, Lisa Gibbons ("Gibbons"). (Dkt. No. 212 at 12:5-14-6.) Sometime before Vela-Sailsbery and Gibbons ate lunch, however, Vela-Sailsbery received a call on her cell phone from Hill-Corley directing her to come to St. James. ( Id. at 14:23-24.) Susan disputes Vela-Sailsbery's reason for coming to St. James, contending that Vela-Sailsbery did so because she suspected Susan might be involved in the shooting of her son. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 9.)

Upon arriving at St. James, Vela-Sailsbery told a nurse that Susan had said that she "just wanted to die." (Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 19.) The parties dispute whether Vela-Sailsbery also informed the nurse of the context-specifically, that Susan made her comments immediately after Vela-Sailsbery informed her that Peter had been shot. (Dkt. No. 249 ¶ 19.) After speaking with the nurse, Vela-Sailsbery filled out a petition ("Petition") (Dkt. No. 213 ("Pet.")) to commit Susan involuntarily. (Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 20.) Vela-Sailsbery states that she decided to initiate the commitment process because of the "dire gravity of the scene [at St. James], " and Vela-Sailsbery's desire "to seek attention for [her] colleague."[4] (Dkt. No. 208 at 8.) Susan disputes that Vela-Sailsbery's actions arose out of her personal concern for Susan's well-being. Instead, Susan asserts that Vela-Sailsbery's actions were in retaliation for Susan's and the Dobrzenieckis' long-simmering disputes with the Sauk Village police department and Vela-Sailsbery's personal suspicion that Susan was involved in the shooting of her own son.[5]

II. The Petition

Susan asserts that in completing the Petition, Vela-Sailsbery made a number of false statements that led to Susan being committed against her will. First, Vela-Sailsbery checked boxes on the Petition stating (1) Susan was mentally retarded, (2) Vela-Sailsbery had a legal interest in the matter, and (3) Vela-Sailsbery had a financial interest in the matter. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 13.) The nurse later scratched out Vela-Sailsbery's answers and wrote "Error" on the erroneously completed sections of the Petition. ( Id. ) Second, the Petition contains a section to list the names and addresses of Susan's spouse, parent, guardian, substitute decision-maker, close relative, or friend. (Pet. at 4.) In the absence of listing any names, the petitioner must certify that he or she conducted a diligent inquiry to identify and locate a spouse, parent, guardian, substitute decision-maker, close relative, or friend. ( Id. ) Vela-Sailsbery failed to conduct any inquiry and instead listed herself, despite the fact that (1) on the same page, she described herself as having "no relationship" with Susan, ( id. ), and (2) Susan's "best friend" Jasinski was also at St. James at the time. Third, Vela-Sailsbery certified that she made a good faith attempt to determine whether Susan had executed a power of attorney for health care. ( Id. at 4.) Susan contends that Vela-Sailsbery made no such inquiry. (Dkt. No. 248 at 16.) Fourth, Vela-Sailsbery stated on the Petition that Susan said "I just want to die, I do, I just want to die." (Pet. at 3.) Susan asserts that Vela-Sailsbery intentionally omitted the context-Susan had just learned that her son had been shot-and misrepresented Susan's statement, which was actually "If he dies, I want to die." (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 17.)

III. Susan's Seclusion

After Vela-Sailsbery completed the Petition, Susan agreed to speak with a St. James nurse, who took Susan to a St. James "seclusion" room. (Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 23.) Another St. James nurse "triaged" Susan and noted, according to the Petition, that Susan had "made comments [that] she wants to die, " and was "non-compliant with psych meds." ( Id. ¶ 24.)

The parties agree that Vela-Sailsbery entered the seclusion room with a St. James nurse, who asked Susan to take off her clothes and put on a robe. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 18; Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 26.) The parties appear to dispute that Susan complied, but stated that she first wanted to give her purse to Jasinski, her best friend, who was waiting in the hall outside the seclusion room. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 18.) Susan asserts that Vela-Sailsbery agreed to give Susan's purse to Jasinski and that Susan then gave her purse to Vela-Sailsbery based on that assurance. ( Id. ) Vela-Sailsbery contends that "Sailsbery was given the purse by [Susan]. [Susan]'s purse was taken by hospital staff." (Dkt. No. 244 ¶ 18.)

Vela-Sailsbery upon leaving the seclusion room did not, however, give Susan's purse to Jasinski. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 19.) Vela-Sailsbery contends that she determined that because Susan was being admitted to St. James, her purse was "property turned over to me, " which Vela-Sailsbery decided to keep based on "officer discretion." (Dkt. No. 212 at 8:13-23.) Instead of giving Susan's purse to Jasinski, Vela-Sailsbery took Susan's purse back to Sauk Village Hall and placed it in a filing cabinet. (Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 28.)

IV. Warrantless Search of Dobrzeniecki Family Home by Sauk Village Police

At approximately 3:00 p.m. on November 9, 2009, Detective Grossman and two of his fellow Sauk Village police officers-Mueller and Holevis-went to the Dobrzenieckis' home in Sauk Village, purportedly to conduct a "wellness check" on Thomas (Dkt. No. 209 ¶¶ 43-45; Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 22.) The officers claim that Thomas walked down the stairs to greet them at the door and invited them in, ( id. ¶ 46-47), while Susan asserts that the officers' version of events is impossible because Thomas was not physically capable of walking down stairs. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 24.) Instead, Susan claims that the officers entered her home using keys from her seized purse. (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 22.) Susan's and Thomas's other son, Tom Dobrzeniecki, Jr. ("Tom Jr."), arrived as the officers were leaving and observed Grossman standing over Susan's car with her keys in his hand. ( Id. ¶ 26.)

Although the officers' stated basis for entering the Dobrzenieckis' home was to perform a "wellness check" on Thomas, they acknowledge searching for a firearm once they were inside the home. (Dkt. No. 209 ¶ 50.) The extent of the officers' search is disputed. The officers claim they looked only for a firearm lying out in the open, ( id. ), while Tom Jr. testified that every drawer in Susan's bedroom was tossed and open and that "stuff [was] [lying] all over the place." (Dkt. No. 248 ¶ 25.)

V. Susan's Medical Treatment at St. James

From about 2:15 to approximately 2:42 p.m. on November 9, 2009, Dr. Brown examined Susan in the seclusion room, (Dkt. No. 201 ¶ 4), and ultimately ordered that Susan be held in seclusion for her safety because she presented an ...

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