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Doornbos v. City of Chicago

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

February 19, 2018

JOSEPH DOORNBOS, Plaintiff,
v.
The CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          Kevin T. Turkcan One of Plaintiff's Attorneys, Torreya L. Hamilton One of Plaintiff's Attorneys

          PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

          THARP Judge

         Plaintiff Joseph Doornbos respectfully requests that this Court enter a judgment as a matter of law on his Fourth Amendment claim because Defendant Officer Williamson's frisk of Doornbos was unlawful. Plaintiff submits the following memorandum in support of this motion:

         INTRODUCTION

         The Seventh Circuit has already ruled that Defendant Chicago Police Officer Michael Williamson's frisk of Plaintiff Joseph Doornbos outside the Wilson Avenue CTA train station on February 15, 2013 was unlawful and violated the Fourth Amendment. A jury cannot now return a verdict in favor of Williamson on Doornbos's Fourth Amendment claim because the frisk (or attempt to frisk) has always been part of Doornbos's Fourth Amendment excessive force claim. Only three issues remain on for a jury to decide: (1) whether Defendant Officers Yakes and Capiak are also liable for violating Doornbos's Fourth Amendment rights (either directly or for failure to intervene), (2) the liability of all three Defendant Officers on the malicious prosecution claim, and (3) what amount of damages will fairly compensate Doornbos for his injuries.

         This civil rights lawsuit arises out of Doornbos's arrest by Defendant Chicago Police Officers Williamson, Yakes, and Capiak at approximately 7:30 p.m. on February 15, 2013 outside the Wilson Avenue CTA train station in Chicago. Williamson, who was undercover and dressed in civilian clothes, approached Doornbos as he was exiting the station and grabbed his jacket pocket in an attempt to frisk him. Doornbos, not realizing that Williamson was a police officer and thinking that he was being robbed, began shouting for help and attempted to run away. He took two or three steps before all three Officers tackled him to the sidewalk, injuring his head and hands. The Officers charged Doornbos with resisting arrest and he was acquitted after a bench trial. He then filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging a federal excessive force claim and an Illinois state law malicious prosecution claim. This case proceeded to a jury trial before this Court in March of 2016, and on March 17, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants on all counts. Doornbos appealed the verdict.

         On August 18, 2017, the Seventh Circuit vacated the jury's verdict and remanded this case for a new trial. The Seventh Circuit found that it was reversible error to give Defendants' “investigatory stop” instruction because the instruction did not also explain when frisks are legally justified under Terry v. Ohio. Doornbos v. City of Chicago, 868 F.3d 572, 581 (7th Cir. 2017). The Seventh Circuit also found it was error for the Court to answer a jury question by informing the jury that plainclothes police officers are not required to identify themselves before conducting a Terry stop. Id. at 575. In reaching its decision, the Seventh Circuit made specific findings that are now the law of this case: (1) Williamson “was starting a frisk when he first approached Doornbos” and (2) Williamson's frisk of Doornbos was illegal. Id. at 575, 583. Defendants petitioned for rehearing by the panel or en banc, but the Seventh Circuit denied their petition on November 1, 2017 and remanded the case to this Court for a new trial. A second jury trial is currently set to begin on August 27, 2018. As a result of the Seventh Circuit's ruling that the frisk was unlawful, Doornbos seeks judgment as a matter of law on his Fourth Amendment claim as to Defendant Williamson.

         ARGUMENT

         Doornbos has always claimed that Williamson had no legal justification for grabbing his jacket outside the Wilson CTA stop, and the Seventh Circuit agrees. The Seventh Circuit has determined that Williamson's reasons for frisking Doornbos did not amount to a reasonable suspicion that Doornbos was armed and dangerous; thus, the frisk of Doornbos was illegal under the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 581-83. That ruling is the law of the case, and the jury cannot now return a verdict of “not liable” on Doornbos's Fourth Amendment claim against Williamson. Thus, this Court should enter judgment as a matter of law that Williamson's frisk of Doornbos was illegal and violated the Fourth Amendment. This case should then proceed to a trial to determine whether the other two Defendant Officers also acted unreasonably and Doornbos's damages for the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, as well as liability and damages on Doornbos's state law malicious prosecution claim. While the Court could enter judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 or Rule 56 - the standard is the same under either Rule - Doornbos submits that judgment under Rule 50 is the most efficient procedure at this stage of the case and the requirements for it have been fulfilled. Such a judgment will resolve Doornbos's Fourth Amendment claim as against Williamson, prevent a verdict that would be inconsistent with the Seventh Circuit's rulings, and will narrow the issues for the jury at trial.

