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Patrick v. City of Chicago

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

May 10, 2017

DEON PATRICK, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al, Defendants.

          DEFENDANTS' ANTHONY VILLARDITA, THOMAS JOHNSON, RICK ABREU, TERRY O'CONNOR, SEAN GLINSKI, MICHAEL BERTI, AND CITY OF CHICAGO COMBINED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AND OTHER RELIEF

         NOW COME the Defendants, ANTHONY VILLARDITA, THOMAS JOHNSON, RICK ABREU, TERRY O'CONNOR, SEAN GLINSKI and MICHAEL BERTI, (collectively “Chicago Police Officers”), by and through their attorneys, BORKAN & SCAHILL, LTD., and THE CITY OF CHICAGO, by and through its attorneys, DYKEMA GOSSETT PLLC, and seeking for judgment and/or other relief to be entered in their favor pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(3) and the inherent powers of this Court under Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 111 S.Ct. 2123 (1991).

         INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The above-captioned matter was filed on May 19, 2014 by Plaintiff, DEON PATRICK (“Plaintiff”), against Defendants CITY OF CHICAGO, ANTHONY VILLARDITA, THOMAS JOHNSON, RICK ABREU, TERRY O'CONNOR, BRIAN KILLACKY, SEAN GLINSKI, MICHAEL BERTI, MARTIN FOGARTY, and JOSEPH MAGATS. In general summary, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants framed him for a double murder occurring on November 16, 1992, coerced his confession to same, fabricated evidence, maliciously prosecuted him, and conspired to do such acts. After extensivepre-trial discovery, trial began on March 6, 2017. A jury verdict was rendered on April 12, 2017 and Plaintiff was awarded $13, 300, 000 in compensatory damages and $90, 000 in punitive damages. See Dckt. No. 365.

         For the reasons set forth below, under well-established precedent, the judgment in favor of Plaintiff must be vacated and entered in favor of Defendants and/or other relief must be entered in favor of all Defendants on all claims as a result of Plaintiff's intentional, severe, and pervasive perjury, obstruction of justice, and repeated discovery violations.

         PLAINTIFF'S REPEATED ACTS OF ADMITTED PERJURY AND OBSTRUCTION OF ACCESS TO DISCOVERY

         Plaintiff committed perjury on at least two material issues in this case and intentionally concealed highly material information during the pre-trial discovery period. First, Plaintiff intentionally and repeatedly lied about his communications with an individual whom Plaintiff and his cohorts had attempted to frame for the murders for which Plaintiff was convicted. It is undisputed that Plaintiff lied for the admitted and express purpose of withholding such information from Defendants in this civil case. Second, Plaintiff committed perjury in post-conviction filings filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County regarding his personal knowledge of Daniel Taylor's “lock up alibi.” Plaintiff then lied in the course of this civil case about this perjury and, additionally, intentionally withheld highly material information from Defendants. These actions were repeated, intentional and motivated by a specific malicious intent on behalf of Plaintiff to obstruct Defendants' access to relevant information. Even though prejudice is not required in order to vacate the judgment in this case, Defendants suffered great prejudice as a result of these actions and were deprived of their right to a fair trial. Accordingly, under well-established law, Defendants pray this Court vacate the verdict in favor of Plaintiff, enter judgment in favor of Defendants on all counts, and grant Defendants whatever other relief this Court deems fit and just.

         GENERAL LEGAL STANDARDS

         Inherent Authority of the Court and Fed.R.Civ.P. 37: A district court has inherent power to sanction a party who “has willfully abused the judicial process or otherwise conducted litigation in bad faith.” Secrease v. Western & Southern Life Ins. Co., 800 F.3d 397 (7th Cir. 2015); Salmeron v.

         Enterprise Recovery Systems, Inc., 579 F.3d 787, 793 (7th Cir.2009); see Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 48-49 (1991); Greviskes v. Universities Research Ass'n, 417 F.3d 752, 758-59 (7th Cir.2005). A district court may also dismiss a case for discovery violations or other egregious conduct in litigation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 or under the inherent authority of the district court. See Greviskes, 417 F.3d at 758-59; White v. Williams, 423 Fed.Appx. 645 (7th Cir. 2011)("Dismissal may be appropriate when a party has shown a lack of respect for the court or proceedings.").

