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Serna v. Sears

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

March 31, 2017

MARTA MENESES SERNA, Plaintiff,
v.
DENNIS SEARS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         This case concerns allegations that an officer exercised excessive force while carrying out the arrest of a suspected drunk driver. Plaintiff Marta Meneses Serna claims that, during the course of her arrest by Officer Dennis Sears, she sustained injuries resulting in a loss of consciousness and a loss of some of her teeth-all due to Officer Sears's exercise of excessive force. As a result, Serna has sued Officer Sears under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her right to be free from the exercise of excessive force under the United States Constitution and under Illinois common law for battery. In addition, Serna has sued Police Chief Ronald Price and the Village of Bannockburn (the “Village”) under § 1983 for the alleged constitutional violations arising from the Village's use-of-force policy and Chief Price's execution and implementation of said policy. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all three claims. (Dkt. No. 98.) As explained below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the Court grants Defendants summary judgment on the claim against Chief Price and the Village, but denies Defendants summary judgment on the claims against Officer Sears.

         BACKGROUND

         Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed. On September 2, 2012, at approximately 12:33 a.m., Officer Sears observed Serna's car traveling below the speed limit and swerving. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 10, 11, Dkt. No. 98-4.) At the time, Serna's Illinois driver's license was suspended and she did not have a valid driver's license from any other state. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 6.) Despite this suspension, she was driving after consuming alcohol. (Id. ¶ 9.) Also in her car was her boyfriend Leonardo Alvarado. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Officer Sears signaled Serna to pull over and she complied. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 16.) Officer Sears asked Serna to produce proof of vehicle insurance and a driver's license. (Id.) Officer Sears could smell both vomit and alcohol coming from inside the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 17.) Officer Sears observed Serna's eyes to be droopy, watery, red, and glassy. (Id. ¶ 18.) Officer Sears asked Serna if there was any reason that she was travelling slowly and swerving; she said “no.” (Id. ¶ 19.) Officer Sears asked Serna how much she had been drinking, and she stated that she did not know. (Id. ¶ 20.) Serna subsequently testified that she had consumed three and a half glasses of wine. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         Serna produced an expired insurance card to Officer Sears. (Id. ¶ 21.) Serna also claims to have produced a Mexican driver's license to Officer Sears. (Pl.'s Stmt. of Add'l Facts ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 101.) Officer Sears requested that Serna exit her car. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 22, Dkt. No. 98-4.) Officer Sears observed Serna staring straight ahead and blinking for much longer than normal before she exited her car. (Id. ¶ 23.) Officer Sears claims that he believed Serna was falling asleep, but Serna denies that her behavior indicated this. (Id.; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 23, Dkt. No. 100.) Officer Sears also claims then that as Serna exited the car she stumbled but caught her balance. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 24, Dkt. No. 98-4.) Again, Serna disagrees with Officer Sears's account and denies that she stumbled out of the car. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 24, Dkt. No. 100 (citing video evidence).) Officer Sears then instructed her to walk to the back of the car. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 25, Dkt. No. 98-4.) In so doing, Serna walked up to Officer Sears's partner, Officer John Kleffner, who was assisting Officer Sears, and got very close to him. (Id. ¶ 26.) Although Serna denies that it is true, Kleffner testified that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Serna's breath. (Id. ¶ 27.) Serna was wearing high-heeled shoes when she exited her vehicle. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Officer Sears then administered the horizontal-gaze-nystagmus test and the portable-breath test on Serna. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 34.) Both tests indicated that Serna had been consuming alcohol. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 37.) Because the results of this test indicated a blood-alcohol-content level above the legal limit for driving, Officer Sears determined that he had probable cause to arrest her. (Id. ¶ 37.) But Officer Sears claims that he did not inform Serna that she was under arrest while he was standing in front of her, as he was in a position in which she could charge at him. (Id. ¶ 39.) Officer Sears claims that he was also concerned that, while he had Serna behind her vehicle, no one was monitoring Alvarado; Officer Sears waited until after he was behind her to tell her that she was under arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 38.) Serna disputes that Officer Sears was either concerned at the prospect of Serna charging at him or that Alvarado would be unmonitored. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 39, 40, Dkt. No. 100.)

