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Walsh v. Kaluzny Bros. Inc.

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

May 4, 2017

Derek J. Walsh, Plaintiff,
v.
Kaluzny Bros. Inc., Peter Kaluzny, Unkown Kaluzny Bros. Inc. Employees, Officer John S. Huizenga, Police Chief Robert J. Dykstra, Unkown Rockdale Police Officers, and the Village of Rockdale Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Virginia M. Kendall United States District Court Judge.

         Derek Walsh sued Rockdale Police Chief Robert J. Dykstra and Rockdale Police Officer John S. Huizenga (“Officer Defendants”), alleging that they conspired with Walsh's former employer[1] to violate his Constitutional Rights (Count III) to have him falsely arrested twice in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I & II). Walsh also sued the Officer Defendants and the Village of Rockdale (collectively, the “Rockdale Defendants”) for malicious prosecution related to the charges they brought against him stemming from the false arrests (Count IV). The Rockdale Defendants moved for summary judgment claiming that there was probable cause to arrest him and therefore none of the remaining claims can survive. For the reasons stated below, their Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed unless expressly noted. During the relevant time, Robert Dykstra was Chief of Police of the Rockdale Police Department and John Huizenga was a Rockdale Police Department Officer. (SOF[2] ¶¶ 3-4.) Rockdale is a municipality located in Will County, Illinois. (Id. ¶ 2.)

         Sometime prior to January 2013, Derek Walsh was hired by Kaluzny Bros. Inc.[3](“Kaluzny”) as a press operator and worked the second shift five or six days per week. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Walsh's shift lasted between eight and twelve hours. (Id. ¶ 7.) On January 2, 2013, Peter Kaluzny, a Kaluzny employee, was informed by Steve Fenglio, another Kaluzny employee, that a spool of copper wire was missing from the Kaluzny boiler room. (SOAF ¶ 2.) The boiler room was generally unlocked and anyone who worked at Kaluzny, including Walsh, had access to the room. (SOF ¶ 9.) The wire on the spool was approximately three inches wide, flat, covered in black insulation and at the time it went missing, and weighed several hundred pounds. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 9.) Inside the insulation were four wires: three No. 2 gauge wires (red, yellow, and black) and one smaller, No. 6 gauge wire (green). (Id. ¶¶ 11, 27; SOAF ¶ 7.) Peter Kaluzny guessed there were approximately 230-250 feet of wire remaining on the spool when it went missing. (Dkt. 118 ¶ 12; Dkt. 116-4 at 69:15-19.) No one saw the spool of wire removed from the boiler room. (SOAF ¶ 4.) On January 7, 2013, shortly after Kaluzny noticed that the wire was missing, Walsh and his friend Tyrone Smego, sold several hundred pounds of copper wire to Lemont Scrap. (SOF ¶¶ 18, 21.)

         After being informed of the missing wire, Peter Kaluzny went to the boiler room and confirmed that the wire was missing. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.) He then informed Thomas George, the Kaluzny plant manager, of the missing wire. (Id.) After George was informed of the missing wire, Andrew Smith, a Kaluzny employee approached George and informed him that he recently had a conversation with Walsh, where Walsh indicated that he had copper to scrap, Lemont Scrap paid the most for copper, and that scrap yards could be sticklers. (Dkt. 116-6 at 43:23-45:17.) George instructed Thomas Kaluzny, another Kaluzny employee to go to Lemont Scrap to determine if the missing wire was scrapped there. (SOF ¶ 9.) Lemont Scrap permitted Thomas to search through certain bins for wire that had recently been scrapped but he failed to locate the missing wire. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         On January 11, 2013, after Thomas failed to find the wire at Lemont Scrap, Kaluzny informed the Rockdale Police Department that the wire was missing. (SOAF ¶ 11.) Officer Huizenga responded to the call. (Id. ¶ 11.) Huizenga first met with Peter Kaluzny and George, and was informed that the boiler room where the wire was last seen was never locked. (Id. ¶ 12.) According to Huizenga, George told him about Smith's conversation with Walsh, but Huizenga's recounting of George's version varied slightly from Smith's written statement in that it indicated that Walsh told Smith that Lemont Scrap were real sticklers because they asked him for identification when he recently scrapped some items. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         After his visit to Kaluzny, Huizenga obtained a copy of the invoice for the wire scrapped at Lemont by Smego and Walsh. The invoice reflected that Lemont Scrap paid Walsh and Smego $533.30 for two different types of wire: 233 pounds of wire labeled #1 and 88 pounds of wire labeled #2. (Id. ¶ 15.) Huizenga also obtained photographs from Lemont Scrap showing some of the wire that Walsh and Smego scrapped and Walsh's truck when they scrapped the wire.[4] (Id. ¶ 17.) The photos show a blue barrel in the bed of Walsh's pickup truck. (SOF ¶ 22.) Huizenga showed the Lemont Scrap photos to Peter Kaluzny and George. (SOAF ¶ 21.) Huizenga wrote in his case report that Peter Kaluzny and George positively identified the copper wire as the missing Kaluzny Bros.' wire and also that Peter Kaluzny positively identified a blue barrel in the bed of Walsh's truck outside of Lemont Scrap as property of Kaluzny. (Id. ¶ 22; Dkt. 118-3.)

