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Patterson v. Remer

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

November 14, 2017




         Finding Plaintiff Stephanie Patterson's two children alone in a motel room that appeared unsafe and unhealthy for the children, Defendants, Joliet Police Officers Dave Remer and Shawn Wascher and Sergeant Douglas May, arrested Patterson for child endangerment. After a judge found her not guilty on that charge, Patterson filed this civil rights suit against Defendants, claiming that they falsely arrested her in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. Because the Court finds that Defendants had probable cause to arrest Patterson or, alternatively, that they are protected by qualified immunity, the Court grants Defendants' motion and enters judgment for Defendants on Patterson's claims.


         On January 1, 2015, Patterson lived in Room 235 at the Star Inn, a motel in Joliet, with her husband, Peji Patterson, and their children, a one-year old and a five-month old. Around noon that day, Patterson and Peji got into a fight, which began when Patterson found a female razor that did not belong to her in Peji's pants' pocket. Patterson accused Peji of cheating and told him she was done with their relationship. Peji grabbed Patterson by the hair and dragged her across the room while insisting that the razor belonged to her. As Patterson tried to push Peji off her, he slapped her across the face and pushed her down, beating her to the point that she lost consciousness. When she regained conciousness, she noticed she had blood dripping from her face. She told Peji to get it over with and kill her. Patterson then heard her one-year old crying and moved past Peji to sit with her son. The next thing Patterson remembers is sitting in her car.

         At 1:11 p.m., Wascher and Remer responded to a call from the Star Inn regarding a disturbance. Wascher described the Star Inn as one of the worst hotels in Joliet, requiring many police service calls for drug activity, unwanted people, people breaking things, overdoses, and deaths. Remer similarly indicated that he knew Star Inn to be in a high-crime area and believed it was not a safe place for children.

         When Wascher and Remer arrived at the Star Inn, they knocked on doors searching for the reported disturbance with the assistance of a motel employee. They found a child alone in Room 235. Wascher entered the room and observed the child wearing a dirty shirt and found his diaper filled with urine. The child was chewing on a cigarette lighter, which Wascher removed from the child's mouth. Wascher then felt something moving on the floor and found a car seat covered by two black pillows. Lifting the pillows, Wascher found the child's younger sibling strapped in the car seat. He also was wearing a dirty shirt and had a dirty diaper. Both children's diapers had last been changed around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. Wascher did not find any adults in the room. While the officers investigated, the older child continued to pick items up off the ground, including a razor and old baby bottle, and attempted to place them in his mouth. He also tried to play with spaghetti that was left in an uncovered dish on the floor and drink from a closed bottle of baby oil.

         The officers found Room 235 to be smelly and cold, with a dirty carpet, closed alcohol on a table, diapers strewn on the floor, beer bottles on the floor and sink counter, and old and used baby bottles, clothes, and trash scattered throughout the room.[3] Patterson had purchased the bottle of alcohol for Peji, and he had been drinking it the day before. The table was approximately four feet high, and the items on it, according to Patterson, were beyond her childrens' reach. An open cup of liquid was on a table, which Wascher noted smelled like alcohol. There was also an open bottle of cranberry juice on the floor next to the bed, which Peji had been drinking the night before. Electrical cords from a hot plate, hair straightener, and cell phone charger hung down toward the floor from the sink countertop. A baggie on the floor by the room window contained remnants of a green leafy substance appearing to be marijuana. At her deposition, Patterson denied that the baggie belonged to her or knowing to whom it belonged. But Peji smoked marijuana every day, and Patterson had complained to him about smoking marijuana in front of their children in the motel room. Patterson testified that the condition of the room was due to Peji dragging her around the room by her hair and his subsequent beating of her.

         Wascher spoke with several individuals outside of Room 235 in an attempt to find the children's parents. He learned their names-Stephanie and Peji Patterson-and then found Patterson seated in a car in the parking lot. The car was parked below the balcony to Room 235. Patterson had been sitting in the car when the police officers arrived and saw them walking on the balcony and heard them knocking on doors and walking by her room asking if anybody was there. She did not leave the car, however, until approached by Remer. Remer asked Patterson if the children in Room 235 were hers, to which she responded affirmatively. Remer indicated the children were alone in the room, to which Patterson responded she did not know that Peji had left the room. She further said she was smoking a cigarette in the car because she did not like to smoke in front of her children. She later told the officers she had gone to the store to get toilet paper. When Wascher asked Patterson whether they would find toilet paper in the car, she said she did not have any because when she got to the store, she had no money and so returned to the Star Inn. Neither of these stories was true. After Patterson returned to the room, she made her children bottles and changed their diapers. When Wascher indicated that she needed to talk to Patterson, Patterson for the first time pulled her hair back to reveal an injury to her scalp. Patterson explained that she had been in a fight with Peji, he injured her and knocked her unconscious, and she subsequently fled the room. Patterson did not explain why she did not call the police after the fight. She also did not discuss how the room came to be in the condition in which the police officers found it because the topic did not come up and she did not raise it. The officers called an ambulance, which took Patterson to the hospital for treatment.

         When May arrived at the Star Inn, he spoke to Wascher and Remer about the situation and what they found in the room. He took photographs of the room to memorialize its condition. Based on the condition of the room and children and the fact that the children were left unattended in the room, May directed Remer to arrest Patterson for child endangerment. Remer effectuated the arrest after Patterson received treated for her injuries at the hospital and arrived at the Joliet Police Station. Wascher took temporary custody of the children, bringing them to the Joliet Police Station. Wascher reported the incident to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”). A DCFS child protection advanced specialist, Deorea Sanders, received the assignment to investigate the claims of child endangerment. She made contact with Wascher, Patterson's grandmother, Norma Winter, and the children at the Joliet Police Station around 5:40 p.m. on January 1. Sanders noted that the children smelled and that their clothes and belongings were soiled. DCFS took protective custody of the children and placed them in Winter's temporary custody. After conducting its investigation, DCFS issued findings against both Patterson and Peji for child neglect and indicated them for a substantial risk of physical injury, an environment injurious to health and welfare by neglect, and inadequate supervision.


         Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to identify specific material facts that demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).


         Defendants argue that they had probable cause to arrest Patterson, the existence of which defeats her false arrest claim. See Holmes v. Vill. of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 679-80 (7th Cir. 2007) (“If the officer had probable cause to believe that the person he arrested was involved in criminal activity, then a Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest is foreclosed.”). “A police officer has probable cause to arrest an individual when the facts and circumstances that are known to him reasonably support a belief” that the individual has committed a crime. See Id. at 679. To evaluate probable cause, the Court makes an objective examination of the facts and determines what conclusions an arresting officer might have reasonably drawn from those facts. Id.

         Alternatively, Defendants contend that qualified immunity protects them from Patterson's claim. Qualified immunity protects an officer from civil liability stemming from discretionary functions so long as his conduct does not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right about which a reasonable officer would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). Thus, qualified immunity protects Defendants if a reasonable officer could have believed that he had probable cause to arrest Patterson in light of the information Defendants possessed at the time. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991). Courts have referred to this standard as “arguable probable cause.” Abbott v. Sangamon County, Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 715 (7th Cir. 2013). “Even law enforcement ...

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