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Stevenson V. City of Chicago

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

April 13, 2018

ISIAH STEVENSON and MICHAEL COKES, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Isiah Stevenson (“Stevenson”) and Michael Cokes (“Cokes”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) bring this action against the City of Chicago, a municipal corporation (“City”); City of Chicago Police (“CPD”) Officer Dean W. Ewing, individually and as an agent of the City of Chicago (“CPD Officer Ewing” or “Ewing”); the Village of Tinley Park, Illinois, a municipal corporation (“Tinley Park”); Tinley Park Police Department (“TPPD”) Officers S.J. Tencza, J.G. Vega, S.R. Heim, T.A. Poulos, A.H. Campbell, and D.M. Walker, individually and as agents of Tinley Park (collectively “TPPD Officers”); the Illinois State Police (“ISP”); the Director of ISP, Leo Schmitz (“ISP Director Schmitz” or “Schmitz”); and ISP Trooper Brian Walker (“ISP Trooper Walker” or “Walker”). Plaintiffs bring thirteen counts against Defendants in their Second Amended Complaint (the “SAC”) relating to a July 1, 2016, vehicle pursuit and resulting rollover and crash. (R. 63, “SAC.”) Before the Court are three motions to dismiss different counts by the three groups of defendants, namely, City of Chicago and CPD Officer Ewing (R. 67.); Tinley Park and the TPPD Officers (R. 66.); and ISP, ISP Director Schmitz, and ISP Trooper Walker (R. 65.).

         For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motions to dismiss with and without prejudice. The Court denies the City of Chicago's motion to dismiss the Monell claim as alleged in Count IX. The Court grants without prejudice the motion to dismiss the Monell claim against Tinley Park in Count XIII, but denies the Tinley Park Defendants' motion to dismiss the willful and wanton claims in Counts III and IV. As to the ISP Defendants, the Court grants with prejudice Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts V, VII, and XII against ISP based on ISP's Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Court grants the ISP Defendants' motion to dismiss Count V against ISP Director Schmitz in his individual capacity without prejudice. The Court denies, however, Defendants' motion to dismiss Count VI against ISP Trooper Walker. As for Counts X and XI, the indemnification and respondeat superior claims, respectively, the Court denies Tinley Park's and ISP's motions to dismiss these counts. The Court grants Plaintiffs leave to file a Third Amended Complaint consistent with this Opinion by no later than April 27, 2018.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Parties

         Plaintiffs Stevenson and Cokes reside in Cook County, Illinois. (SAC at ¶ 1.) On July 1, 2016, they were passengers in a gold sedan vehicle that was pursued by various law enforcement agents and crashed after being struck by another vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 12-15.) Defendant City of Chicago is a municipal corporation in Illinois that maintains the CPD. (Id. at ¶ 2.) The City of Chicago employed CPD Officer Dean W. Ewing at the time of the relevant vehicle pursuit and crash. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Defendant Tinley Park is a municipal corporation in Illinois that maintains the TPPD. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Tinley Park employed TPPD Officers S.J. Tencza, J.G. Vega, S.R. Heim, T.A. Poulos, A.H. Campbell, and D.M. Walker at the time of the relevant vehicle pursuit and crash. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Defendant ISP is a governmental entity of the State of Illinois. (Id. at ¶ 6.) ISP Director Leo Schmitz operated this state-wide police agency at the time of the relevant vehicle pursuit and crash. (Id. at ¶ 6.) ISP and ISP Director Schmitz employed Trooper Brian Walker at the time of the relevant vehicle pursuit and crash. (Id. at ¶ 7.)

