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Sanchez v. City of Chicago

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

September 15, 2016

RUBEN SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, LOUIS GARCIA, TOM DART, Cook County Sheriff in his official capacity, and TYRONE FELIX, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge

         Ruben Sanchez brought this civil-rights action against Chicago Police Officer Louis Garcia for false arrest and excessive force, and against Cook County Sheriff's Correctional Officer Tyrone Felix for excessive force.[1] After a three-day trial, the Court accepted the jury's unanimous verdict in favor of Officer Garcia on both the false arrest and excessive force claims, and declared a mistrial on the excessive force claim against Officer Felix after the jury deadlocked on that claim. R. 245, 08/07/15 Minute Entry.[2] Sanchez now moves for a new trial on his two claims against Officer Garcia under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a). R. 271, New Trial Mot. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         The jury found in favor of Officer Garcia, so the evidence as to the case against Garcia must be viewed in his favor. Late at night on August 10, 2010, Ruben Sanchez picked up a six-pack of beer at a store and began driving home. Chicago Police Officers Louis Garcia and William Murphy, who were patrolling the neighborhood, saw Sanchez drive through numerous stop signs and swerve across the center divider line. The officers signaled for Sanchez to pull over. Sanchez was nearly home at this point, however, so he decided to keep driving for a few blocks before pulling over by his parked trailer.

         As Officer Garcia approached Sanchez, Sanchez stumbled out of his car. The officer could see that Sanchez's eyes were bloodshot and could smell alcohol on him. Garcia then directed Sanchez to get on the ground, which Sanchez refused to do. (Sanchez underwent stomach surgery a few years earlier, which according to Sanchez, prevented him from lying on the ground.) Instead, Sanchez clenched his fists and took a swing at the officer. Garcia forced Sanchez to the ground. With the help of other officers now on the scene, Garcia handcuffed him. At the time, Sanchez had an open can of beer in his car and marijuana in his pocket.

         The officers drove Sanchez to the police station and placed him in an interview room. Chicago Police Officer Karen Etti found Sanchez lying on the interview room floor as she approached him to administer breathalyzer and field sobriety tests. Sanchez refused to take the tests. Officer Etti noticed that Sanchez had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and smelled of alcohol. Though Sanchez said that he did not need medical attention, Etti arranged for him to go to the hospital anyway. Sanchez refused any medical treatment at the hospital.

         Sanchez was charged with aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol (at the time of the stop, Sanchez's driver's license was suspended for a similar prior offense), possession of cannabis, aggravated assault of a peace officer, and resisting/obstructing a peace officer. The Cook County State's Attorney ultimately prosecuted Sanchez for aggravated driving under the influence and dropped the other charges.

         While awaiting trial on the D.U.I. charge at Cook County jail, Sanchez had a run-in with Cook County Correctional Officer Tyrone Felix. When Sanchez tried to leave the dormitory to go to lunch on August 28, 2010, Officer Felix told Sanchez that he could not go. The officer also blocked the door so that Sanchez could not leave. For his part, Felix claims that Sanchez had earlier decided to skip lunch so was not part of the lunch count (which was necessary for movement of detainees from the dormitory to the lunch building). Felix testified that Sanchez (because he was not part of the lunch count) needed permission from a supervisor to go to lunch, which is why Felix could not let Sanchez leave the dormitory. Despite Felix's warning, Sanchez tried to go to lunch anyway, at which point (Sanchez claims), Felix threw him to the ground. Felix, by contrast, maintains that he never used any physical force against Sanchez that day.

         At Sanchez's criminal trial for aggravated driving under the influence, Sanchez chose not to testify or call any witnesses. The jury found him guilty, and the state court sentenced Sanchez to 18 months' imprisonment. Sanchez directly appealed his conviction, which the appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court later denied Sanchez's petition for leave to appeal. Sanchez also instituted post-conviction proceedings challenging his conviction, but that petition was denied by the trial court and again affirmed by the appellate court. The Illinois Supreme Court also denied the petition for leave to appeal at this post-conviction stage.

         Sanchez brought this § 1983 action in 2012, alleging that Officer Garcia unlawfully arrested him and used excessive force to effectuate the arrest, and that, at the Cook County Jail, Officer Felix used excessive force when he refused to let Sanchez go to lunch. R. 1, Compl.; R. 69, Third Am. Compl. Following a three-day trial and jury deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Garcia on both the false arrest and excessive force claims, but deadlocked as to the excessive force claim against Felix. 08/07/15 Minute Entry. The Court entered judgment in favor of Garcia and declared a mistrial on the claim against Felix. Id.

