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LaPorta v. City of Chicago

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

August 22, 2016

MICHAEL A. LaPORTA, as Guardian of the Estate and Person of Michael D. LaPorta, a disabled person, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, a municipal Corporation, and GORDON LOUNGE, INC., d/b/a McNALLY’S, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two Motions filed by Plaintiff Michael A. LaPorta and related to discovery in his case: a Motion to Compel the deposition of the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel [ECF No. 101]), and a Motion for Sanctions [ECF No. 113]. For the reasons stated herein, the Motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The case involves state-law and federal constitutional claims brought by Michael A. LaPorta on behalf of his disabled son, Michael D. LaPorta (“LaPorta”). The Court incorporates a discussion of the underlying facts contained in its prior opinion, LaPorta v. City of Chicago, 102 F.Supp.3d 1014 (N.D. Ill. 2015). A few facts salient to the present discovery disputes are recounted here.

         LaPorta was seriously injured while at the home of Patrick Kelly, a Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) officer, in January 2010. Kelly was intoxicated, his service weapon was discharged (it is unclear how), and the bullet struck LaPorta in the back of the head. Plaintiffs allege Kelly was a troubled CPD officer with a long history of having complaint registers (“CR’s”) lodged against him. LaPorta initially filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2010. After several years of litigation and what LaPorta contends were obstructionist tactics on the part of the City, the case was removed to federal court, survived a motion to dismiss, and is now proceeding through discovery.

         LaPorta brings a claim pursuant to Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), alleging that his constitutional rights were violated due to a widespread practice by the City of Chicago of failing to discipline its CPD officers and encouraging officers to cover up misdeeds. There are other claims, but the Monell claim is the one most relevant to the present disputes.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Compel

         In his first Motion, LaPorta asks the Court to compel the deposition of Mayor Rahm Emanuel (“Emanuel”). As mayor of the nation’s third-largest city, Emanuel holds a unique position and “should not be taken away from his work to spend hours or days answering lawyers’ questions unless there is a real need.” Olivieri v. Rodriguez, 122 F.3d 406, 409 (7th Cir. 1997). LaPorta argues that Emanuel’s deposition is necessary to prove the Monell claim, due to Emanuel’s public statements referring to CPD’s problem with “the thin blue line, ” also known as the “code of silence.” Emanuel publically stated that the code of silence “leads to a culture where extreme acts of abuse are more likely, ” and he created a task force intended to review potential CPD misconduct, including past incidents of misconduct. The task force later echoed and expounded on the Mayor’s statements regarding CPD’s code of silence.

         In order to prove his Monell claim, LaPorta must show that a code of silence existed and constituted “a widespread practice that was so permanent and well-settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law, even though there was no express municipal policy or law authorizing the practice.” McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 323-24 (7th Cir. 2000). Mayor Emanuel’s public statements on the matter are relevant proof of that claim, weighing in favor of LaPorta’s wish to depose him. The City responds that Emanuel has no personal knowledge of the facts underlying the incident at Kelly’s house, but that is irrelevant to the Monell claim against the City, and the parties easily could agree to limit the subject matter of a deposition to the code of silence and Emanuel’s knowledge of CPD’s practices and culture.

         The City also contends that because Emanuel was not in office at the time of the incident in 2010, any evidence he might have about CPD policy is automatically inadmissible. That argument fails also; the City does not provide any logical support for it, and Emanuel’s task force was formed to investigate past events, including those that occurred before he took office. When a new mayor is sworn in, there are certainly some changes in the City’s administration, but the slate is not wiped clean. Most police officers, for example, keep their jobs. The Mayor reasonably could have knowledge of a widespread practice in the CPD that has bearing on LaPorta’s allegations from 2010. Indeed, Emanuel did not limit his statements regarding the code of silence to his own tenure in office.

         The City’s next argument is that Mayor Emanuel is not a policymaker for the City. It’s hard to take that position seriously. Common sense suggests that the Mayor has considerable authority and influence over the police department. The lone case the City cites for support, Chicago United Industries v. City of Chicago, 739 F.Supp.2d 1043, 1057 (N.D. Ill. 2010), simply observed that the Chicago City Council has policymaking authority for the City, and held that the City’s Chief Procurement Officer was not a final policymaking authority relevant to a First Amendment claim. That has nothing to do with whether the Mayor of Chicago possesses “authority to adopt rules for the conduct of government, ” which is the relevant question here. See, Auriemma v. Rice, 957 F.2d 397, 401 (7th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, Emanuel’s creation of a special task force to address what he observed as a problem within the CPD suggests that he exercises some degree of policymaking authority. Note that the Court does not intend to say that Emanuel is the final policymaker for Monell purposes; that issue is beside the point, because LaPorta need not identify an individual with “final policymaking authority” to succeed on his Monell claim. See, Kujawski v. Board of Commissioners, 183 F.3d 734, 737 (7th Cir. 1999) (describing the three distinct methods for proving a municipal policy or custom under Monell).

         The City does make one convincing argument against the motion: LaPorta has not shown that the information he seeks from Emanuel’s deposition is unavailable by other means. At this point, it is unclear how LaPorta intends to use Emanuel’s statements. Obviously he believes they are relevant to the Monell claim, and that seems correct. But why is the introduction of Emanuel’s public remarks regarding the code of silence insufficient to prove LaPorta’s point? What more is he searching for in his quest to depose the Mayor? What specific reason does he have to believe that the deposition “will produce or lead to admissible evidence?” Olivieri, 122 F.3d at 410.

         The Court can imagine situations in which there could be a “real need” under Olivieri for the deposition, but LaPorta’s Motion to Compel is premature. Aside from a failure to answer questions about what he intends to gain from the deposition, LaPorta has not even attempted to serve interrogatories on Emanuel. That omission by itself is enough to warrant the denial of the Motion to Compel the deposition. See, Olivieri, 122 F.3d at 410. The Court thus denies LaPorta’s Motion to compel without prejudice. He may renew the Motion at a later date, if other methods of discovery fail him. The Court cautions LaPorta that should he renew the Motion, he should provide a better argument for “real need” besides “the deposition is relevant to my Monell claim.” That is essentially ...


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