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Colbert v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 14, 2017

Christopher Colbert and Jai Crutcher, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued November 29, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13-cv-2397 - Robert M. Dow, Jr., Judge.

          Before Bauer, Flaum, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Flaum, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiffs-appellants Christopher Colbert and Jai Crutcher were arrested after a search of their apartment, in which police officers and parole agents found an unregistered firearm and ammunition. After Colbert's and Crutcher's acquittals and dismissal of the gun-possession charges, plaintiffs-appellants brought malicious-prosecution, Fourth Amendment, and false-arrest claims against the officers and the City of Chicago. The district court granted summary judgment in defendants-appellees' favor. We affirm.

         I. Background

         From 2002 to 2010, Jai Crutcher was incarcerated for robbery, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, aggravated discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle, and mob action. In December 2010, Crutcher was released; however, he returned to prison in January 2011 for domestic battery. In March 2011, he was discharged on mandatory supervised release.[1] On March 17, 2011, Crutcher and his girlfriend moved in with Colbert, Crutcher's brother by adoption.

         In late March 2011, Chicago Police Department Officer Russell Willingham and his partner received a tip from an informant who reported that he had been at Crutcher's residence on multiple occasions and had observed Crutcher in possession of a forty-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a twelve-gauge shotgun. Officer Willingham ran a name check on Crutcher and saw that he was on mandatory supervised release. Officer Willingham then contacted the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") and spoke with parole agent Jack Tweedle. Willingham relayed the informant's report to Tweedle, and both decided to perform a compliance check at Crutcher's residence.

         At 6:30 AM on March 31, 2011, at least ten law-enforcement officials-including defendants-appellees Officer Willingham and parole agents Tweedle, Darryl Johnson, and Louis Hopkins, as well as several others not named in the lawsuit-reported to Crutcher's residence. Crutcher woke up to the officers' knock at the door, noticed the officers out front, and called Colbert, who was at work. Crutcher took several minutes to let the officers in. Once Crutcher opened the door, the officers informed him that they were there to conduct a parole check. Crutcher consented to the search as required under the terms of his supervised release.

         Before beginning the search, the officers handcuffed Crutcher. Soon afterward, Colbert returned home from work. The officers informed Colbert that they were conducting a compliance check and handcuffed Colbert, as well. Neither Crutcher nor Colbert was permitted to observe the search, which encompassed the basement, kitchen, and various bedrooms.

         In his complaint, Colbert alleged that, during their search, the officers caused damage throughout his house. Specifically, he claimed the officers "pulled out insulation, put holes in the walls, ripped the couch open to search its contents, and tracked dog feces throughout the house." He further alleged that the officers ruined part of the kitchen countertop and broke hinges off of certain shelves. Colbert did not provide any evidence of the residence's pre-search condition. He was also unable to identify any of the officers who allegedly damaged his property.

         While searching Colbert's house, the officers encountered a locked bedroom door on the main floor. Colbert informed the officers that it was his bedroom. According to Colbert, one of the IDOC agents then wrestled him to the ground and took the keys to the room. The officers found a twelve-gauge shotgun and approximately one hundred rounds of ammunition in the bedroom closet. The shotgun was not registered with the City of Chicago. The officers also discovered a case for a forty-caliber semiautomatic handgun, but they did not recover the gun itself. Colbert admitted that he owned both firearms. The officers arrested both Crutcher[2] and Colbert.

         Later, Officer Willingham submitted a criminal complaint against Crutcher, alleging that Crutcher had possessed a firearm as a felon, in violation of 720 Ill.Comp.Stat. 5/24-1.1(a), and had violated his parole, see 730 Ill.Comp.Stat. 5/3-3-9. Both charges required Crutcher to have known about the firearms in the house. Officer Willingham's arrest report stated, in relevant part:

After being Mirandized and waiving said rights, [Crutcher] stated that he had full knowledge of the firearm being in the residence but stated that it was OK because it was his brother's, and he's legit .... [A]s to the fact that a .40 cal semiauto handgun previously had been in the residence ... [Colbert] stated [it] was his but [that it was] currently at a friend's house in Matteson.

         According to Crutcher, however, Officer Willingham's statement was false: Crutcher had informed Officer Willingham that the shotgun was not his and that he did not know that Colbert had a firearm in the house. On April 19, 2011, the Cook County trial court dismissed the criminal complaint on a finding of no probable cause.[3]

         In May 2011, an Illinois grand jury indicted Crutcher on one count of being an armed habitual criminal and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. On February 28, 2012, a jury found Crutcher not guilty.

         As for Colbert, Officer Willingham submitted in an affidavit that the officers arrested him for (1) failing to register his firearm pursuant to § 8-20-140 of Chicago's Municipal Code, and (2) using a shotgun able to hold over three rounds, in violation of 520 Ill.Comp.Stat. 5/2.33(m).[4] Colbert's official charge, however, mistakenly identified § 8-20-040 as the ordinance underlying the charges.[5] According to Officer Willingham, the discrepancy was due to a scrivener's error. Colbert was released from custody on the same day of his arrest, and the charges against him were later dismissed.

         Appellants subsequently filed this lawsuit. Crutcher alleged that Officer Willingham and the City of Chicago had both subjected him to malicious prosecution under Illinois law. Colbert alleged that (1) the named officers and agents had violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and (2) the City of Chicago had falsely arrested him. The district court granted defendants-appellees' motion for a more definite statement regarding Colbert's and Crutcher's claims against the City. Specifically, the district court ordered Colbert and Crutcher to identify any allegedly unconstitutional ordinance that formed the basis of their claims. Appellants filed an amended complaint, identifying § 8-20-040 (the ordinance mistakenly listed in the official charge) as the allegedly unconstitutional ordinance at issue. The City then moved to dismiss the claims against it, arguing that Officer Willingham had arrested Colbert for violating § 8-20-140, not § 8-20-040. The district court denied the City's motion. Appellants then filed a second amended complaint that continued to identify § 8-20-040 as the only allegedly unconstitutional ordinance at issue.

