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Colbert v. Willingham

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

May 26, 2015

CHRISTOPHER COLBERT, et ano., Plaintiffs,
RUSSELL WILLINGHAM, et al., Defendants.


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court are the IDOC Defendants' motion for summary judgment [65], the City of Chicago Defendants' motion for summary judgment [71], and Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment [77]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motions [65, 71] and denies Plaintiffs' motion [77].

I. Background

The Court takes the relevant facts from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements, construing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[1] Here, the identity of the nonmoving party depends on whose motion the Court is considering.

A. Undisputed Facts

In March 2011, Plaintiff Jai Crutcher was released from prison and put on Mandatory Supervised Release ( i.e., parole). While on parole, Mr. Crutcher-outfitted with an electronic tracking device-stayed at the home (or, more accurately, in the basement) of Plaintiff Christopher Colbert, who lived in the West Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's south side. As part of his supervised release, Mr. Crutcher was required to "consent to a search of [his] person, property, or residence." Mr. Crutcher also agreed that he "w[ould] not use or knowingly have under [his] control or in [his] residence any firearms, ammunition, or explosive devices."

Shortly after Mr. Crutcher was released on parole, Defendant Officer Willingham-a Chicago Police Officer-received information from a cooperating individual who claimed to have seen Mr. Crutcher in Mr. Colbert's West Englewood home ( i.e., Mr. Crutcher's then-current residence) with two firearms: a 12-gauge shotgun and a 40-caliber handgun.[2] Officer Willingham ran a name check on Mr. Crutcher, which revealed that he was on parole for the use of a firearm. Based on this information, Officer Willingham contacted Parole Officer Jack Tweedle, and the two decided to conduct a parole check of Mr. Crutcher's residence to ensure that he was in compliance with the terms of his supervised release.

At 6:30 a.m. on March 31, 2011-less than one month after Mr. Crutcher was released from prison-no fewer than 10 agents (some police officers, some parole officers) arrived at Mr. Colbert's home to conduct a compliance check ( i.e., to determine whether Mr. Crutcher was in compliance with the terms of his supervised release). Among this group were the four individually named Defendants, including Officer Willingham and three agents employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"): Jack Tweedle, Louis Hopkins, and Darryl Johnson. Mr. Crutcher was asleep in the basement when he heard a knock at the door. Mr. Crutcher looked outside and saw a number of police officers outside of the house. He did not open the door immediately; rather, it took several minutes for Mr. Crutcher to let the officers in. The officers informed Mr. Crutcher that they were there to conduct a parole check on his residence, and Mr. Crutcher consented to the search of his residence per the terms of his supervised release.

The officers placed Mr. Crutcher in handcuffs while they conducted the search. At some point during the search, Plaintiff Mr. Colbert arrived home (Mr. Crutcher had called him at some point after the police arrived). The agents informed Mr. Colbert that they were conducting a search of the premises, and they put Mr. Colbert in handcuffs while they continued their search.

Mr. Colbert alleges that the officers caused damage to his home during the search. Specifically, he claims that in the basement, "[t]he officers pulled out insulation, put holes in the walls, ripped the couch open to search its contents, and tracked dog feces throughout the house." [74, ¶ 13.] In the kitchen on the main floor, the officers allegedly broke part of the kitchen countertop and also broke hinges off of certain shelves (in a way that suggested that the officers had put their weight on the shelves for support). [73, at 6.] Mr. Colbert did not provide any evidence of the pre-search condition of his home (absent his own testimony), and he is "unable to provide any description of any of the officers who allegedly damaged his property." [73, at 7.]

During the search, the officers encountered a locked bedroom on the main floor. Mr. Colbert told the officers that the bedroom belonged to him and his wife. There is a factual dispute as to how the police obtained the key to this locked bedroom (Defendants say that Mr. Colbert surrendered the key willingly; Mr. Colbert says that the officers wrestled him to the floor and took it), but once inside, they found a 12-gauge shotgun in the closet along with approximately 100 rounds of ammunition. The police also found a box for a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun, although they did not recover the handgun itself. Mr. Colbert admitted ownership of both firearms. The shotgun was not registered with the City of Chicago.