         Under Rule 37, the District Court may impose a wide range of remedies including dismissal and awarding of attorney's fees. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2) and (c). Although Rule 37 requires violation of a judicial order before a court imposes sanctions, "[c]ourts can broadly interpret what constitutes an order for purposes of imposing sanctions" and a formal order is not required. Quela v. Payco-General Amer. Credits, Inc., 2000 WL 656681, at *6 (N.D.Ill. May 18, 2000)(collecting cases).

Quela
The order, or equivalent, serves as notice to a disobedient party that sanctions may be imposed. In this case, although there has been no specific court order, we believe such an order is not required to provide notice that parties must not engage in such abusive litigation practices as coercing witness testimony, lying to the court, and tampering with the integrity of the judicial system. Because all litigants are presumed to know that contumacious conduct of this sort is absolutely unacceptable, we can properly consider the sanctions available under Rule 37. Quela, 2000 WL 656681 at *6 citing United States v. Golden Elevator, Inc ., 27 F.3d 301, 302 (7th Cir.1994)("Lawyers and litigants who decide that they will play by rules of their own invention will find that the game cannot be won."); Hal Commodity Cycles Management v. Kirsh, 825 F.2d 1136, 1139 (7th Cir.1987)("The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as local rules of court, give ample notice to litigants of how to properly conduct themselves."). Id.

         The reason for this broad interpretation of Rule 37 is that all offending parties are presumed to know that tampering with the integrity of the judicial system, lying to the court, or engaging in other deceptive or abusive practices are absolutely unacceptable regardless of the absence of a specific court order to the contrary. Id.; see also Lightspeed Media Corp. v. Smith, 2015 WL 3545253, *5 (S.D. Ill. 2015)("Although the language of Rule 37(b) requires violation of a judicial order in order to impose sanctions, a formal, written order to comply with discovery is not required, where a litigant engages in abusive litigation practices."); JFB Hart Coatings, Inc. v. AM Gen. LLC, 764 F.Supp.2d 974, 981-82 (N.D. Ill. 2011)(“Although Rule 37 requires violation of a judicial order before a court imposes sanctions, ‘[c]ourts can broadly interpret what constitutes an order for purposes of imposing sanctions' and a formal order is not required. This broad latitude "stems from the presumption that all litigants ... are reasonably deemed to understand that fabricating evidence and committing perjury is conduct of the sort that ‘is absolutely unacceptable.'").

         No order of any sort is required in order to dismiss a case based upon the inherent authority of this Court. These inherent powers "are governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases." Chambers, 501 U.S. at 43. Under these powers, courts can impose sanctions including entering judgment and shifting attorney's fees. See Id. at 44-45.

         Dismissal is warranted when "there is a record of delay [or] contumacious conduct ... In deciding what measure of sanctions to impose, the district court should consider the egregiousness of the conduct in question in relation to all aspects of the judicial process.'" Greviskes, 417 F.3d at 758-59. The "contumacious" conduct required for dismissal of a case with prejudice occurs "where a party has displayed fault, bad faith, or willfulness." Id. citing Downs v. Westphal, 78 F.3d 1252, 1257 (7th Cir.1996). Willfulness and bad faith are associated with conduct that is either "intentional or reckless[.]" Long v. Steepro, 213 F.3d 983, 987 (7th Cir.2000); see also Maynard v. Nygren, 332 F.3d 462, 467-68 (7th Cir. 2003). Fault, however, "does not speak to the noncomplying party's disposition at all, but rather only describes the reasonableness of the conduct-or lack thereof-which eventually culminated in the violation." Id. District Courts are not required to impose lesser sanctions to remedy misconduct if the misconduct is sufficiently serious. See Patterson by Patterson v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Cairo-Sikeston, Inc., 852 F.2d 280, 284-85 (7th Cir.1988)("Plaintiffs urge this court to reverse the dismissal, arguing that less drastic sanctions would achieve the same result. Yet we see no reason to impose a requirement that prevents a district court from imposing sanctions if, under the circumstances, it is warranted.”).

