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Andersen v. City of Chicago

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

December 14, 2016

THE CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.


          Virginia M. Kendall United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Daniel Andersen filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants City of Chicago (“City”) and a number of Defendant Officers[1] arising out of his wrongful conviction and incarceration. Specifically, Andersen sues the Defendant Officers for violating his constitutional rights by allegedly coercing his false confession, fabricating false evidence, and concealing exculpatory evidence. He also sues the City alleging that its police department's policies and practices render it liable for his wrongful conviction and injuries pursuant to Monell v. New York Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The City now moves to bifurcate and stay discovery on Andersen's Monell claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery on Plaintiff's Monell Claim [74] is granted.


         In 1982, Andersen was wrongfully convicted for the murder and attempted rape of Cathy Trunko in Chicago. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 1.) In 2014, Andersen was exonerated through DNA evidence that conclusively excluded him as the assailant. (Id. at ¶ 3.)

         The relevant facts of the crime and subsequent investigation and conviction are that on January 19, 1980, Trunko was found dead - she was stabbed three times - in front of 4938 South Paulina Street in Chicago. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.) A few days after the crime, the Defendant Officers recovered a knife and an Old Style beer bottle that was found near the location of the murder. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-24.) Andersen, who was nineteen years old at the time, was aware of the crime because he knew Trunko from the neighborhood, but was not involved in any aspect of the crime. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 26.) On January 24, five days after the murder, Andersen went out drinking to celebrate his friend Norman Venegas's birthday. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Andersen was sleep-deprived that night because he had not gotten enough sleep and was also taking Activid, a prescription drug that, when combined with alcohol, could cause cognitive impairments. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Andersen and Venegas went to the Red Mist Tavern and drank beer and shots until Venegas left, driving Andersen's car to Andersen's home because Andersen was too drunk to drive himself. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Andersen stayed at the tavern, eventually getting a ride home from another friend. (Id.) Andersen's mother, who was concerned that he was out drinking, called Defendant Riley, the neighborhood police officer, to bring Andersen home. (Id. at ¶ 32.)

         Shortly after the phone call, Defendant Officers Bednarkiewicz and Nielsen pulled Venegas over, who was driving Andersen's car, and began to question him about the Trunko murder. After speaking with Venegas, who stated that he knew nothing about the murder, Bednarkiewicz, Nielsen, and Venegas went to Andersen's home, arriving there at the same time as Andersen. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-35.) Upon seeing Andersen, Bednarkiewicz and Nielsen grabbed Andersen and began to search him. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Venegas allegedly heard one of the officers say something to the effect of “[t]hat's the guy. Let's get him.” (Id.) Nielsen allegedly twisted Andersen's arm and pressed him against the hood of the car for several minutes while he and Bednarkiewicz questioned Andersen about the murder. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) Bednarkiewicz pressured and eventually succeeded in having Andersen's mother sign a disorderly conduct complaint against Andersen. Andersen's mother allegedly heard one of the officers say “[y]ou're the guy that did it, ” to Andersen after they arrested him. (Id. at ¶ 38.)

         At approximately 2 A.M. on January 24, Bednarkiewicz and Nielsen brought Andersen to the Ninth District Police Station. The Defendants knew that Andersen was heavily intoxicated, were allegedly physically violent with him, handcuffed him to a locker, and denied his requests for water. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.) Defendant Riley saw Andersen and observed that he was intoxicated, upset, and not talking rationally, but did not intervene even though Riley allegedly knew that officers were intending on interrogating Andersen. (Id. at ¶ 42.) Although Andersen did not make any inculpatory statements to them, Bednarkiewicz and Nielsen allegedly fabricated a statement stating that Andersen spontaneously and voluntarily confessed to stabbing Trunko three times (once in her right chest and twice in her left chest) and further confessed to throwing the knife away in the area that the Officers found it. (Id. at ¶ 43.) Following the fabrication of the statement, Bednarkiewicz and Nielsen transferred Andersen to Area 3 Homicide for further investigation. Upon arriving at Area 3, the Defendants began to threaten and beat Andersen, causing bruising on his face and a large cut on his forehead. (Id. at ¶ 46.) After an allegedly lengthy beating, the Defendant Officers began to feed Andersen facts that would implicate him in the Trunko murder. Andersen was in police custody for approximately sixteen hours, during which time he was denied access to a bathroom, forced to urinate in a trashcan, and denied food and water before he agreed to give a confession. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-49.)

