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Jackson v. City of Chicago

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

December 12, 2017

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Andre Jackson has sued the City of Chicago and two Chicago police officers, Brandon Smith and Dennis Huberts (collectively “officer defendants”), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for use of excessive force and for malicious prosecution. Jackson pleads a Monell claim seeking to hold the City vicariously liable for the officer defendants' alleged constitutional violations. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Discovery began by April 2017. See Minute Entry, Apr. 12, 2017, ECF No. 57.

         The City moves to bifurcate Jackson's Monell claim against it from his claims against the officer defendants, [1] and all defendants renew their motion to dismiss Count III of the Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”, ECF No. 65), which pleads a malicious prosecution claim against the officer defendants. The court denies both motions. At this stage, the City has not shown that the particular circumstances of this case warrant bifurcation mainly because the relatively narrow issues presented by plaintiff's claims against the officer defendants and his Monell claim overlap such that bifurcation appears more likely to increase discovery costs than save them. The parties rely on factual material outside the pleadings in their briefing on the motion to dismiss. The court declines to convert that motion to a summary judgment motion because further discovery would be required in any event and because the legal landscape surrounding plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim is still emerging. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).


         According to his SAC and the response to the defendants' motion to bifurcate, [2] the encounter that forms the basis for Jackson's claims began when the officer defendants, in plain clothes in an unmarked car, spotted plaintiff and suspected him of a curfew violation. Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 1, ECF No. 82. For this reason, the officers demanded that plaintiff come to the car and speak with them, but plaintiff, fearful, ran away. Id. The officers chased him into an alley (both in their vehicle and on foot) where they allegedly shot him four times in the back. Id.

         Officer Smith claimed that he saw plaintiff armed with a firearm and that plaintiff fired twice at the officers. Id. Both officers shot plaintiff. SAC ¶¶ 8-9; Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 2. After the officers shot plaintiff, he was handcuffed and taken to the hospital where emergency surgery saved his life. Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 2. No firearm was found on plaintiff's person or in the vicinity of where he fell. SAC ¶ 13. A small handgun was found on a nearby roof, which the officers claimed was the gun they saw in plaintiff's possession, but no bullets were found in the gun, no cartridge casings were found that matched the gun, no gun residue was found on plaintiff's hands, and plaintiff's fingerprints were not found on the gun. Id.; Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 2. Fifteen spent cartridge casings from the officers' guns were found and collected. Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 2. Plaintiff asserts that defendant Smith later testified that he shot plaintiff first before plaintiff allegedly fired his shots, Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 2, and defendant Huberts testified that he did not recall seeing plaintiff with a weapon, see Tr. of Hr'g held Oct. 14, 2014, at 84:2-11, ECF No. 38-1 Ex. C, but also admitted shooting plaintiff after he was on the ground shot and bleeding, according to plaintiff, Resp. to Mot. to Bifurcate 2.

         This case was stayed until March 11, 2016, pending the outcome of related criminal proceedings in state court. See ECF No. 33. As discussed more fully below, plaintiff ultimately agreed to plead guilty to one count of aggravated assault in exchange for the dismissal of fifteen counts against him. SAC ¶ 15. He received a sentence amounting to time served in pretrial detention, though that time amounted to over three years. Id.

         Plaintiff then filed his First Amended Complaint in this action (“FAC”). ECF No. 34. Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim, and the court granted that motion and dismissed Count III of the FAC without prejudice on January 26, 2017. ECF No. 47 at 8. The dismissal order allowed Jackson to “replead his malicious prosecution claim if he has facts to support his claim that the nolle prosequi order, in whole or in part, was indicative of his innocence.” Id. In essence, the court left open the possibility of repleading the malicious prosecution claim if supporting evidence came to light in discovery. See id.

         Discovery then began, and plaintiff filed his SAC, again pleading a malicious prosecution claim in Count III. Fact discovery closes on February 9, 2018. Minute Entry, July 7, 2017, ECF No. 75.


         The City moves for bifurcation of the claims against the officer defendants and the Monell claim against the City, as it does routinely in virtually every 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case involving both types of claims. The City in this case, as it usually does, cites judicial economy (less discovery, fewer discovery issues, a shorter and less complex trial) and the lack of prejudice to plaintiffs (by virtue of the City's agreement to pay any compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff in the suit against the officer defendants) as reasons for bifurcation, together with the fact that unless the plaintiff can show that the individual defendants violated his constitutional rights, there will likely be no Monell discovery and no trial of the Monell claim.

         The court has discretion to bifurcate the claims as the City requests and to stay discovery on the Monell claim until the claims against the officer defendants are resolved. Medina v. City of Chicago, 100 F.Supp.2d 893, 894 (N.D. Ill. 2000); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b); 16(b)(3). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow the court to order separate trials “where the efficiency of a consolidated trial is outweighed by its potential prejudice to the litigants.” Houskins v. Sheahan, 549 F.3d 480, 495 (7th Cir. 2008). The applicable inquiry requires the court to look to the cases “peculiar circumstances” and weigh “considerations of convenience, economy, expedition, and prejudice.” Id.; see also Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Houseman v. U.S. Aviation Underwriters, 171 F.3d 1117, 1121 (7th Cir. 1999)) (bifurcation may not impinge on Seventh Amendment rights).

         Bifurcation of Monell issues in § 1983 actions frequently expedites the disposition of the case, since the resolution of the claims against the individual officers may end the entire case (either because no infringement of plaintiff's constitutional rights is established or because the plaintiff is able to settle the case in a way that persuades him not to go further), after less complex discovery and a less complex trial. Medina, 100 F.Supp.2d at 895. There are considerations that militate against bifurcation, however. There are circumstances where resolution of the claims against the individual officers does not eliminate the need for a trial of the Monell claim. See Id. at 896. And if, after discovery and a trial on the individual claims, it is necessary to begin discovery again and try the Monell claim, the result of the bifurcation will be a longer and more complex road to the case's disposition, including a second trial that is largely repetitive of the first. Moreover, there are non-economic benefits that flow from discovery (as well as a possible trial) of the Monell claim. Chiefly, an airing of the Monell claim through discovery assures transparency, and if problems in the City's policies and practices are revealed through discovery or trial, the likelihood of deterring future misconduct is significantly enhanced. See generally Medina, 100 F.Supp.2d at 896-97. As is explained below, these non-economic benefits and the particular circumstances of this case, lead the court to deny the motion to bifurcate at this stage.

         Jackson's Monell claim is closely connected to his allegations about the incident in question. He first asserts that both officer defendants have been sued for civil rights violations on numerous occasions other than the instant case (Smith four times and Huberts twice) and that there were thirteen misconduct complaints against the officers (this appears to be the combined total), none of which resulted in any discipline. SAC ¶ 24. Plaintiff alleges that these facts demonstrate a failure to discipline (as well as lack of accountability), id., of which the City was well aware based on the recent findings of the Mayor's Task Force.[3] Further, plaintiff argues in response to the motion to bifurcate that the City's failure to enact a policy and train officers on proper police behavior in foot pursuits, particularly as in the case of minor ordinance violations such as occurred here, is the cause of what happened to ...

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