         II. Underlying Event: July 1, 2016 Vehicle Pursuit and Crash

         According to Plaintiffs, on July 1, 2016, Tinley Park Officers Tencza, Vega, Heim, Poulos, Campbell, and Walker responded to calls regarding an alleged armed robbery at an Arby's restaurant in Tinley Park. (Id. at ¶ 9.) The officers began an investigation and interviewed witnesses, consequently reporting the incident as an “armed robbery” to the police dispatch operator, despite, as Plaintiffs allege, “no evidence that weapons were used, displayed, or intimated during the alleged robbery.” (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         Around 11:00 AM later that same day, a person suspected of being involved in the Arby's robbery drove a gold sedan vehicle in which Stevenson and Cokes were passengers. (Id. at ¶ 12.) While the vehicle was on Interstate 57 in Cook County, ISP Trooper Walker initiated a pursuit headed toward Chicago. (Id. at ¶ 13.) ISP dispatch and Trooper Walker reported that the pursuit was related to an armed robbery and Trooper Walker continued following the vehicle through Chicago. (Id. at ¶ 14.) At some point, CPD joined the vehicle pursuit and around the intersection of 124th Street and Union Street in Chicago, CPD Officer Ewing drove an unmarked 2015 Ford Explorer into the driver's side of the pursued vehicle “with great force at high speed.” (Id. at ¶ 15.) The collision caused the gold sedan to roll over and crash. (Id.)

         III. Procedural Posture

         On December 23, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois (“Cook County Court”) alleging claims arising out of the vehicle crash, but only against the City of Chicago and CPD Officer Ewing. (R. 1-2 at 12.) Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint in Cook County Court, filed on June 19, 2017, included the ISP and Tinley Park Defendants. (R. 1-1 at 1; R. 65 at 2.) The City of Chicago Defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on June 28, 2017. (R. 1 at 1.) At that time, Plaintiffs had yet to serve the ISP and Tinley Park Defendants. (Id.; R. 65 at 2.)

         In their SAC, filed on September 22, 2017, Plaintiffs allege thirteen counts, including: (Count I) willful and wanton conduct against the City of Chicago; (Count II) willful and wanton conduct against CPD Officer Ewing; (Count III) willful and wanton conduct against Tinley Park; (Count IV) willful and wanton conduct against the individual Tinley Park officers; (Count V) willful and wanton conduct against ISP and Director Schmitz; (Count VI) willful and wanton conduct against ISP Trooper Walker; (Count VII) Fourth Amendment excessive force against Defendants CPD Officer Ewing and ISP Trooper Walker; (Count VIII) civil battery against CPD Officer Ewing; (Count IX) a Monell claim against the City of Chicago; (Count X) indemnification against all three Defendant groups; (Count XI) respondeat superior against all three Defendant groups; (Count XII) a Monell claim against ISP; and (Count XIII) a Monell claim against Tinley Park. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, consequential damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees, and all taxable costs, fees, expenses, and interest.

         IV. Allegations of Willful and Wanton Conduct against City of Chicago Defendants

         In Counts I and II, Plaintiffs allege that the City, acting by and through its duly authorized officers, agents, representatives, and employees, including Officer Ewing, had a duty to refrain from willful and wanton conduct that consciously disregarded the safety of the general public, including Plaintiffs. (SAC at ¶ 22, 26.) Despite this duty, the City and CPD Officer Ewing committed willful and wanton acts or omissions, including driving a vehicle at a high speed in a residential neighborhood and crashing into the Plaintiffs' vehicle in gross disregard and indifference for the safety of others. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that CPD Officer Ewing drove a City of Chicago vehicle on a residential street at a high rate of speed without activating emergency lights or sirens, that he did not reduce his speed when entering an intersection, and that he drove into Plaintiffs' vehicle with deadly force. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Plaintiffs also allege that the City of Chicago failed to properly monitor and discipline its police officers on and prior to July 1, 2016, to instruct CPD Officer Ewing not to initiate or to discontinue the high speed chase, and to instruct Ewing to use alternative methods to stop the fleeing vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

         V. Allegations of Willful and Wanton Conduct against Tinley Park Defendants

         Next, in Counts III and IV, Plaintiffs allege that during the relevant time period, Tinley Park, via its officers, agents, representatives and employees, had a duty to refrain from willful and wanton conduct in the exercise and discharge of its duties that consciously disregarded the safety of the general public, including Plaintiffs. (Id. at ¶ 30, 34.) Despite their duty, Tinley Park and its officers acted with willful and wanton conduct, which included reporting and broadcasting the Arby's robbery as an “armed robbery” without information or evidence of weapons at the scene, and giving false testimony to a grand jury on July 28, 2016, to secure a criminal indictment against Plaintiff Stevenson. (Id. at ¶ 31, 35.)