         After the trial, Sanchez settled his claim against Felix, R. 267, 11/10/15 Minute Entry, but now moves for a new trial on his two claims against Garcia, R. 257, New Trial Mot. Sanchez asserts seven arguments in support of his motion, arguing that the Court erred by: (1) dismissing one juror for cause and not dismissing another juror for cause; (2) denying three of Sanchez's motions in limine and granting, in full or in part, five of the Defendants' motions in limine; (3) refusing to allow Sanchez's arrest report into evidence; (4) rejecting Sanchez's jury instructions on issue preclusion and false arrest; and (5) accepting the jury's partial verdict. Id. Sanchez also asserts that (6) cumulative prejudicial error deprived him of a fair trial; and (7) the jury's verdict was contrary to the clear weight of the evidence. Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         Sanchez moves for a new trial under Rule 59, which can only be granted “if the jury's ‘verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence, ... or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party.'” Willis v. Lepine, 687 F.3d 826, 836 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Marcus & Millichap Inv. Servs. v. Sekulovski, 639 F.3d 301, 313 (7th Cir. 2011)). “In passing on a motion for a new trial, the district court has the power to get a general sense of the weight of the evidence, assessing the credibility of the witnesses and the comparative strength of the facts put forth at trial.” Mejia v. Cook Cnty., Ill., 650 F.3d 631, 633 (7th Cir. 2011). But even with the trial court's authority to assess credibility, the new-trial standard is tough to satisfy, because generally “the district court is bound to the same evidence the jury considered, and can strike a piece of evidence from its weighing process only if reasonable persons could not believe it because it contradicts indisputable physical facts or laws.” Id. at 633 (quotation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Jury Selection: For Cause Challenges

         Sanchez asserts that the Court erred when deciding whether to dismiss two potential jurors for cause. During jury selection, the Court dismissed Mr. Francisco Camacho in light of his limited English-speaking ability, and refused to dismiss Mr. Kenneth Myers despite the fact that his ex-girlfriend's brother, a policeman, was killed 20 years ago while on duty. Sanchez contends that these decisions prejudiced him and warrant a new trial. New Trial Mot. at 2-5; R. 273, Pl.'s Reply Br. at 2-4. The Court addresses each for cause determination in turn.

         1. Francisco Camacho

         Mr. Camacho is a Mexican native who learned English as a second language by interacting with his coworkers. 08/03 AM Tr. at 107:8-108:4. During voir dire, he acknowledged that his English was “not very perfect, ” and that the language was “difficult to understand sometimes.” Id. Sanchez maintains that the Court improperly dismissed Mr. Camacho due to his “strong accent and a lack of a high school or college education … .” New Trial Mot. at 3. Sanchez further contends-but without explanation-that the dismissal “prejudiced [him] and therefore necessitate[s] a new trial.” Id. at 5.

         Prospective jurors must be able to speak the English language in order to serve on a jury. 28 U.S.C. § 1865(b)(3). Without that ability, a juror cannot “comprehend the issues presented at trial, assess the evidence, and come to an independent judgment.” United States v. Pineda, 743 F.3d 213, 217 (7th Cir. 2014). It is within the trial judge's sound discretion to dismiss any juror whom the judge is convinced lacks English language proficiency. Id. (“It is within the trial judge's sound discretion to remove a juror whenever the judge becomes convinced that the juror's abilities to perform his duties become impaired.” (internal quotations and citation omitted)). And that dismissal will be upheld on appeal “unless no legitimate basis for the court's decision can be found in the record, and the [party challenging the dismissal] shows that the juror's dismissal prejudiced his case.” Id. (emphasis in original) (citing United States v. Vega, 72 F.3d 507, 512 (7th Cir. 1995)).

         In United States v. Pineda, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision to remove a juror who “did not possess the requisite English language proficiency to serve as a juror without an interpreter.” 743 F.3d at 217. The Seventh Circuit observed that the juror could not “understand trial proceedings without the assistance of an interpreter, ” and that the juror “had great difficulty understanding and communicating with the other jurors.” Id. at 218. Concluding that the juror “was unable to perform his duties, ” Pineda held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by removing him from the jury panel. Id. at 219; United States v. Paulk, 372 F. App'x 971, 973 (11th Cir. 2010) (affirming district court's dismissal for cause in light of juror's English comprehension and reasoning that “[b]y dismissing him, the district court was ensuring that every member of the jury would be able to understand the testimony and argument presented at trial and meaningfully participate in jury deliberations.”); United States v. Speer, 30 F.3d 605, 611 (5th Cir. 1994) (finding no abuse of discretion where “the [trial] judge excused Corley because he believed that the other jurors would not be able to communicate with her and that she ‘probably would detract from [the jury process] by causing difficulty in the deliberations.'”).

