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Jones-Huff v. Courtney Hill

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

September 21, 2016

HAZEL JONES-HUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
COURTNEY HILL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrea R. Wood, United States District Judge.

         This lawsuit grew out of a long-standing feud between neighboring couples: Plaintiff Hazel Jones-Huff and her now-deceased husband, Joseph Huff, in one house, and Defendant Courtney Hill, an officer in the Chicago Police Department, and his wife, Cathy Hill, in the house next door. One day the Hills placed a flower pot on or near the fence separating the two couples' houses. Jones-Huff did not like where they put it, so she and Cathy Hill began to argue. This was not their first argument. But this time the argument escalated into dramatic violence, with Huff and Defendant Hill ultimately exchanging gunfire. After Huff shot and maimed Cathy Hill, Defendant Hill returned fire, first killing Huff and then shooting at Jones-Huff. In this lawsuit, Jones-Huff claims that the shots Defendant Hill fired at her constituted excessive force in violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment. She additionally argues that after shooting her, Defendant Hill took actions resulting in her false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of state law. Defendant Hill has moved for summary judgment on all of Jones-Huff's claims.[1] The Court denies that motion for the reasons that follow.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         I. The Shootings

         At the time the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred, Defendant Hill was 46 years old, a 19-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, and married to Cathy Hill. (Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Undisputed Facts (“DRPAUF”) ¶ 56, Dkt. No. 84; Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Stmt. Undisputed Facts (“PRDSUF”) ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 87.) Jones-Huff was 91 years old and her husband was 86 years old. (PRDSUF ¶ 1; DRPAUF ¶¶ 1, 12.) The Hills and the Huffs had known each other for at least a dozen years. (PRDSUF ¶ 7.) The Hills had lived at 8417 South Carpenter Street in Chicago since at least 1999. (PRDSUF ¶ 4.) Jones-Huff lived at a neighboring lot, numbered 8411 South Carpenter Street, with her husband. (DRPAUF ¶ 1.) Each house had a yard in back. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.) Between the two yards ran two fences. (DRPAUF ¶ 10.) One was a wrought iron fence; the other was a six-foot “cyclone fence with white privacy slats.” (PRDSUF ¶ 16; DRPAUF ¶¶ 8, 10.)

         On April 25, 2014, Cathy Hill was in her back yard. (PRDSUF ¶¶ 1, 3.) Jones-Huff was in her own back yard, on her side of the fences. (Id. ¶ 1.) The Hills had placed a flower pot on the Huffs' fence. (Id. ¶ 2.) The parties agree that Jones-Huff pushed the pot, although they dispute whether she pushed it with a stick or with a broom and also whether she knocked it to the ground altogether. (Id.) According to Jones-Huff, she “used a stick to move the pot off her fence, ” and although she did not knock it to the ground, “Cathy Hill[] began running toward the fence screaming and yelling obscenities, ” (id. ¶ 3), and then “pour[ed] dirt over the fence onto [ ] Jones-Huff's head.” (DRPAUF ¶ 4.) Defendant Hill tells a different story. He claims that Jones-Huff used a broom to cause the flower pot “to fall” to the ground, where it broke, such that Cathy Hill “heard the crash of the flower pot” hitting the ground. (Def.'s Stmt. Undisputed Facts ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 69.) He further claims that after Cathy Hill and Jones-Huff began to argue, Jones-Huff swung a broom “over the fence and hit Cathy Hill on her head” and then did the same to Defendant Hill (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) These disputes turn out to be of greater moment than one might expect at first blush.