After finding the firearm and ammunition, the officers formally arrested both Plaintiffs. The officers arrested Mr. Crutcher for Unlawful Use of a Weapon/Felon in Possession of a Firearm, pursuant to 720 ILCS 5.0/24-1.1(a), and Violation of Parole, pursuant to 730 ILCS 5.0/3-3-9. Officer Willingham submitted a criminal complaint against Mr. Crutcher, but that prosecution ended on April 19, 2011 when a Cook County judge dismissed the case on a finding of no probable cause (Cir. Ct. of Cook Cnty., Case No. 11111538901). [70-10.] The following month a grand jury indicted Mr. Crutcher on one count of being an armed habitual criminal and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon (Cir. Ct. of Cook Cnty., Case No. 11-CR-690101). That prosecution ended on February 28, 2012 pursuant to a finding of not guilty. [70-12.] In addition to these two criminal prosecutions, Mr. Crutcher also had a parole revocation hearing based on a Parole Violation Report filed by Defendant Officer Hopkins, who cited Mr. Crutcher for having violated his parole when he was arrested for possessing a firearm. The Parole Board ultimately released Mr. Crutcher from IDOC custody (after approximately 1.5 months), and Mr. Crutcher returned to the Cook County Jail pending resolution of his then-pending criminal charges.

Regarding Mr. Colbert, Officer Willingham testified that he arrested Mr. Colbert for failing to register his firearm pursuant to § 8-20-140 of Chicago's Municipal Code, as well as an accompanying state-law charge for possessing a shotgun able to hold over three rounds pursuant to 520 ILCS 5/2.33(m). [See 94-1, at 1; 70-5, at 5.] However, due to what Officer Willingham calls a "scrivener's error, " instead of charging Mr. Colbert under § 8-20-140, the official charge was for a violation of § 8-20-040, which made it illegal to possess more than one assembled and operable firearm in a home at any given time. Mr. Colbert was released from custody on the same day of his arrest, and the criminal case against Mr. Colbert was later dismissed. [73, at 9.]

B. Plaintiffs' Complaint

Plaintiffs' second amended complaint [45], brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is composed of 15 numbered paragraphs without any enumerated counts. Defendants filed their respective motions for summary judgment [65, 71] based on their interpretation of the claims as presented in the operable complaint. In responding to Defendants' motions, Plaintiffs accused Defendants of overlooking certain claims in their complaint while pressing other claims that Plaintiffs had no intention of advancing, and faulted Defendants for not serving contention interrogatories to iron out the claims at issue before moving for summary judgment. Plaintiffs also moved for summary judgment [77] on two of their claims: the purported false arrest of both Plaintiff Crutcher and Plaintiff Colbert.

The Court will first address all claims involving Mr. Crutcher, followed by the claims involving Mr. Colbert, distinguishing between those claims that Plaintiffs raised in their operable complaint and those that Plaintiffs raised for the first time in their summary judgment briefing.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Sallenger v. City of Springfield, Ill., 630 F.3d 499, 503 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2) and noting that summary judgment should be granted "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law"). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court should construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Carter v. City of Milwaukee, 743 F.3d 540, 543 (7th Cir. 2014). Rule 56(a) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against any party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party would bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Put another way, the moving party may meet its burden by pointing out to the court that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party then must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). For this reason, the Seventh Circuit has called summary judgment the "put up or shut up" moment in a lawsuit-"when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events." See Koszola v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., 385 F.3d 1104, 1111 (7th Cir. 2004). In other words, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

III. Analysis

A. Claims by Plaintiff Crutcher

In Plaintiffs' second amended complaint, Plaintiff Crutcher alleges (1) a false arrest claim against all individual defendants and (2) a malicious prosecution claim against Defendant Willingham. By comparison, in Plaintiffs' opposition to summary judgment, Plaintiff Crutcher alleges (1) false arrest against Defendant Willingham only, [3] (2) malicious prosecution against Defendants Willingham and the City of ...

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