         Finally, in assessing whether dismissal is an appropriate sanction under the inherent powers of the Court, the Court need not find party's misconduct caused its opponent any prejudice. See Barnhill v. United States, 11 F.3d 1360, 1368 (7th Cir. 1993)(“We continue to eschew grafting a requirement of prejudice onto a district court's ability to dismiss or enter judgment as a sanction under its inherent power.”); Raziev v. Compass Truck Sales, LLC, 2016 WL 1449933, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 13, 2016)(“The Seventh Circuit has not imposed a requirement of prejudice on a court's ability to dismiss or enter judgment as a sanction under its inherent power.”). As explained in Barnhill, some misconduct “may exhibit such flagrant contempt for the court and its processes that to allow the offending party to continue to invoke the judicial mechanism for its own benefit would raise concerns about the integrity and credibility of the civil justice system that transcend the interests of the parties immediately before the court.” 11 F.3d at 1368 (7th Cir.1993). Thus, a court may use its inherent powers to dismiss a case or enter default judgment even when the innocent party “incur[s] no real inconvenience” and “suffer[s] no real prejudice .” Id.; see also Secrease, 800 F.3d at 402 (“Even if it is not successful, the effort imposes unjust burdens on the opposing party, the judiciary, and honest litigants who count on the courts to decide their cases promptly and fairly.”); see also Fuery v. City of Chicago, 2016 WL 5719442, at *11 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2016)(The “Court may still impose sanctions even where there is no prejudice but the actions of the party exhibit such flagrant contempt for the court and its processes that to allow the offending party to continue to invoke the judicial mechanism for its own benefit would raise concerns about the integrity and credibility of the civil justice system that transcend the interests of the parties immediately before the court.”).

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(3): Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(3) provides that “[o]n motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons:...fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(3). This rule requires a party to “show that []he has a meritorious claim that []he was prevented from fully and fairly presenting at trial as a result of the adverse party's fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct.” Wickens v. Shell Oil Co., 620 F.3d 747, 758-59 (7th Cir.2010). In ascertaining whether a party has been prevented from fully and fairly litigating its case, the Court need not find that the fraud would necessarily have altered the outcome of the trial so long as the party is prejudiced in the presentation of its case. Lonsdorf v. Seefeldt, 47 F.3d 893, 897 (7th Cir. 1995)(“[I]t is unnecessary for Lonsdorf to establish that the misrepresentation altered the outcome of the trial. It is sufficient that prejudice has occurred.”).

         ARGUMENT

         I. Plaintiff's Repeatedly and Intentionally Committed Acts of Perjury Relating To His Communications With The Alleged “True Killer” of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter.

         Plaintiff intentionally and maliciously lied at his deposition in this case (and in his sworn Interrogatory answers) about his communications with an apparently innocent individual whom Plaintiff and his cohorts attempted to frame for the very murders for which Plaintiff was convicted.

         For nearly an entire decade prior to being released from prison, Plaintiff had pursued a factual theory that the “true killer” of Sharon Haugabook and Jeffrey Lassiter included an individual named “Lamuel Hardy.” See Def.'s Tr. Ex. 215 at 4, 7-9; Def.'s Tr. Ex. 234 at 18. [1] Specifically, these accusations against Mr. Hardy were contained in a Verified Petition to Vacate Judgment filed in 2004 and were repeated in Plaintiff's Verified Successive Petition for Post-Conviction Relief filed in 2013. Id. The latter of these filings was successful and ultimately resulted in Plaintiff being released from prison and having his conviction vacated. See Pl.'s Tr. Ex. 87.

         Despite Mr. Hardy being named by Plaintiff as the “true killer” in 2004 (and again in 2013), no credible evidence of his alleged involvement in these murders appears to have surfaced at any point over the following nine (9) years.[2] More importantly, however, the timing of Mr. Hardy's identification as the “true killer” was highly suspicious in the first place. Specifically, Mr. Hardy had fortuitously shown up at Stateville Prison in 2003 after being convicted of a different murder. At this time, Plaintiff, Dennis Mixon, and Daniel Taylor all happened to be serving their sentences at Stateville as well. Shortly after being placed in Stateville, Mr. Hardy claimed that “[h]e was approached at Stateville and someone wanted him to file papers at Stateville about some murders to get an inmate off.” See Def.'s Tr. Ex. 817 at ¶ 236. This incident prompted Mr. Hardy to request placement in protective custody. Id.