         VI. Allegations of Willful and Wanton Conduct against ISP Defendants

         In Counts V and VI, Plaintiffs also maintain that ISP and ISP Director Schmitz, acting by and through their duly authorized officers, agents, representatives, and employees, including ISP Trooper Walker, had a duty to refrain from willful and wanton conduct in the exercise and discharge of their duties that consciously disregarded the safety of the general public. (Id. at ¶ 38, 42.) Despite this duty, ISP, Director Schmitz, and Trooper Walker committed willful and wanton acts or omissions, including driving an ISP vehicle at a high speed through a residential neighborhood, broadcasting over various communication devices that the gold sedan carrying Plaintiffs was involved in an armed robbery in Tinley Park, and initiating and continuing a highspeed pursuit through a residential neighborhood “in the face of imminent danger.” (Id. at ¶ 39, 43.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs contend that ISP and Director Schmitz failed to instruct Trooper Walker not to initiate or to discontinue the high-speed pursuit, and to instruct Walker to use alternative methods to stop the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Also, Plaintiffs assert that the ISP Defendants published “a crash report that reflects an untruth, ” namely, “that the City's vehicle was struck by the vehicle that Plaintiffs rode in.” (Id.)

         VII. Allegations of Excessive Force and Civil Battery

         In Count VII, Plaintiffs contend that the actions of CPD Officer Ewing and ISP Trooper Walker constituted excessive force against Plaintiffs, violating their rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at ¶ 46.) In Count VIII, Plaintiffs allege that Officer Ewing's conduct resulted in unconsented and offensive physical contact with Plaintiffs, thus constituting battery under Illinois law. (Id. at ¶ 49.)

         VIII. Monell Claim against the City of Chicago

         In Count IX, Plaintiffs base their Monell claim against the City of Chicago on Officer Ewing's alleged violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of unreasonable force, alleging that their injuries “were proximately caused by policies and practices on the part of the City which fall under the authority of the City.” (Id. at ¶ 52, 53.) In addition, Plaintiffs state that in July 2016, the City had notice of a widespread practice that City of Chicago police officers routinely used excessive force and that the “City's excessive use of force and willful violation of its vehicular pursuit policies is enabled by the practices of its employees.” (Id. at ¶ 54, 55.)

         Moreover, Plaintiffs state that the City has also engaged in a widespread practice of their respective employees making false and/or misleading reports, hiding and destroying evidence, failing to require official reports of police activities, and/or failing to require complete and honest reports of police activities. (Id. at ¶ 56.) “These practices are directly encouraged at every level of law enforcement, from the Corporation Counsel's Office, to IPRA [Independent Police Review Authority, now succeeded by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability], to IAD [Internal Affairs Department of CPD, now succeed by the Bureau of Internal Affairs], to the Cook County State's Attorneys' Office, and affect the City's relationship with its police, including but not limited to the employment contract with the Fraternal Order of Police [(“FOP”)].” (Id. at ¶ 57.) Plaintiffs further allege that the failure to require police reports to be complete and honest encourages police officers not to report the misconduct of other officers and creates a culture that enables police misconduct. (Id. at ¶ 58.) Specifically, Plaintiffs state that CPD Officer Ewing and other City employees falsely reported that the gold sedan in which Plaintiffs were riding as passengers struck Ewing's vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 59.) Plaintiffs further maintain that City police officers have a widespread practice of making false reports that gloss over mistakes in their police work. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs further contend that the City has a widespread practice of not adequately investigating and disciplining officers “who have conducted wrongful reckless pursuits and shootings, ” and who have committed perjury and created false reports. (Id. at ¶ 60-61.) Plaintiffs list the details of six incidents of police misconduct, including some of the names of officers, victims, awards the officers received in spite of the alleged wrongdoing, and the resolution of the matter. (Id. at ¶ 61.) Of the six incidents, three involved vehicle crashes and three involved shootings, including the highly-publicized Laquan McDonald shooting. (Id.) Plaintiffs also state that “former IPRA investigator Lorenzo Davis was terminated from his employment in 2015 because he determined that several police shootings were unjustified and refused to change the conclusions in his reports.” (Id.)

