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Birdo v. Gomez

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

April 3, 2017

KEVIN BIRDO, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR DAVE GOMEZ, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN ROBERT BLAKEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This Court began a jury trial in the subject case on January 23, 2017. At the beginning of trial, five causes of action against eight individual Defendants remained from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint [61]:[1]

Cause of Action

Relevant Named Defendant(s)

Count I

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

1. John Combs

2. Anthony Egan

Count IV

Retaliation Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

1. Catherine Larry

2. Susan Wilson

Count VI

Excessive Force Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

1. Kenneth Nushardt

Count VII

Failure to Protect Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

1. David Gomez

2. Michael Lemke

Count VIII

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

1. Jenny McGarvey

2. Catherine Larry

3. Susan Wilson

         On January 25, 2017, at the conclusion of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, all Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). After considering the parties' written submissions [229], [230] and oral arguments, the Court orally granted in part and denied in part the Defendants' motions. Specifically, the Court granted Defendants' motions as to Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IEED”) claims (Counts I and VIII), but denied Defendants' motions as to Plaintiff's retaliation, excessive force, and failure to protect claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts IV, VI, and VII). At the conclusion of trial, the jury rejected Plaintiff's claims and returned a verdict in favor of all remaining Defendants on each of Plaintiff's three remaining causes of action. Verdict [236].

         This Memorandum Opinion supplements the Court's oral ruling. The jury's verdict on Plaintiff's retaliation, excessive force, and failure to protect claims (Counts IV, VI, and VII) rendered the Court's denial of Defendants' motions as to those claims moot. Therefore, they will not be further discussed. The below analysis explains the Court's rationale for granting Defendants' motions as to Plaintiff's IEED claims (Counts I and VIII).

         I. Legal Standard

         A court should render judgment as a matter of law when “a party has been fully heard on an issue” and there is no “legally sufficient evidentiary basis” for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). The standard for granting judgment as a matter of law “mirrors the standard for granting summary judgment.” Pandya v. Edward Hosp., 1 F. App'x 543, 545 (7th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, the Court examines the record in its entirety and views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. After doing so, the Court determines “whether the evidence presented, combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn therefrom, is sufficient to support [a] verdict.” Mathur v. Bd. of Trustees of S. Illinois Univ., 207 F.3d 938, 941 (7th Cir. 2000) (quotations omitted). Judgment as a matter of law is proper “if a reasonable person could not find that the evidence supports a decision for a party on each essential element of the case.” Campbell v. Peters, 256 F.3d 695, 699 (7th Cir. 2001).

         In making this determination, the Court “may not step in and substitute its view of the contested evidence for the jury's.” Emmel v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Chicago, 95 F.3d 627, 634 (7th Cir. 1996). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Nevertheless, “there must be more than a mere scintilla of evidence” in support of the nonmoving party's case. Estate of Escobedo v. Martin, 702 F.3d 388, 403 (7th Cir. 2012). Thus, judgment should be entered where the evidence “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         II. Discussion

         To establish an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim under Illinois law, Plaintiff was required to introduce sufficient evidence that: (1) the defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous; (2) the defendant intended to inflict severe emotional distress or knew that there was at least a high probability that his conduct would inflict severe emotional distress; and (3) the defendant's conduct did cause severe emotional distress. Naeem v. McKesson Drug Co., 444 F.3d 593, 605 (7th Cir. 2006).

         A. Extreme and Outrageous Conduct

         The standard for extreme and outrageous conduct is high. It is not enough that the defendant act “with an intent which is tortious or even criminal, or that he intend to inflict emotional distress, or even that his conduct be characterized by ‘malice, ' or a degree of aggravation which would entitle the plaintiff to punitive damages for another tort.” Cook v. Winfrey, 141 F.3d 322, 331 (7th Cir. 1998); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 cmt. d (1965). Extreme and outrageous conduct “does not extend to mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other trivialities.” Honaker v. Smith, 256 F.3d 477, 490 (7th Cir. 2001). Rather, extreme and outrageous conduct exists only where the conduct “has been so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Bergstrom v. McSweeney, 294 F.Supp.2d 961, 969 (N.D. Ill. 2003). Generally, the case is one in which “the recitation of the facts to an average member of the community would arouse his resentment against the actor, and lead him to exclaim: ‘Outrageous!'” Lewis v. Sch. Dist. #70, 523 F.3d 730, 747 (7th Cir. 2008) (ellipses omitted).

         The Supreme Court of Illinois has promulgated a number of non-exclusive factors that help inform this analysis. See McGrath v. Fahey, 533 N.E.2d 806, 809 (Ill. 1988). First, “the degree of power or authority which a defendant has over a plaintiff” can impact whether that defendant's conduct is outrageous. Honaker, 256 F.3d at 490 (quoting McGrath, 533 N.E.2d at 809). The “more control which a defendant has over the plaintiff, the more likely that defendant's conduct will be deemed outrageous, particularly when the alleged conduct involves either a veiled or explicit threat to exercise such authority or power to plaintiff's detriment.” Id. at 491. Another factor is whether the defendant “reasonably believed that his objective was legitimate.” Id. Greater latitude is given to a defendant “pursuing a reasonable objective even if that pursuit results in some amount of distress for a plaintiff.” Id. A final consideration is whether the plaintiff “is particularly susceptible to emotional distress because of some physical or mental condition or peculiarity.” Id. Behavior “that otherwise might be considered merely rude, abrasive or inconsiderate may be deemed outrageous if the defendant knows that the plaintiff is particularly susceptible to emotional turmoil.” Id.

         In determining whether conduct is extreme and outrageous, courts use an objective standard based upon all the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Cobige v. City of Chicago, No. 06-cv-3807, 2009 WL 2413798, at *13 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 6, 2009). Conduct “does not exist in a vacuum and must be viewed in its pertinent context.” ...


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