         In coercing Andersen's false statement, the Defendants convinced Andersen that they were seeking his assistance in the murder investigation and that they needed him to get into the mindset of the killer. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-51.) The Defendants allegedly (1) had Andersen draw a map of the neighborhood marking specific locations, (2) had him write notes on the map such as “[h]ad to do what I had to do, ” and (3) fed him information regarding the knife and a pair of gloves. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-55.) They also created a narrative in which Andersen, as the attacker, wanted to have sex with Trunko and killed her when she refused. After fabricating the statement, Higgins forced Andersen to adopt the story by threatening to return him to the officers who had previously beaten him and offering to release him if he confessed. (Id. at ¶ 56.) Higgins also offered to get Andersen a job at Ford Motors, Andersen's previous employer, if Andersen confessed to the crime. By the end of the sixteen-hour period, Andersen was convinced that Defendant Higgins was his “friend, ” “buddy, ” and “attorney.” (Id. at ¶¶ 60-61 (Andersen allegedly telling his parents that “Higgins is my friend, my buddy” and “Higgins told me I don't need an attorney. That he is my attorney.”).)

         In addition to fabricating Andersen's statement, the Defendants allegedly also destroyed exculpatory evidence. Specifically, on January 21, Defendants Melko and Rajewski lifted two fingerprints from the Old Style beer bottle that was connected the homicide. They communicated the results of the fingerprint analysis to Defendants Higgins and Cegielski at Area 3. (Id. at ¶¶ 69-71.) Andersen alleges, on information and belief, that the fingerprint contained “exculpatory or potentially exculpatory evidence” that could have corroborated the involvement of an alternate, viable suspect, and could have excluded him as the perpetrator. (Id. at ¶ 70.) Andersen further alleges that instead of turning over the exculpatory evidence, as required by Chicago Police Department rules, the Defendants destroyed or caused the destruction of the evidence. (Id. at ¶¶ 72-73.) Finally, Andersen alleges that the City's policies and practice permits its officers to coerce false confessions, see Id. at ¶¶ 74-86, and maintain “street files” - allegedly undisclosed files that are maintained by the police officers and that contain information about defendants but are not disclosed to the defense - that led to Andersen being denied access to exculpatory information. (See id. at ¶¶ 87-93.)


         Under Rule 42(b), the Court has considerable discretion to decide claims or issues in separate trials “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b); see Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000). Bifurcation may be appropriate if one or more of the Rule 42(b) criteria is met as long as bifurcation will not prejudice the non-moving party or violate the Seventh Amendment, “which guarantees a jury trial for civil cases in federal court.” See Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 365 (7th Cir. 2000); Chlopek v. Fed. Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 692, 700 (7th Cir. 2007).

         “Bifurcation may be appropriate if ‘the separation would prevent prejudice to a party or promote judicial economy.'” See, e.g., Horton v. City of Chicago, No. 13-CV-6865, 2016 WL 316878, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 26, 2016) (citing Chlopek, 499 F.3d at 700). Such motions are “now commonplace and ‘[c]ourts in our district have both granted and denied similar motions…[t]hus there is a going body of precedent in this district for both granting and denying bifurcation in § 1983 cases.'” See, e.g., Allison v. Gallagher, No. 10 C 6887, 2012 WL 4760863, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 5, 2012) (citations omitted). Finally, “Monell claims are most often bifurcated in this district when a case is rooted in allegations of excessive force.” See, e.g., Horton, 2016 WL 316878, at *2 (quoting Carr v. City of N. Chicago, 908 F.Supp.2d 926, 934 (N.D. Ill. 2012)).


         The City claims that bifurcation of the Monell claim[2] is warranted because: (1) before Andersen can prevail on his Monell claim, he must first succeed in his actions against the individual Defendants for violating his constitutional rights; (2) bifurcation best serves the interests of litigation and judicial economy; and (3) ...

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