         In this case, the Court determined that, unfortunately, Mr. Camacho's English comprehension posed too great a risk of impairing jury deliberations. Indeed, the Court's difficulty in understanding him was so substantial that the Court on its own raised the issue during a sidebar with the parties. 08/03 AM Tr. at 104:13-105:2. To be sure, during the sidebar, the Court acknowledged that Mr. Camacho “underst[ood] English well, ” id., and the Court also voiced concern that “often those who have English as a second language are mistakenly stricken from juries … I do think they actually understand more than people comprehend just based on their accents, ” id. at 105:18-106:18. But nevertheless, the Court observed that Mr. Camacho had a “thick” accent, and that the Court “missed every fifth word … [and] had to … rely heavily on the realtime draft transcript”[3] when Mr. Camacho initially introduced himself. Id. Based on this, the Court concluded that “[Mr. Camacho's] ability to speak [English] may be … something that would impair deliberations.” Id. at 104:21-105:2.

         To make sure that excusing Mr. Camacho was the right decision, the Court asked Mr. Camacho additional follow-up questions about his English language proficiency:

The Court: And do you have some concerns about whether you can understand the evidence or talk to other jurors?
[Mr. Camacho]: Well, I - I know the English not very perfect, right? I don't go too much to school. Well, because I have to work. I have to work for my family.
The Court: I'm sorry. What did you say?
Mr. Camacho: I said I don't go too much in school. So where I finished it was in Mexico. In here, I go, not too much. So it's what I know, how I know to speak the English is because I - with the workers. With the place I work, I've had to learn. And I know how to write a little bit, and I think that's all. But some - some work I - they are very - it's difficult to understand sometimes. Because the American language, the Spanish language is too different.

08/03 AM Tr. at 107:1-108:4. The Court then heard from both parties before excluding Mr. Camacho on English-comprehension grounds:

The Court: [T]his is an appropriate for-cause challenge because I had to intensely concentrate when he was speaking to understand what he was saying. ... And I had to, not only intensely concentrate, but I was looking right at him. He's no more than six inches[4]away from me, looking at his lips, and it was still a struggle. So I'm afraid that I have serious concerns that he would not be able to communicate with his fellow jurors during deliberations. By the same token, the jury instructions, while not a complicated subject matter, I think the issue there is it's likely that he would take interpretations of the instructions from his fellow jurors as opposed to interpreting it in his own way.

Id. at 111:8-112:3. These concerns, that Mr. Camacho would be unable to deliberate with his fellow jurors and interpret the jury instructions on his own, were legitimate grounds for the for-cause dismissal.[5] See Pineda, 743 F.3d at 217-19; Paulk, 372 F. App'x at 973; Speer, 30 F.3d at 611. It is true that Mr. Camacho did not require an interpreter to communicate with the Court, unlike the juror in Pineda. But that is not a requirement before finding that a potential juror must be dismissed for limited English-language ability. The in-court difficulty understanding Mr. Camacho unfortunately required his dismissal.

         Even if somehow Mr. Camacho should not have been dismissed for cause, Sanchez would still have to show that Mr. Camacho's dismissal prejudiced his case. See Pineda, 743 F.3d at 217, 219 (“Whatever the basis for removing Vega, overturning the district court's decision … requires Pineda to show that the removal of the juror had a prejudicial effect on his trial.”). This Sanchez has failed to do, and indeed has made no effort to make that showing. Absent any prejudice or harm arising from the dismissal, Sanchez is not entitled to a new trial.

         2. Kenneth Myers

         During voir dire, Mr. Myers reported that his ex-girlfriend's brother, a policeman, was shot and killed 20 years ago while on duty. 08/03 AM Tr. at 88:16-89:10. The incident occurred during a traffic stop in Lansing, Illinois. Id. Sanchez now asserts that the Court's “refus[al] to dismiss [Mr. Myers] for cause, requiring [Sanchez] to use a preemptory [sic] challenge, ” amounted to prejudicial error. New Trial Mot. at 4.

