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Sanchez v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 16, 2018

Ruben Sanchez, Plaintiff-Appellant,
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued November 9, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:12-cv-06347 - Edmond E. Chang, Judge.

          Before Ripple, Manion, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Manion, Circuit Judge.

         Ruben Sanchez appeals the denial of his motion for a new trial in his § 1983 action against Officer Louis Garcia of the Chicago Police Department. Sanchez alleges that the trial court made multiple evidentiary errors, gave an improper jury instruction, and wrongfully accepted a partial verdict. Because we conclude that a new trial is not required, we affirm.


         The facts underlying the parties' dispute are contested. However, because the jury rendered a verdict in favor of Garcia, we recount the facts, unless noted otherwise, "in the light most favorable to him." See Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 562 U.S. 411, 413 (2011).

         Late on the night of August 10, 2010, Garcia and his partner, Officer William Murphy, were on patrol in an unmarked police car. Garcia observed Sanchez fail to stop his van as required at multiple intersections and fail to maintain his lane three times. Garcia also observed that the van's passenger sliding door was completely open. Garcia turned on his siren and lights, but Sanchez did not stop. Garcia eventually pulled up next to Sanchez in the left lane, and Murphy, who was sitting in the passenger seat, motioned for Sanchez to pull over. Sanchez responded by extending his middle finger (Sanchez maintains he flashed a "peace" sign) and waving for the officers to pass him.

         After driving a bit farther, Sanchez eventually pulled over near his home and immediately got out of his van, stumbling as he did so. Garcia noted that Sanchez smelled of alcohol, had red, bloodshot eyes, and was mumbling vulgarities about the police. Garcia approached Sanchez and ordered him to get on the ground. Sanchez refused and stood with his hands clenched in fists by his sides. Sanchez then took a swing at Garcia, but missed. Garcia responded by striking Sanchez in the face and performing an emergency takedown maneuver to restrain him. At that point, Murphy, who had been on the other side of the van, came to assist Garcia. When the officers searched the van, they found an open beer can and marijuana.

         Sanchez's version of events after he stopped begins the same way, with him stumbling out of the van. However, Sanchez maintains that he struggled to exit the van because of reconstructive surgery on his stomach that was performed after a traffic accident in 2008. Apparently, this surgery left his stomach badly disfigured and makes it difficult for him to get out of his van. He also claims that his stomach prevented him from getting on the ground, as he cannot lie on his stomach. Sanchez believes this fact should have been evident to Garcia because Sanchez was not wearing a shirt at the time of the stop. Sanchez states that, after exiting the van, he raised his hands in the air, and Garcia struck him unprovoked. Sanchez says he responded by telling Garcia that he could not be knocked down that way, so Garcia struck him again, then threw him to the ground on his stomach, stomped on his back, and hit him in the back of the head.

         After being arrested, Sanchez was taken to the police station and placed in a holding cell. Officer Karen Etti was called to give Sanchez a breathalyzer test. When she went into the cell, Sanchez was lying on the floor, smelling of alcohol and mumbling profanities. When Etti asked Sanchez to get off the floor so she could administer the test, Sanchez refused (he claims he could not get off the floor because of his stomach pain), but suggested they could pull him off the floor by his pants. Eventually, with the assistance of other officers, Sanchez was placed on a bench, but he then went back down to the floor. This caused Etti to conclude Sanchez was too intoxicated to be in custody, so she requested emergency medical assistance.

         One of the paramedics dispatched was Sean Ragusa. He detected the odor of alcohol on Sanchez, but found Sanchez alert and able to answer questions. In his report, based on his conversations with Sanchez and Garcia, Ragusa made a notation ruling out battery as a cause of Sanchez's injuries.

         After he declined treatment at the hospital, Sanchez was taken to the jail. When he was logged in just before 5:00 AM on August 11, the lockup keeper at the jail made a notation in the arrest report that Sanchez did not appear visibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

         Sanchez was eventually charged with aggravated driving under the influence ("DUI").[1] One day, while he was awaiting trial in jail, Sanchez attempted to go to lunch. Officer Tyrone Felix prevented him from doing so, allegedly by throwing Sanchez to the ground and dragging him to the dormitory. Felix denied this, and maintained that Sanchez had earlier said he did not intend to go to lunch, so it would have thrown off the head count to allow him to go.

         A jury convicted Sanchez of the aggravated DUI. He was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and a year of supervised release. Sanchez filed a direct appeal of his conviction, alleging, inter alia, denial of the right to self-representation and ineffective assistance of counsel. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his conviction, People v. Sanchez, No. 1-11-0900, 2013 WL 4711727 (111. App. Ct. Aug. 29, 2013), and the Illinois Supreme Court denied his petition for leave to appeal, People v. Sanchez, 2 N.E.3d 1049 (111. 2013).

         Before the appellate courts had resolved his direct appeal, Sanchez filed a petition for post-conviction relief, again alleging numerous grounds for relief. The trial court denied his petition on standing grounds. On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court concluded that his petition was timely filed, but denied relief on the merits. People v. Sanchez, No. 1-13-0369, 2015 WL 631544 (111. App. Ct. Feb. 11, 2015). The Illinois Supreme Court denied Sanchez's petition for leave to appeal. People v. Sanchez, 39 N.E.3d 1009 (111. 2015).

         While seeking relief from the Illinois state courts, Sanchez filed the instant lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois. His initial complaint named a multitude of defendants and made numerous allegations, but the action ultimately whittled down to three claims that went to trial: (1) Garcia used excessive force in arresting Sanchez on August 10, (2) Garcia lacked probable cause to arrest Sanchez, and (3) Felix used excessive force on Sanchez in the jail.

         Before trial, the district court resolved several motions in limine. Among them, the district court concluded that, as a matter of issue preclusion, Garcia could use Sanchez's conviction for DUI to establish that Sanchez was, in fact, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of his arrest. During the trial, Sanchez submitted a proposed jury instruction that stated the jury merely had to take it as established that he had been convicted of the DUI. Sanchez's proposed instruction also informed the jury of his then-pending post-conviction challenge (the Illinois Supreme Court had not yet denied his petition for leave to appeal). The district court declined to use Sanchez's instruction, instead informing the jury that it must take it as conclusively proven that Sanchez was driving under the influence on the day of his arrest.

         Three other events before the case went to the jury are pertinent to this appeal. First, the district court allowed Murphy's deposition testimony (Murphy had moved to Florida and was not available for trial), which contained Murphy's accounts of what he had been told by Garcia about the stop and arrest, to be read to the jury. Second, the court allowed the introduction of Ragusa's paramedic's report, which was based in part ...

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