         Furthermore, Plaintiffs highlight the myriad ways that CPD protects its officers. Plaintiffs, for example, state that CPD detectives pass on information about shootings involving CPD police officers to the officers accused of misconduct as well as their lawyers so that the “CPD officers can craft false narratives about polices shootings that do not conflict.” (Id. at ¶ 62.) In furtherance of this practice, CPD and IPRA permit the same counsel and FOP representatives to represent witness officers and accused officers during their official statements, and allow these individuals breaks from being on the record to keep their stories straight. (Id. at ¶ 63.) Plaintiffs also contend that CPD officers do not write down narrative reports until they and their representatives “have an opportunity to review all reasonably available evidence so that the police can tell stories that do not conflict with themselves or the evidence.” (Id. at ¶ 64.)

         Plaintiffs allege that “[r]ather than discipline misconduct and require reporting, the City circles the wagons” and that this widespread practice flourishes “because the City directly encourages, and is thereby the moving force behind, the very type of misconduct at issue by failing to adequately train, supervise, and control officers, and by failing to adequately investigate, punish and discipline prior instances of similar misconduct, thus directly encouraging future abuses such as those affecting Plaintiffs.” (Id. at ¶ 65.) As such, Plaintiffs assert that the City violated Plaintiffs' rights by maintaining policies and practices that were the moving force for the foregoing constitutional violations and that the above-described widespread practices, so well-settled as to constitute a de facto policy of the City, existed and thrived because governmental policymakers with authority exhibited deliberate indifference to the problem, thereby effectively ratifying it. (Id. at ¶ 67-69.) Additionally, Plaintiffs assert that Tinley Park and ISP “have aided the City in circling the wagons.” (Id. at ¶ 66.) According to Plaintiffs, TTPD Officer Tencza allegedly gave false testimony under oath to a grand jury on July 28, 2016 to induce a felony indictment against Plaintiff Stevenson. (Id.) As for ISP's involvement, Plaintiffs allege that in May 2017, “ISP responded to a subpoena in the captioned case, but omitted voluminous information covered by the subpoena.” (Id.)

         IX. Monell Claim against ISP

         Next, in Count XII, Plaintiffs base their Monell claim against ISP on Trooper Walker's alleged violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of unreasonable force. (Id. at ¶ 79.) Plaintiffs state that in July 2016 and prior, ISP had notice of a widespread practice under which its employees routinely subjected citizens, such as Plaintiffs, to the use of excessive force and these practices enabled “ISP's excessive use of force and willful violation of its vehicular pursuit policies.” (Id. at ¶ 81-82.) According to Plaintiffs, ISP had a widespread practice of failing to require complete and honest reports of officers' activities, and of allowing its employees to make false and/or misleading reports, and to hide and destroy evidence. (Id. ¶ at 83.) Plaintiffs further contend that these practices were directly encouraged at every level of law enforcement, including the Illinois Attorney General's office, IPRA, and major crash investigation unit(s), and affected ISP's relationship with its officers. (Id. at ¶ 84.) In addition, Plaintiffs assert that the failure to require police reports that are complete and honest encourages officers not to report other officers' misconduct and creates a culture that condones and enables misconduct. (Id. at ¶ 85.)

         Specifically with regard to the incident at issue, Plaintiffs allege that Trooper Walker and other ISP employees reported that the gold sedan in which Plaintiffs were riding as passengers struck the City's vehicle driven by CPD Officer Ewing despite the alleged falsity of this statement. (Id. at ¶ 86.) Plaintiffs more broadly assert that ISP has a widespread practice among its troopers of making false reports that gloss over their mistakes. (Id.) Also, Plaintiffs state that ISP has a widespread practice of failing to “adequately investigate and discipline officers who have conducted wrongful reckless pursuits and shootings, ” as well as employees who have committed perjury and created false reports. (Id. at ¶ 87-88.) Plaintiffs detail two vehicle crashes involving ISP occurring in May 2016. (Id. at ¶ 88.) Also, Plaintiffs assert that Trooper Walker and other ISP troopers assisted in providing information about the incident to CPD officers so that they could “craft false narratives” that do not conflict. (Id. at ¶ 89.) Similar to their Monell claim against the City of Chicago, Plaintiffs allege that the same counsel ...


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