         When scrutinizing the impartiality of a prospective juror, trial courts ask “whether the juror can put aside the experiences and beliefs that may prejudice his view of the case and render a verdict based on the evidence and the law.” United States v. Taylor, 777 F.3d 434, 441 (7th Cir. 2015); United States v. Allen, 605 F.3d 461, 464-65 (7th Cir. 2010). Dismissal is only appropriate where a prospective juror's voir dire responses “reveal a bias so strongly as to convince the judge that the juror cannot render impartial jury service … .” Marshall v. City of Chi., 762 F.3d 573, 575 (7th Cir. 2014) (emphasis added); id. (“[T]he voir dire process aims to weed out jurors who hold personal biases so strong that their ability to act as a neutral arbiter is compromised.”). The impartiality requirement is met where “a juror[] affirm[s] … that she can … lay aside her biases or her prejudicial personal experiences.” Id. at 576. But courts must keep in mind that “[j]urors … cannot be expected invariably to express themselves carefully or even consistently.” Patton v. Yount, 467 U.S. 1025, 1039 (1984). Trial courts are entitled to “great deference” when striking jurors based on bias. United States v. Barnes, 909 F.2d 1059, 1070-71 (7th Cir. 1990). This is because trial judges have “[an] unique opportunity to assess the credibility of the jurors during voir dire examination, as well as their demeanor throughout the course of trial.” Id.

         To see this legal principle in action, consider United States v. Allen. Allen was a prosecution on child pornography charges in which the defendant challenged the district court's failure to strike a prospective juror whose daughter was the victim of an attempted molestation and kidnapping. 605 F.3d at 464-66. The Seventh Circuit rejected the defendant's challenge for three reasons: First, “the unrelatedness of [the defendant's] case and of the kidnapping attempt suggest that any bias was minimal … .” Id. at 465. Second, the potential juror “stated finally” that she would suspend judgment and give the defendant the benefit of the doubt until the close of evidence. Id. Third, “the trial judge was in the best position to gauge the prospective juror's ability to follow[ ] [his] instructions.” Id. at 466 (internal quotations and citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit noted that “the trial judge's questioning of the prospective juror could have been more explicit, ” but nevertheless held that “the district court was within its discretion to find that the prospective juror[] … [could] decide the case fairly.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         The same circumstances surrounding the prospective juror's alleged bias in Allen are present here. Mr. Myers disclosed that he had a friend who was shot and killed while on duty about 20 years ago in Lansing, Illinois. 08/03 AM Tr. at 88:16-89:10. The dissimilarities in context, time, and location between Mr. Myers's experience and Sanchez's case against Officers Garcia and Felix favor a finding that any potential bias would be minimal, at most. See Allen, 605 F.3d at 465.

         And as in Allen, the Court here engaged in a thorough back-and-forth with Mr. Myers to ensure his impartiality. 08/03 AM Tr. at 89:18-93:7. Mr. Myers told the Court that he had worked in various capacities with law enforcement both as a firefighter and paramedic, and assured the Court that he had “seen a variety of both good and bad reactions.”[6] Id. Mr. Myers also assured the Court that he would follow the Court's instructions and apply the law to the facts:

The Court: Will you be able to follow an instruction that you will have to weigh the testimony of a law enforcement officer, and also paramedics, if they - [Mr. Myers]: Right, right.
The Court: The same way. Treated on an individual-by-individual basis?
[Mr. Myers]: Right. I mean, well, I would hope that I would. But, I mean, I think - I don't know how to explain it. … The Court: Right.
[Mr. Myers]: It's hard to answer that. But I would think that I would do my best to listen to the facts and give an honest opinion.
The Court: Yes.
[Mr. Myers]: And that's what I've always done.
The Court: Right. And I - you know, I will supply the law - [Mr. Myers]: Right.
The Court: (Continuing) - you know, that has to be applied. So you know, you'll get a legal standard to apply.
[Mr. Myers]: Uh-huh.
The Court: And then what I - it's important that you be able to follow that legal standard, okay. Do you think, and it sounds like - you said you always try to give your honest opinion - [Mr. Myers] Right.
The Court: All right. Will you be able to follow the legal instruction I give you?
[Mr. Myers]: Yes.
The Court: Okay. And then in terms of sorting out the facts, like who's telling the truth and who's not.
[Mr. Myers]: Right.
The Court: All right. And can you judge that on an individual and case-by-case basis?
[Mr. Myers]: I think so, yeah.

Id. (emphases added). To be sure, Mr. Myers did not always answer resolutely and unequivocally throughout this back-and-forth. Id. But he persistently confirmed that he would follow the Court's instructions, sort out the facts on an individual case-by-case basis, and apply the law to those facts. Id.; see also Allen, 605 F.3d at 466 (“Prior equivocating or wavering is hardly dispositive in assessing credibility, as ‘[j]urors … cannot be expected invariably to express themselves … consistently.'” (quoting Patton, 467 U.S. at 1039)). The Court's own in-court observations of Mr. Myers gave the Court confidence that he answered truthfully when he said that he would evaluate law enforcement ...


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