         I. The Seventh Circuit's rulings with respect to Williamson's frisk of Doornbos are the law of this case.

         The Seventh Circuit concluded that Williamson's frisk of Doornbos was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment because Williamson had no reason to think that Doornbos was armed and dangerous. That conclusion is now the law of this case and it binds all future proceedings, including the second trial before this Court. The law of the case doctrine holds that “once an appellate court either expressly or by necessary implication decides an issue, the decision will be binding upon all subsequent proceedings in the same case.” Zamora-Mallari v. Muksaey, 514 F.3d 679, 697 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Key v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 1056, 1060 (7th Cir. 1991)). “Accordingly, ‘when a case is appealed and remanded, the decision of the appellate court establishes the law of the case and ordinarily will be followed by both the trial court on remand and the appellate court in any subsequent appeal.'” United States v. Alvarez, 142 F.3d 1243, 1247 (10th Cir. 1998) (quoting Rohrbaugh v. Celotex Corp., 53 F.3d 1181, 1183 (10th Cir. 1995)). The rule promotes the finality and efficiency of the judicial process by “protecting against the agitation of settled issues.” Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 816 (1988) (internal citation omitted). The law of the case doctrine applies to trial issues. See Creek v. Village of Westhaven, 1996 WL 657794, at *1-2 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 1, 1996) (explaining that the Seventh Circuit's ruling on the measure of damages was binding on the district court during the trial on remand).

         The Seventh Circuit made two specific rulings that are now the law of this case. First, the Seventh Circuit concluded that Williamson was conducting a frisk of Doornbos. At trial, Williamson admitted that he was trying to touch Doornbos's pocket to see whether he had a weapon and “that he had already decided to conduct a frisk when he approached Doornbos.” Doornbos, 868 F.3d at 588. Thus, the Seventh Circuit concluded that “Williamson's own testimony indicates that he was starting a frisk when he first approached Doornbos.” Id. at 575 (“Based on Officer Williamson's own version of events, he grabbed Doornbos to frisk him.”); Id. at 585 (“Williamson initiated the search by reaching out with his hand and putting Doornbos in imminent apprehension of an offensive contact.”) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Seventh Circuit, accepting the testimony of Williamson, found that Williamson was conducting a frisk when he first approached Doornbos. Defendants cannot now deny this fact.

         Second, the Seventh Circuit concluded that “the frisk was unjustified and thus unconstitutional” because Williamson did not have “articulable facts that would establish the separate and specific condition that the detainee has a weapon or poses some danger.” Id. at 581 (quoting United States v. Williams, 731 F.3d 678, 686 (7th Cir. 2013)). This conclusion is critical to the Seventh Circuit's holding and the Seventh Circuit reiterated it multiple times throughout its opinion. The court explained that the frisk was unlawful because Williamson “did not have reasonable suspicion that Doornbos was armed and dangerous.” Id. at 586. Furthermore, that conclusion is undisputed because “both sides' accounts suggest that Officer Williamson's initial contact with Doornbos was unreasonable and unlawful.” Id. at 588 (emphasis added). Thus, the court concluded, “Doornbos was entitled to have the jury know that the attempted frisk…was unjustified.” Id. at 575. The Seventh Circuit's ruling on this issue is clear: Williamson's frisk (or attempted frisk) was unlawful. That conclusion is now the law of this case. This Court is obligated to follow it, and whatever decision the jury makes in the second trial must be consistent with it.

         II. Doornbos is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his Fourth ...


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