         As part of the investigation, Chief Dykstra also made contact with Smego to discuss the wire he scrapped with Walsh. (SOF ¶ 28.) Smego provided Dykstra with a written statement, indicating that he had an account with Lemont Scrap and in early January 2013, Walsh asked him to recycle wire under his account. (Id. ¶ 30; Dkt. 116-13.) Smego's written statement recounts that Walsh initially told Smego that Walsh found the wire in an alley but Walsh later told Smego that Walsh's uncle gave him the wire as part of a trade. (Dkt. 116-13.) After they sold the scrap, Walsh gave Smego at least $40 of the proceeds. (Dkt. 118 ¶¶ 35-36.)

         On January 30, 2013, Huizenga reached out to Walsh by leaving a voicemail on his girlfriend's phone that “he needed to talk to Derek regarding an incident that had taken place.” (SOAF ¶ 29.) The next day, Walsh went to the Rockdale Police Station where he was met by Huizenga. (Id. ¶ 30.) At the police station, Walsh was taken to a secure area. (SOF ¶ 38.) The parties disagree about what occurred during the interview. Walsh asserts that he was handcuffed to a table for 2-3 hours by Huizenga, including for approximately an hour after he refused to waive his Miranda rights. (SOAF ¶ 30.) Although the Rockdale Defendants dispute that Walsh was handcuffed during the interview, it is undisputed that Walsh refused to sign a Miranda waiver form given to him by Huizenga and Dykstra during the interview. (SOAF ¶ 31.) After the interview concluded, Walsh left the police station without being charged with any crime. (SOF ¶ 40.)

         After Walsh's interview, Huizenga did not investigate further[5] and instead presented a criminal complaint along with the information in his case report to a judge to obtain an arrest warrant. (SOAF ¶33.) The parties have a series of disputes regarding the accuracy of Huizenga's case report. First, the parties dispute whether Huizenga's description of Peter Kaluzny's positive identification of the wires in his report was accurate. (Dkt. 118 ¶ 25; 128 ¶¶ 22-23.) Walsh contends that Peter Kaluzny's characterization cannot be called a positive identification because he told Huizenga only that the wire looked similar to the missing wire and that it could have been from Kaluzny, but without seeing it, he could not say for sure. (SOAF ¶ 23; Dkt. 116-4 at 97:14-21; 115:13-15.) Walsh also disputes the accuracy of Huizenga's report that Peter Kaluzny positively identified the blue barrel in Walsh's truck at Lemont Scrap as belonging to Kaluzny. (Id. ¶ 24.) Peter, however, testified that he told the officer the barrel appeared to be from Kaluzny. (Dkt. 116-4 at 115:8-12.) Additionally, Walsh takes issue with the fact that Huizenga did not have Peter Kaluzny or George make a written statement, purportedly in contravention of Rockdale Police Department practices, as described by Dykstra.[6](SOAF ¶¶ 26-28).