         Serna asked Officer Sears why she was being arrested and he responded “too many cervezas.” (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 41, Dkt. No. 98-4.) Officer Sears attempted to handcuff Serna, placing one handcuff on Serna's left wrist while attempting to handcuff the other hand. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) As Officer Sears was attempting to handcuff her, Serna turned her head and moved her right arm. (Id. ¶ 43.) Observing this, Officer Sears claims that he became concerned that Serna would be able to use the open handcuff as a weapon and felt that he was losing his grip on Serna's right hand; again Serna denies that Officer Sears had any such concern and that any such a concern would have been reasonable under the circumstances. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 45; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 44, 45, Dkt. No. 100.) Officer Sears then instructed Serna not to move; Kleffner testified that, at that time, he heard Serna reply “no.” (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 46, 47, Dkt. No. 98-4.) Serna states that she moved her head so that she could look at Officer Sears directly and determine why she was being arrested. (Pl.'s Stmt. of Add'l Facts ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 101.) At this time, Officer Sears claims he attempted to execute a leg sweep on Serna. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 48 Dkt. No. 98-4.) Serna denies that this was an attempted leg sweep, but rather that Officer Sears tripped her. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 48, Dkt. No. 100 (citing video evidence).) In either case, Serna fell forcefully onto the ground. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 51, Dkt. No. 98-4.)When Serna hit the ground, she landed on her left side and lost consciousness. (Id. ¶ 53.) Serna states that she also lost two or three teeth. (Pl.'s Stmt. of Add'l Facts ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 101.) Officer Sears called for an ambulance, which arrived and removed Serna from the scene. (Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 54, 56, Dkt. No. 98-4.)

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Gross v. PPG Indus., Inc., 636 F.3d 884, 888 (7th Cir. 2011). In assessing whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence presented in favor of the nonmoving party. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010). “The initial burden is on the moving party . . . to demonstrate that there is no material question of fact with respect to an essential element of the non-moving party's case.” Cody v. Harris, 409 F.3d 853, 860 (7th Cir. 2005). “If the moving party meets this burden, the non-moving party must submit evidence that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Delta Consulting Grp., Inc. v. R. Randle Const., Inc., 554 F.3d 1133, 1137 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on each of Serna's three claims: (1) the § 1983 claim against Officer Sears; (2) the § 1983 claim against Chief Price and the Village; and (3) the battery claim against Officer Sears. Specifically, Defendants argue that Serna's § 1983 claim against Officer Sears fails because he is entitled to qualified immunity and his exercise of force was reasonable under the circumstances; that Serna's § 1983 claim against Chief Price and the Village fails because Serna has not identified an express policy of the Village that caused a constitutional deprivation; and that Serna's battery claim against Officer Sears fails because he is immune for his conduct under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/2-202.

         I. Section 1983 Claim Against Officer Sears

         Defendants argue that Officer Sears is entitled to summary judgment on Serna's § 1983 claim for use of excessive force because Officer Sears has qualified immunity for his actions related to the arrest. Government officials enjoy qualified immunity “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). “Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); accord Whitlock v. Brueggemann, 682 F.3d 567, 580 (7th Cir. 2012).

         The Court must grant summary judgment on qualified-immunity grounds unless the plaintiff has (1) adduced facts sufficient to make out that the officers' conduct constituted a constitutional violation, and (2) shown that the unconstitutionality of the officers' conduct was clearly established. McNair v. Coffey, 279 F.3d 463, 465 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01 (2001)). The Supreme Court has permitted “[t]he judges of the district courts . . . to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two [elements] of the qualified immunity analysis [to] addres[s] first in light of the circumstances of the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). But the Supreme ...


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