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Cole v. Village of Riverdale

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

August 29, 2016



          SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiffs Trina Cole, Latasha Billingsley, Leticia Cole-Thigpen, Terrance Cole, and Sheritta Cole brought this action against the Village of Riverdale and Riverdale police officers Kozeluh (Star #143) and Johnson (Star # 144), alleging that Officer Kozeluh used excessive force against Latasha Billingsley, Sharitta Cole, and Trina Cole (Count I), that both officers falsely arrested Leticia Cole-Thigpen, Latasha Billingsley, Terrance Cole, and Trina Cole (Count II), that Officer Johnson failed to intervene and prevent the excessive force used against Latasha Billingsley, Sharitta Cole, and Trina Cole (Count III), and that both officers maliciously prosecuted Leticia Cole-Thigpen, Latasha Billingsley, Trina Cole, and Terrance Cole (Count IV). The complaint additionally sets forth a state law indemnity claim and a claim for respondeat superior liability against the Village of Riverdale. The defendants now move for partial summary judgment on Counts II and IV. For the reasons set forth below, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted. On January 7, 2012, Latasha Billingsley was moving out of the home that she shared with Leticia Cole-Thigpen. (Dkt. 112, ¶¶ 1-3). Trina Cole, Timothy Harris, Terrance Cole, and Sheritta Cole were present to assist Latasha Billingsley. (Id. ¶ 3). A verbal dispute arose between Latasha Billingsley and Leticia Cole-Thigpen. (Id. ¶ 4). The argument escalated, and while the other plaintiffs were gathered in the living room Latasha Billingsley entered the room brandishing a knife. (Id. ¶ 9). Latasha Billingsley was subsequently restrained and the knife removed from her possession. (Id. ¶ 10). Leticia Cole-Thigpen called the police and stated that she wanted Latasha Billingsley removed from her home because she was “disrespecting her” and that she had “pulled a knife on her.” (Id. ¶ 11). Officers Kozeluh and Johnson were dispatched to the house and informed that someone had a knife. (Id. ¶ 12). Officer Kozeluh arrived on the scene, parked his vehicle in the middle of the street, and entered the house. (Id. ¶ 13). The defendants assert that Leticia Cole-Thigpen and Latasha Billingsley were engaged in an argument in the kitchen, which Officer Kozeluh attempted to break up. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18). Officer Kozeluh subsequently observed an incident in which Leticia Cole-Thigpen grabbed a bag out of Latasha Billingley's hand, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. (Id. ¶ 18). In response to the continued escalation of the situation, the officers placed Leticia Cole-Thigpen and Latasha Billingsley under arrest. (Id. ¶ 21). The parties substantially dispute what happened next, but it is undisputed that Officer Kozeluh escorted Latasha Billingsley outside to place her in a vehicle and that the majority of the plaintiffs followed him outside. (¶¶ 22-26). It is disputed whether the plaintiffs were crowding around Officer Kozeluh or physically interfering with his efforts to place Latasha Billingsley in his vehicle, although it is undisputed that Timothy Harris plead guilty to criminal battery against Officer Kozeluh. (Id. ¶ 33). It is undisputed that during the course of placing Latasha Billingsley in his vehicle Officer Kozeluh used OC (pepper) spray on several of the plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 34-37). Trina Cole and Terrance Cole were subsequently arrested and charged with resisting/obstructing a peace officer. (Id. ¶ 40). Latasha Billingsley was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and resisting/obstructing a peace officer. (Id.). And Leticia Cole-Thigpen was arrested and charged with domestic battery and resisting/obstructing a peace officer. (Id.).

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper when “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 moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, this Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). However, “[m]erely alleging a factual dispute cannot defeat the summary judgment motion.” Samuels v. Wilder, 871 F.2d 1346, 1349 (7th Cir. 1989). “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.


         The defendants contend that Count II (false arrest) and Count IV (malicious prosecution) must be dismissed because the officers had probable cause to arrest the plaintiffs or, in the alternative, were protected by qualified immunity.

         In order to prevail on their claims for false arrest under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiffs must show that probable cause for their arrest was lacking. Williams v. Rodriguez, 509 F.3d 392, 398 (7th Cir. 2007). The existence of probable cause is an absolute defense to any claim under section 1983 against police officers for wrongful arrest. Id. (quoting Mustafa v. City of Chicago, 442 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2006)). “Police officers possess probable cause to arrest when the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that the suspect had committed an offense.” Williams, 509 F.3d at 398 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Probable cause is not evaluated by the Court based upon “the facts as an omniscient observer would perceive them, ” but instead is determined by the facts “as they would have appeared to a reasonable person in the position of the arresting officer.” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         In order to prevail on their claims of malicious prosecution under Illinois law, the plaintiffs must show (1) the commencement or continuing of criminal proceedings by the defendants; (2) the termination of that matter in favor of the plaintiff; (3) the absence of probable cause for the proceedings; (4) the presence of malice; and (5) resulting damages. Gonzalez v. City of Elgin, 578 F.3d 526, 541 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Swick v. Liautaud, 662 N.E.2d 1238, 1242, 169 Ill.2d 504 (1996)).

[A] malicious prosecution claim is treated differently from one for false arrest: whereas probable cause to believe that a person has committed any crime will preclude a false arrest claim, even if the person was arrested on additional or different charges for which there was no probable cause, probable cause as to one charge will not bar a malicious prosecution claim based on a second, distinct charge as to which probable cause was lacking.

Holmes v. Village of Hoffman Estate, 511 F.3d 673, 682 (7th Cir. 2007).

         The defendants assert that they are protected by qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). To determine whether qualified immunity exists courts employ a two-step analysis asking (1) whether the plaintiff has asserted the violation of a federal constitutional right and (2) if such a violation did occur, whether the right was so clearly established at the time of the alleged violation that a reasonable officer would know that his actions were unconstitutional. Sornberger v. City of Knoxville, Ill., 434 F.3d 1006, 1013 (7th Cir. 2006). In false arrest cases such as this one, the question therefore becomes whether a reasonable officer could have believed that they had probable cause to make an arrest. Id. This standard is thus alternatively known as “arguable probable cause.” The defendants contend that the undisputed facts establish that they had probable cause with respect to each plaintiff named in Count II and IV or, alternatively, that they are protected from the plaintiffs' false arrest claims by qualified immunity.

         As an initial matter, this Court turns to the allegations of false arrest and malicious prosecution brought by Terrance and Trina Cole, both of whom were charged with resisting or obstructing a peace officer under 720 ILCS 5/31-1. It is well established that, under Illinois law, the crime of resisting or obstructing a peace officer requires physical resistance-mere argument does not suffice. Payne v. Pauley,337 F.3d 767, 776 (7th Cir. 2003). Here, it is undisputed that both Terrance and Trina Cole were outside the house while Latasha was being arrested and placed in a police vehicle by Officer Kozeluh. It is hotly disputed, however, where they were in relation of Officer Kozeluh and Latasha, whether they interfered with Officer Kozeluh's attempts to arrest Latasha, whether Officer Kozeluh issued any orders to back up or disperse, and whether Terrance and Trina Cole complied with those orders if they were issued. Substantial material disputes of fact therefore remain as to the existence of probable cause, or even arguable probable cause, for Terrance and Trina Cole's arrest. Accordingly, this Court cannot grant ...

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