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Dixon v. City of Chicago

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

January 20, 2017

DENNIS DIXON, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge

         This matter is before the court on Defendant Officer Michael Butler's (Butler) and Defendant Officer Collis Underwood's (Underwood) motion for a new trial. For the reasons stated below, the motion for a new trial is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 18, 2008, Dixon was arrested by Defendant Officer Michael Butler (Butler) and Defendant Officer Collis Underwood (Underwood). Dixon alleged in his complaint that Butler and Underwood used excessive force during the arrest and brought claims against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged constitutional violations. Dixon also brought indemnification claims against the City of Chicago (City). A jury trial was held in this case and the jury found in favor of Butler against Dixon, and in favor of Dixon against Underwood. The City and Underwood (collectively referred to as “Moving Defendants”) now move for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) (Rule 59(a)).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to 59(a), after a jury returns its verdict, the losing party can move for a new trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). Rule 59(a) provides that “[t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues - -and to any party- - . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). A court can order a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) “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)(internal quotations omitted)(quoting Marcus & Millichap Inv. Servs. v. Sekulovski, 639 F.3d 301, 313 (7th Cir. 2011)); see also Id. (stating that “[a] verdict will be set aside as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury could have rendered the verdict” and that “[j]ury verdicts deserve particular deference in cases with simple issues but highly disputed facts”)(internal quotations omitted)(quoting Moore ex rel. Estate of Grady v. Tuelja, 546 F.3d 423, 427 (7th Cir. 2008)).

         DISCUSSION

         Moving Defendants contend that the court erred: (1) by allowing Dixon to testify that he battered Underwood with legal justification, and (2) by refusing to give a requested jury instruction .

         I. Testimony by Dixon

         Moving Defendants argue that the court improperly allowed Dixon to testify that he battered Underwood with legal justification, which drew into question Dixon's prior battery conviction. A Section 1983 claim is “barred if it ‘necessarily impl[ies] the invalidity of [a] conviction.'” Viramontes v. City of Chicago, 840 F.3d 423, 426 (7th Cir. 2016)(quoting Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)); see also Rollins v. Willett, 770 F.3d 575, 576 (7th Cir. 2014)(stating that “a section 1983 suit can't be brought if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would imply that his conviction in a prior proceeding had been invalid”). Moving Defendants contend that although Dixon pled guilty to the battery of Underwood in state court, Dixon testified at trial in this case that he bit Underwood in self defense. Moving Defendants argue that the admission of guilt for the battery necessarily foreclosed any subsequent legal justification such as acting in self defense. Moving Defendants argue that the court should have barred Dixon from testifying in a manner that was inconsistent with his battery conviction.

         A. Waiver

         Dixon argues that Moving Defendants waived the Heck argument. Moving Defendants never pleaded Heck as an affirmative defense in this matter and although they filed extensive written motions in limine in this case, they never raised the Heck issue in such motions. Moving Defendants made general oral references to Heck at the pretrial conference but failed to adequately articulate the position that they now take or present the court with legal authority to support their position. Moving Defendants thus failed to properly present the Heck argument to the court and the argument has been waived.

         B. Heck Violation

         Dixon argues that even if Moving Defendants did not waive the Heck argument, Dixon's testimony did not violate Heck. At trial Dixon testified that he bit Underwood while Underwood had Dixon in a choke hold. (TR 506). However, Dixon admitted at trial that he pled guilty to battery in regard to that bite, thus acknowledging to the jury that he did not have legal justification for that conduct. (TR 529). Dixon further testified at trial that after he bit Underwood, Underwood said “this MF-er bit me.” (TR 507). Underwood then allegedly proceeded to pull out his metal baton and started to beat Dixon with it. (TR 507). There was sufficient evidence at trial presented that would have allowed the jury to conclude that Dixon committed battery upon Underwood and that Underwood then, in retaliation, proceeded to use the metal baton and use excessive force upon Dixon. The Seventh Circuit has made clear that a conviction for battery upon an arresting officer does not necessitate a finding that the officer used reasonable force during the arrest. See Viramontes, 840 F.3d at 427 (explaining that in Gilbert v. Cook, 512 F.3d 899 (7th Cir. 2008) the Court “held that a plaintiff's conviction for assaulting a police officer does not ...


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