         The City of Chicago and Officer Willingham moved for summary judgment, as did IDOC agents Tweedle, Johnson, and Hopkins. Colbert and Crutcher moved for partial summary judgment on their false-arrest claim against the City. They also, for the first time, asserted that the registration requirements under § 8-20-140-the ordinance actually underlying Colbert's arrest-were unconstitutional. In response, Officer Willingham submitted an affidavit stating that Colbert had been arrested for violating § 8-20-140, but Officer Willingham had erroneously marked § 8-20-040 as the cause for arrest. The district court accepted this explanation, granted summary judgment for defendants-appellees on all claims, denied Colbert's and Crutcher's motion for partial summary judgment, and dismissed the case. This appeal followed.

         II. Discussion

         We review the district judge's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing all facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Georgia-Pac. Consumer Prods. LP v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 647 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2011).

         A. Malicious Prosecution[6]

         Crutcher brought state-law claims for malicious prosecution against the City and Officer Willingham under supplemental jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.[7] "To establish a claim for malicious prosecution under Illinois law, plaintiffs must establish five elements: (1) commencement or continuation of an original proceeding [by the defendant]; (2)termination of the proceeding in favor of the plaintiff; (3) the absence of probable cause; (4) malice; and (5) damages." Cairel v. Alderden, 821 F.3d 823, 834 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Sang Ken Kim v. City of Chi, 858 N.E.2d 569, 574 (111. App. 2006)). "The absence of any one of these elements bars a plaintiff from pursuing the claim." Johnson v. Saville, 575 F.3d 656, 659 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swick v. Liautaud, 662 N.E.2d 1238, 1242 (111. 1996)).

         The fact that Crutcher was indicted by a grand jury defeats his claim. Noting that "a malicious prosecution action against police officers" can often be "anomalous, " we have explained,

[T]he State's Attorney, not the police, prosecutes a criminal action. It is conceivable that a wrongful arrest could be the first step towards a malicious prosecution. However, the chain of causation is broken by an indictment, absent an allegation of pressure or influence exerted by the police officers, or knowing misstatements by the officers to the prosecutor.

Reed v. City of Chi., 77 F.3d 1049, 1053 (7th Cir. 1996) (emphasis added). Thus, a plaintiff may not maintain a malicious-prosecution claim against an arresting officer without first showing "some postarrest action which influenced the prosecutor's decision to indict." Snodderly v. R.U.F.F. Drug Enforcement Task Force, 239 F.3d 892, 902 (7th Cir. 2001). While Officer Willing-ham's allegedly false statement constitutes a post-arrest action, there is no evidence that it influenced the prosecutor's decision to indict, or that the prosecutor relied on it to obtain the indictment. It is likely the prosecutor knew that a judge had already dismissed Officer Willingham's complaint, which was based in part on this arrest report, for lack of probable cause. In fact, Officer Willingham did not testify before the grand jury-Officer Berry, one of the other nine searching officers, did. And there is no evidence connecting Officer Willingham's allegedly false report to Officer Berry's grand-jury testimony. Without more, there is no basis to infer that Officer Willingham's allegedly false report precluded the grand-jury indictment from breaking the chain of causation between Crutcher's arrest and prosecution. Consequently, Crutcher's malicious-prosecution claim against Officer Willingham fails.

         Crutcher relies on our decisions in Brooks v. City of Chicago, 564 F.3d 830, 833 (7th Cir. 2009), and McCann v. Mangialardi, 337 F.3d 782, 786 (7th Cir. 2003), to argue that an indictment does not break the chain of causation when the defendant officer includes false statements in his or her report. Neither of these cases, however, addressed the effect that an intervening indictment can have on a malicious-prosecution claim against a police officer. Rather, they concluded that the appellants could not succeed on federal due-process claims based on allegedly false police statements that were better suited for state-law malicious prosecution claims.

         Crutcher's malicious-prosecution claim against the City fails for the same reason and because it does not meet certain standards governing actions against municipalities. To succeed on a direct claim against a municipality, Crutcher must identify "a policy or custom of the municipality that violates the plaintiff's constitutional rights." Schor v. City of Chi., 576 F.3d 775, 779 (7th Cir. 2009). To do so, he "must begin by showing an underlying constitutional violation." Id. Crutcher does not make such a showing. He argues that §§ 8-20-040 and 8-20-140 of Chicago's Municipal Code are unconstitutional. But § 8-20-040 is unrelated to this case: It only appears in the criminal complaint as the result of a scrivener's error and was not the basis for Crutcher's arrest or prosecution. Furthermore, Crutcher improperly introduced his argument regarding § 8-20-140 in his response to summary judgment. Abuelyaman v. III. State Univ., 667 F.3d 800, 814 ("It is well settled that a plaintiff may not advance a new argument in response to a summary judgment motion.")

         B. Fourth Amendment

         Colbert brought § 1983 claims against the named officers and agents for violating his Fourth Amendment rights during the search. "To survive summary judgment of a claim brought under § 1983, this court focuses on '(1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) whether this conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.'" Armato v. Grounds,766 F.3d 713, 719-20 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Parratt v. Taylor,451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981)). Defendants-appellants clearly acted under state law, as they are employed by the Chicago Police Departmerit and Illinois Department of Corrections and were enforcing state-law conditions of supervised ...


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