         In 2013, Mr. Hardy was interviewed by investigators from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. See Def.'s Tr. Ex. 812. At that time, Mr. Hardy advised that the individual that had initially approached him in this regard was Dennis Mixon. Id. Mr. Hardy went on to state that, after he had been placed in protective custody, Plaintiff also approached him in protective custody (where Plaintiff had access as a result of a work detail) and again pressured Mr. Hardy to take responsibility for the murders. Id. According to Mr. Hardy, Plaintiff was later placed in Menard Correctional Center. Id. As luck would have it, both Dennis Mixon and Plaintiff were eventually placed there as well. Id. Mr. Hardy claimed that Plaintiff and Dennis Mixon again attempted to pressure him to implicate himself in the Lassiter/Haugabook murders. Id.

         Given the obvious probative value of Plaintiff's active involvement in trying to intimidate an apparently innocent person into taking responsibility for the murders for which Plaintiff was alleging he himself was framed, Defendants explored this issue extensively in pre-trial discovery.

         First, Defendants propounded specific Interrogatories requesting that Plaintiff list any “contact or communication” that he had with Mr. Hardy during the entire period of Plaintiff's incarceration as well as “describe in detail the dates, number of times, nature of [Plaintiff's] contact, the contents of any conversations and identify by name the facility where [Plaintiff] incarcerated when [Plaintiff] had contact with” Mr. Hardy. See Pl.'s Resp. Villardita Interrog. at ¶ 13, pp. 25 (attached hereto as Ex. A). Plaintiff denied, under oath, having any contact or communications whatsoever with Mr. Hardy. Id. These statements were sworn under oath by Plaintiff on November 17, 2014. Id. These answers were never amended nor supplemented at any point (prior to trial or otherwise).

         At Plaintiff's later deposition, Plaintiff was again asked (repeatedly) about any contact or communications he had with Mr. Hardy. See Def.'s Tr. Ex. 997 at 492:14-498:14 . While Plaintiff admitted that Mr. Hardy was indeed placed at Stateville with him in 2003, Plaintiff specifically, repeatedly, and unambiguously denied having any communication with Mr. Hardy whatsoever. Indeed, the questions posed on this topic could not have been more clear and the answers given by Plaintiff could not have been more unequivocal. To wit:

Q. Okay. Did you ever have any conversation with Lemuel Hardy?
A. No.
Q. Ever?
A. No.
Q. Okay. Did you ever -- have you ever spoken to Lemuel Hardy about your case?
A. No.
Q. Never? A. No.
Q. Have you ever told anyone that you've told -- spoken to Lemuel Hardy about your case?
A. Not that I recall.
Q. Okay. If you had, in fact, said that to somebody, would that be a lie?
A. To my recollection, yes. Def.'s Tr. Ex. 997 at 494:4-494:19.

         In response to being confronted with the statements attributed to Mr. Hardy by CCSAO (as referenced above), Plaintiff responded unequivocally “I've never spoken to Lemuel Hardy.” Def.'s Tr. Ex. 997 at 495:10-496:2. Indeed, Plaintiff testified that he never even considered having such conversation with Mr. Hardy and appeared to scoff at the very idea that anyone would do such a thing:

Q. Did you ever consider speaking to Lemuel Hardy about your case?
A. No.
Q. Why not?
A. I don't want to know Lemuel Hardy. I don't want to know Dennis Mixon. I didn't want to know what happened in that house because when I was sitting in this room, I don't want to know. And what I'm telling you and I am saying that I'm speaking from what I know to be the truth, that's what I want it to be.
Q. Well, you were given information that an individual who you were locked up with had something to do with the murders that you were serving a life sentence for, correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. And didn't you have any sort of urge to want to go and talk to this person and maybe try to get him to take responsibility for what they did?
A. Who does that?
A. If he was going to take any sort of responsibility, he would have been done it. I don't want to talk to Lemuel Hardy. I was just in Menard with Lemuel Hardy. Lemuel Hardy didn't know me, but he will sit there and say that he had a conversation with me where I said, "My nigger wrap, are you going to something"? He didn't know me until somebody pointed me out to him. We don't know each other. We've never seen each other. We've never been around each other like that. Def.'s Tr. Ex. 997 at 496:21-498:14.

         During trial in this case, however, Plaintiff admitted that his previous sworn statements regarding his allegedly having had no communications whatsoever with Mr. Hardy were simply false. Specifically, Plaintiff testified as follows:

Q. Now, after Lemuel Hardy shows up in Stateville where you're housed and Dennis Mixon is housed, you become aware that Lemuel Hardy actually had been ...

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