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White v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 28, 2018




         The 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 summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Coralynn 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.)

         Officer 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 bandages. (Id.)

         At that 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.

         In this 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.

         In 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.


         i. Summary Judgment

         Summary 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.

         The 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 Cir. 1992).

         In 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.

         ii. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         In 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 (1970)).

         Additionally, 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.

         III. ...

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