         Although the parties disagree about whether Jones-Huff broke the flower pot and hit the Hills, they agree that the two women argued loudly. (DRPAUF ¶ 3; PRDSUF ¶ 5.) At some point, Cathy Hill referred to Jones-Huff as a “bitch.” (DRPAUF ¶ 5.) The sounds of the argument reached Defendant Hill, who was in front of his house. (PRDSUF ¶ 5.) At the time, he was off duty and in civilian clothes “but did have his duty weapon on his person.” (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant Hill walked to his back yard upon hearing his wife and Jones-Huff arguing. (Id.) The parties dispute what he saw. Although Jones-Huff denies having hit Cathy Hill with a broom, Defendant Hill claims that he saw her do so. (Id. ¶ 8.) Whether or not Defendant Hill saw Jones-Huff hit his wife, he did dial 911, apparently in response to whatever was going on between the two women. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         At some point, Huff also arrived at the scene. The parties agree that Defendant Hill was talking to the 911 operator using an earpiece and facing away from the Huffs' property when Cathy Hill saw Huff exit his house into his back yard armed with a shotgun. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Cathy Hill yelled to her husband, “he's got a shot gun.” (Id. ¶ 15.) Defendant Hill then turned to face Huff, who shot across the fence toward the Hills' back yard. (Id. ¶ 16.) Huff's shots struck Cathy Hill, who was then “lying on the ground[, ] screaming out in pain[, ] profusely bleeding.” (Id. ¶¶ 17, 20.) Her injuries ultimately resulted in the loss of her right eye and the amputation of her right arm at the elbow. (Id. ¶ 17.) After Huff shot his wife, Defendant Hill drew his duty weapon and returned fire. (Id. ¶ 18.) He struck and killed Huff, whose shotgun fell to his feet. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Defendant Hill kept his gun drawn and pointed at Jones-Huff. (Id. ¶ 19.) During the exchange of gunfire, he had remained on the phone with the 911 operator, to whom at some point he reported that shots had been fired. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         The parties dispute what Jones-Huff did after Defendant Hill shot her husband. Defendant Hill claims that Jones-Huff walked over to Huff's body and then bent down and touched it. (Id.) He further claims that he did not know whether Huff's shotgun remained loaded, so he not only instructed Jones-Huff to back away from the gun but also warned her that, if she did not do so, he would shoot her. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 22.) Instead of following his instructions, however, Jones-Huff grabbed the barrel of the shotgun “and moved it about an inch closer to her.” (Id. ¶ 23.) Defendant Hill also claims that Jones-Huff “reached . . . a second time and touched the barrel of her husband's gun, even though [he] order[ed] her to get away from the gun or he would shoot her.” (Id. ¶ 26.) Jones-Huff tells a different story. She says that she begged Defendant Hill to let her comfort Huff but “she never got close enough to her husband to even talk to” him. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         It is undisputed that, at some point after shooting Huff, Defendant Hill shot at Jones-Huff twice. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 27.) The parties do dispute, however, how far Defendant Hill was from Huff's shotgun and whether he could have reached it at the time he shot Jones-Huff. They also dispute whether Jones-Huff was bent down or standing next to Huff's body (and the shotgun at his feet) when Defendant Hill shot her. After Jones-Huff was shot, she walked up the stairs from her back yard into her house. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         II. The Aftermath of the Shootings

         At some point during his 911 call, Defendant Hill reported to the dispatcher that “2 people are shot.” (DRPAUF ¶¶ 28-29.) After the shootings, other police officers eventually arrived at the scene. (Id. ¶ 33.) Defendant Hill remembers about half a dozen officers responding, but he did not know any of them. (PRDSUF ¶ 39.)

         Later that day, Defendant Hill signed a criminal complaint against Jones-Huff for battery and unlawful aggravated assault of a peace officer. (Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Undisputed Facts ¶ 41, Dkt. No. 72.) Specifically, his complaint stated that Jones-Huff knowingly and intentionally threatened him while she was in control of a shotgun. (PRDSUF ¶ 41.) Although Jones-Huff does not dispute that, after April 25, 2014, Defendant Hill never met with his superiors in the police department to explain what had happened, she claims that “Lieutenant Margaret Sears believed Plaintiff had ‘brandished a gun' and she approved the charges against Plaintiff based on the Narrative of the arrest report that Plaintiff was in control of a gun.” (Id. ¶ 43; DRPAUF ¶ 64.) Jones-Huff was ultimately tried in state court by a judge and found not guilty. (DRPAUF ¶ 51.) Following her acquittal, Jones-Huff brought this civil lawsuit. The amended complaint asserts a federal claim against Defendant Hill pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for use of excessive force, as well as state law claims against him for false arrest and malicious prosecution. Defendant Hill has moved for summary judgment on each of these claims.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008). But “favor toward the nonmoving party does not extend to drawing inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture.” Fitzgerald v. Santoro, 707 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). The “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute” does not suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Dawson v. Brown, 803 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in original). Rather, summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law.” Lawrence v. Kenosha Cty.,391 F.3d 837, 842 (7th Cir. 2004) ...


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