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Lofgren v. Wojowski

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

September 29, 2016

CHRISTOPHER LOFGREN, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN WOJOWSKI, TIMOTHY PERRY, JOSE VASQUEZ, VILLAGE OF NEW LENOX, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. JORGE L. ALONSO United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Christopher Lofgren, has filed this lawsuit against New Lenox police officers and the Village of New Lenox for violating his civil rights by arresting him without probable cause and conspiring to arrest him without probable cause. This case is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         At approximately 2:00 a.m. in the early morning of October 12, 2013, plaintiff, an off-duty Chicago police officer, rode with his friend Luke Smith to meet plaintiff's girlfriend and another woman at Papa Joe's Restaurant in New Lenox for drinks. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 6-9, ECF No. 35.) Papa Joe's was closed at that time, but Smith and his family owned the restaurant, so Smith had access to the space after hours. (Id., Ex. A, Pl.'s Dep., at 80:3-82:8.)

         Defendant Brian Wojowski, a New Lenox police officer, was on patrol duty in a marked squad car at that time. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Resp., ¶ 9, ECF No. 42.) He saw Smith's car turn into the Papa Joe's parking lot, and, knowing that Papa Joe's was closed at the time, he followed to investigate. (Id. ¶¶ 10-15.) Plaintiff approached Officer Wojowski and, identifying himself as an off-duty Chicago police officer, attempted to explain what was going on. (Id. ¶ 20; Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt., Ex. A, at 89:1-20.) Officer Wojowski then asked to speak with Smith, who had already entered the restaurant, and plaintiff went in to retrieve him. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 22.) While Smith and Officer Wojowski were speaking on the driver's side of Wojowski's squad car, Timothy Perry, another New Lenox police officer, arrived on the scene and spoke with plaintiff on the passenger side of the car. (Id. ¶ 24.)

         Officer Wojowski arrested Smith on suspicion of driving under the influence. (Id. ¶ 26-27.) After Officer Wojowski left the scene with Smith, Officer Perry remained behind to conduct an inventory search of Smith's car. (Id. ¶ 30.) Either during or after the inventory search of the car, Officer Perry noticed on the ground a round blue container with some pills inside it and scattered around it, approximately in the area where plaintiff had been standing earlier when he spoke with Officer Perry, near where Officer Wojowksi's squad car had been parked. (Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Resp., ¶¶ 32, 35.) Within a few inches of the pills, Officer Perry found a folded paper card, which he identified as an appointment card for the Chicago Police Department Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”). (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.)

         Officer Perry collected the container, pills, and card and brought them to the New Lenox police station. (Id. ¶ 41.) He used a website (www.drugs.com) to identify the pills as controlled narcotics-Adderall, Hydrocodone, and Xanax. (Id. ¶ 42.) Officer Perry informed Officer Wojowski that he had recovered the pills, container and card near where Wojowski's squad car had been p arked. (Id.)

         Plaintiff went to the New Lenox police station to bond out Smith. (Id. ¶ 29.) Officer Wojowski asked him if he was ever in an EAP program, and plaintiff responded in the affirmative. (Id. ¶ 46.) Officer Wojowski then informed plaintiff that some scheduled narcotics had been found on the ground near where plaintiff was standing. (Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff told Wojowski, “whatever I have in me, . . . I have a prescription for.” (Id. ¶ 48.) Wojowski showed plaintiff the container, and plaintiff informed him that it belonged to plaintiff and he had a prescription for whatever was in there. (Id. ¶¶ 50-51.) Officer Wojowski asked him what was in the container, and at that point, plaintiff denied that the container was his. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53.)

         Plaintiff admitted that he was in an EAP program, but he denied that the card was his. (Id. ¶ 58.) After Officer Wojowski suggested that the card had a date and time on it and follow-up investigation might reveal that the EAP appointment card belonged to plaintiff, plaintiff responded that the card “might be” his, but denied that the pills and container were his. (Id. ¶ 60.)

         Officer Wojowski called a Will County Assistant State's Attorney (“ASA”) and asked for her advice. (Id. ¶ 62.) After speaking with the ASA, Officer Wojowski proceeded with plaintiffs arrest for possession of controlled substances. (Id. ¶ 63; Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt., Ex. D.)

         Plaintiff later produced to the Will County State's Attorney's Office records showing that he had valid prescriptions for the pills he was charged with possessing, and the State's Attorney's Office decided not to file charges against plaintiff. (Defs.' Resp. to LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 38, ECF No. 47.)

         DISCUSSION

         In the present motion for summary judgment, defendants claim that there was probable cause for plaintiff's arrest, so his false arrest claim and conspiracy claims must fail.[1]

         “Probable cause is an absolute bar to a § 1983 claim for false arrest.” McBride v. Grice, 576 F.3d 703, 707 (7th Cir. 2009). “A police officer has probable cause to arrest if a reasonable person would believe, based on the facts and circumstances known at the time, that a crime had been committed.” Id.; see also Gonzalez v. City of Elgin,578 F.3d 526, 537 (7th Cir.2009) (“A police officer has probable cause to arrest a person if, at the time of the arrest, the ‘facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.' ”) (quoting Michigan v. DeFillippo,443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979)). “Probable cause . . . is an objective test, based upon ‘factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.'” Humphrey v. Staszak,148 F.3d 719, 726 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175 ...


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