         Walsh also submits that Huizenga's case report inaccurately describes his conversation with George. (See Dkt. 128 ¶ 14.) Walsh primarily attacks the veracity of Huizenga's recounting of George's conversation with Smith. Huizenga's case report details that George told him that Smith had a conversation with Walsh where Walsh reported that “Lemont Scrap pays good money for copper” but that “they were real sticklers because they asked him for identification when he recently scrapped some items.” (SOAF ¶ 13; Dkt. 118-3.) This statement is slightly different from Smith's written statement where Smith reported that Walsh told him scrap yards are sticklers about taking in scrap. (Id.) According to his statement, Smith then asked if Walsh had tried All American Scrap and Walsh responded that that he had copper and Lemont Scrap paid the most for copper. (Id.; Dkt. 118 ¶ 13; SOF ¶ 16; Dkt. 116-6 at 50-55.) Smith, however, testified that his understanding of what Walsh meant by using the word “sticklers” was that scrap yards required identification before taking scrap. (Dkt. 116-6 at 52:2-10.) George is deceased and cannot clarify the point, and Huizenga was not deposed. Walsh also takes issue with Huizenga's report because it notes that George went to look for the missing wire at Lemont Scrap. Walsh contends that George never went to Lemont Scrap, rather Thomas Kaluzny went to the scrap yard. Notably, Walsh does not present any direct evidence that contradicts George's positive identification of the wire to Huizenga or that undermines George's other statements to Huizenga.

         When seeking the warrant, Huizenga gave the judge his case report, which included his recounting of Peter Kaluzny and George's statements. (SOAF ¶¶ 35-36). Huizenga did not give the judge the photos he obtained from Lemont. (Id.) Pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by the judge, Huizenga arrested Walsh on February 1, 2013, who was charged with two counts of theft, charges which were approved by the State's Attorney's Office. (Id. ¶ 37; SOF ¶ 44.) Specifically, Walsh was charged with theft in violation of 720 ILCS 5/16-1 which requires that a person knowingly obtain or exert unauthorized control over property of the owner and intends to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property. 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/16-1. Following his arrest, Walsh was detained for nine days before posting bond. (SOF ¶ 43.)

         At trial, the judge entered a directed verdict in favor of Walsh finding that the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. (SOAF ¶ 38.) In granting the directed verdict, the judge noted that it “is one of those rare instances that the Court simply is not able to meet the corpus delicti and demonstrate that in fact a crime occurred.” (Id. ¶ 39.) In coming to its decision, the court focused on the fact that the boiler room where the wire was stored was accessible by anybody who worked at Kaluzny. (Id.) The court also noted that no one saw Walsh with the wire, and the wire he sold to Lemont Scrap was not distinguishable in any specific fashion. (Id.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence shows that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). “A ‘material fact' is one identified by the substantive law as affecting the outcome of the suit.” Bunn v. Khoury Enters., Inc., 753 F.3d 676, 681 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “A ‘genuine issue' exists with respect to any such material fact, and summary judgment is therefore inappropriate, when ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Id. at 681-82 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). On the other hand, “where the factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is nothing for a jury to do.” Bunn, 753 F.3d at 682 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis in original)). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court construes the evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Id. at 682 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255); see also Kvapil v. Chippewa County, Wis., 752 F.3d 708, 712 (7th Cir. 2014).

         DISCUSSION

         The Rockdale Defendants' central argument is that probable cause existed to justify Walsh's arrests[7] defeating his Section 1983 and malicious prosecution claims. (Dkt. 115 at 6-8, 12.) Relatedly, they argue that the false arrest claims cannot survive because Walsh was arrested pursuant to a “valid” arrest warrant on February 1, 2013. (Id. at 9-10.) The Officer Defendants also argue that Walsh's conspiracy claim fails because the officers never had a meeting of the minds with Kaluzny employees and further that there was no constitutional violation. Because they arrested Walsh on probable cause and there was no constitutional violation, the Officer Defendants also claim that they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. 115 at 14.)

         Plaintiff's central argument is that the Court cannot rule as a matter of law that probable cause existed, even with the existence of the judge-issued arrest warrant, because the facts that the Defendant Officers presented to the judge were inconsistent with their investigation, revealing that they were conspiring to violate his constitutional rights. Plaintiff points to these inconsistencies to set forth his conspiracy theory and to argue that the judge-issued arrest warrant was not valid ...


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