United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
CORALYNN E. WHITE, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH JAMES FITZPATRICK, AMBER FITZPATRICK, THOMAS WUEST, MARK BERNDSEN, and CITY OF BREESE, ILLINOIS, Defendants.
AMENDED MEMORANDUM & ORDER
PHIL GILBERT, DISTRICT JUDGE.
police in Breese, Illinois arrested Coralynn White in 2015
following a domestic violence incident. Following her
acquittal on the corresponding charges, she brought an action
in this Court alleging numerous violations of her civil
rights stemming from the arrest and subsequent prosecution.
Now, this matter comes before the Court on the motion for
summary judgment by defendants Thomas Wuest, Mark Berndsen,
and the City of Breese, Illinois. (Doc. 59.) Defendants
Joseph and Amber Fitzpatrick have joined in the motion for
summary judgment without objection from any party. (Doc. 62.)
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART
AND DENIES IN PART the defendants' motion for
White and Joseph Fitzpatrick were formerly in a romantic
relationship. The amended complaint and statement of disputed
facts describe the tumultuous and sometimes violent history
of this relationship in detail, but important point here is
that the two have a child together over which they share
custody. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-17, Doc. 5.) One day in
June 2015, White went to Joseph's home to pick up the
child. (Id. at 19-22.) When she arrived, the couple
fought. (Id. at 22-30.) It is not clear who started
this fight or how the fight progressed. What is clear is that
Joseph's wife-Amber Fitzpatrick-was also at the house,
ran next door with her children to get help from her
neighbor-Jay Staser-and called 911. (Mot. for SJ. Ex. A, Doc.
60; Amber Fitzpatrick Dep. 50:16-54:2, Doc. 60-5; Doc. 60-7.)
Amber told the police that White was threatening to kill
Joseph with a knife. (Id.) So a member of the Breese
Police Department- Officer Thomas Wuest-went to the house,
where he found the “entire entrance to the home”
and Joseph covered in blood. (Mot. for SJ. Ex. B, at p. 5,
Doc. 60-1.) Joseph, along with neighbor Jay Staser, were
pinning White to the floor. (Id.) Joseph was yelling
“she stabbed me, she's crazy.” (Id.)
Wuest then called for backup and escorted White out of the
house. (Id.) Clinton County deputies arrived to
secure the scene, but Officer Wuest also called his sergeant-
defendant Mark Berndsen-given the serious nature of the
incident. (Id. at 6.) While emergency medical
services (EMS) personnel were tending to White in the front
yard, Officer Wuest returned inside to speak with Joseph and
Staser. (Id. at 6-7.) Officer Wuest next returned
outside, where he was met by Sgt. Berndsen. The sergeant then
took over the investigation. (Id. at 6.) Sgt.
Berndsen noted that when he arrived and saw White and the EMS
personnel, it looked like White was covered in somebody
else's blood given the fact that she was not actively
bleeding herself. (Id. at 7.) Meanwhile, Joseph
Fitzpatrick had multiple superficial wounds to his face,
neck, chest, and arm areas, and he was bleeding through his
point, the police did what any reasonable person would
expect. They took photos of the evidence. (Id. at
17-43.) They collected a knife found at the scene.
(Id. at 8.) They called the Clinton County
State's Attorney to determine whether they needed to take
Joseph Fitzpatrick's shirt into evidence. (Berndsen Dep.
at 26:23-27:22, Doc. 60-8.) They took White to the station
for further interrogation, where she denied having a knife
and stabbing Joseph. (Mot. for SJ. Ex. B, at p. 8, Doc.
60-1.) And finally, after that interview with White, Sgt.
Berndsen completed a “statement of probable
cause” and forwarded it to the State's Attorney.
(Mot. for SJ. Ex. C, Doc. 60-2.) The State's Attorney
charged White with three counts of felony battery and
aggravated domestic battery (Mot. for SJ. Ex. D, Doc. 60-3),
and later, a judge in the county found probable cause existed
and allowed the case to proceed. But after a trial in
November 2016, a jury found White not guilty on all charges.
Court, Coralynn White has brought a nine-count complaint
against five remaining defendants: Joseph & Amber
Fitzpatrick, Officer Wuest, Sgt. Berndsen, and the City of
Breese, Illinois. The first two counts are 42 U.S.C. §
1983 claims against the individuals. The third is a 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 claim against the City of Breese. The other six
are a collection of state common-law false arrest, malicious
prosecution, and abuse of process claims. Specifically, White
believes that the defendants were “acting in concern
pursuant to a common scheme and purpose of charging
[White]” with the three felony counts.
furtherance of her theory-which the defendants brand as
“cockamamie”-White cites only to circumstantial
evidence: that the Fitzpatricks are employed at the federal
prison in Greenville, Illinois (and, according to White's
theory, must be conspiratorially connected to all law
enforcement officers in the county) (Am. Compl. ¶ 27,
Doc. 5); Joseph Fitzpatrick and Jay Staser are friends with
the police officers (Am. Compl. ¶ 28, Doc. 5.); Jay
Staser is “best friends” with Officer Wuest
(Id.); Amber Fitzpatrick previously worked for the
Clinton County Sheriff's Office and knew Sgt. Berndsen to
some unspecified degree (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 7, Doc. 76);
Jay Staser was a member of the volunteer fire department with
Officer Wuest (Id. at ¶ 8); Officer Wuest knew
Joseph Fitzpatrick from previous domestic incidents and
because their children “attend the same school”
(Id. at ¶ 9); and a cluster of other bizarre
allegations. The record has debunked a number of White's
assertions, and the defendants have moved for summary
judgment on all counts for a plethora of reasons.
judgment must be granted “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes
Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir.
2000). The Court must construe the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable
inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986);
Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir.
2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.
initial summary judgment burden of production is on the
moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to
have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323;
Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir.
2013). If the moving party bears the burden of persuasion on
an issue at trial, it must “lay out the elements of the
claim, cite the facts which it believes satisfies these
elements, and demonstrate why the record is so one-sided as
to rule out the prospect of a finding in favor of the
non-movant on the claim.” Hotel 71 Mezz Lender LLC
v. National Ret. Fund, 778 F.3d 593, 601 (7th Cir.
2015); accord Felix v. Wisconsin Dep't of
Transp., 828 F.3d 560, 570 (7th Cir. 2016). Where the
moving party fails to meet that strict burden, the Court
cannot enter summary judgment for that party even if the
opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in
response. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th
responding to a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving
party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in
the pleadings, but must present specific facts to show that a
genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322-26; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57;
Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1168. A genuine issue of
material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of
“some alleged factual dispute between the parties,
” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by “some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material
fact only exists if “a fair-minded jury could return a
verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence
presented.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
42 U.S.C. § 1983
order to prove a § 1983 claim against a police officer,
a plaintiff must show that the officer (1) deprived the
plaintiff of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of
the United States, and (2) that the defendant was acting
under color of state law. Ienco v. City of Chicago,
286 F.3d 994, 997-98 (7th Cir. 2002); see Gomez v.
Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); McKinney v.
Duplain, 463 F.3d 679, 683 -84 (7th Cir. 2006);
Brokaw v. Mercer Co., 235 F.3d 1000, 1009 (7th Cir.
2000). A plaintiff can also bring a § 1983 claim against
a private party if the plaintiff shows that the private party
“conspired or acted in concert with state officials to
deprive [the plaintiff] of his civil rights.” Case
v. Milewski, 327 F.3d 564, 567 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing
Adickes v. S.H. Kress and Company, 398 U.S. 144, 152
a municipality can be liable under § 1983 if (1) the
municipality had an express policy calling for constitutional
violations; (2) it had a widespread practice of
constitutional violations that was so permanent and well
settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of
law; or (3) if a person with final policymaking authority for
the county caused the constitutional violation. Monell v.
New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S.
658, 694 (1978); McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230
F.3d 319, 324 (7th Cir. 2000). A municipality is liable only
when its “policy or custom, whether made by its
lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said
to represent official policy, ” is the moving force
behind the constitutional violation. Monell, 436
U.S. at 694.