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Brock v. City of Belleville

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 22, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants City of Belleville (“City”) and Officer Michael Siebel (Doc. 57). Plaintiff Michele Brock has responded to the motion (Doc. 67).

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         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 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 reviewing 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). Where the non-moving party carries the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production in one of two ways. It may present evidence that affirmatively negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), or it may point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case without actually submitting any evidence, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169. Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

         In responding to a summary judgment motion, 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 exists only if “a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         II. Facts

         Construing the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in Brock's favor, the evidence in the record establishes the following relevant facts.

         On the evening of March 1, 2015, Brock got into a physical fight with her boyfriend Accozio Harriel at her home. In the fight, Harriel smacked Brock several times in the face and tried to choke her, and Brock bit Harriel and pulled his hair. Harriel called 911. Belleville police officers responded to the call, arrested Brock, and placed her in handcuffs. Belleville Police Officer Hoepfinger transported her to the police station.

         In the basement sally port of the police station, still in handcuffs, Brock became unsteady on her feet after getting out of the car. She bent over immediately upon leaving the car and eventually collapsed face-down on the floor behind the car. Siebel, who was working elsewhere in the police station, saw on the surveillance monitor that Brock was having trouble, so he came to check on her. He checked on Brock, and then he and Hoepfinger lifted Brock to a standing position. Brock was either limp or squirming, which required both officers to struggle to keep her upright and help her into the booking area of the police station. At some point Brock began having a panic attack and felt like she could not breathe, so she yelled at the officers that she could not breathe and that she was going to faint. Siebel and Brock then got into a heated verbal argument: Siebel told Brock to stop acting the way she was acting, that she was acting stupid, and to knock it off; Brock asked Siebel what he meant and told him she did not feel well. At one point Siebel took the lion's share of the burden to hold Brock up while Hoepfinger used one hand to unlock and open the door between the sally port and the rest of the station. To do this, he wrapped both of his arms around her so he could support her from both of her sides.

         In the course of their argument and while Siebel was supporting most of Brock's weight, spittle flew from Brock's mouth when she spoke because of a gap between her teeth. She covered Siebel's face with moisture, although she did not intend to spit on Siebel. The flying saliva caused Siebel to jerk his head backward, but because he needed to keep a hold on Brock to keep her upright and was in a tight spot between Brock and the door to exit the sally port, he could not move to avoid Brock's saliva. In response, Siebel quickly raised his open hand and briefly slapped Brock on the left side of her face to redirect her head so her spit would not land on his face anymore. Brock posed no additional threat to Siebel or Hoepfinger during the entire incident and was not a flight risk. Other than the force needed to hold her upright, Siebel did not use any additional force on Brock either before or after he slapped her. Brock asked Siebel why he had smacked her, and he said it was because she had spit on him. She denied spitting on him on purpose and explained that any spitting was unintentional. Seibel and Brock later apologized to each other.

         After being taken upstairs from the sally port, Brock had a panic attack in the booking room of the station, passed out, and hit the back of her head on a bench. An ambulance arrived to provide medical treatment for her. Brock was alert enough to hear the paramedics commenting, before they were able to examine her, that there was nothing wrong with her and that she was ignorant. Brock became agitated and did not want anyone who thought she was ignorant to touch her, so she told the paramedics she was fine and refused any treatment. She requested that another ambulance be summoned, but the officers refused.

         The following morning, two Belleville Police Department detectives interviewed Brock. At that time, her left eye was swollen. She reported to the detectives that Siebel smacked her hard in the face, but she never made a formal written citizen's complaint, so no formal investigation of the incident occurred.

         Brock was eventually transferred to the St. Clair County Jail, where she was released on bond. She was charged with, among other things, aggravated assault on a police officer for her contact with Siebel. She eventually pled guilty to the reduced charge of obstructing a peace officer from making an arrest in violation of 720 ILCS 5/31-1(a), but that charge was dismissed and expunged after she went to mental health court on a regular basis and received counseling.

         Brock never sought medical treatment for any injury she suffered while in custody, although her face remained swollen for several weeks. She did not seek mental health treatment other than what was ordered by the court in relation to her obstructing a peace officer charge.

         Brock believes the City had a custom of having police officers slap detainees on the pretense of redirecting their spit. The City provided training on the general use of force, but Brock believes the City did not provide training to officers specifically about how to handle detainees who spit on them. The City had a formal policy calling for the use of “spit hoods” on detainees officers reasonably thought would spit on them and calling for personal protective equipment for officers likely to be spit on. Brock also faults the City because there is a practice that police detectives investigating crimes do not report detainees' oral complaints of abuse made in interviews unless injuries are visible or obvious. The City believes the use of force in an arrest is already reflected in the police report, so the supervisor of the officer using force already knows it occurred.

         Brock filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging the defendants violated several of her constitutional rights in connection with her arrest on March 1, 2015 (Counts I-IV). Count 1 is against Siebel for excessive force, Count II is against Siebel for denial of medical care following her collapsing and Siebel's slap, Count III is against Siebel for retaliation for speech, and Count IV is against the City for policies condoning officers' unconstitutional conduct. The Court has dismissed those claims to the extent they are asserted against the Belleville Police Department because it is not a suable entity and has dismissed additional state law claims on the grounds that Brock brought them after the statute of limitations had expired (Doc. 37).

         Siebel and the City now ask the Court for summary judgment on all remaining claims. Specifically with respect to Count I, Siebel argues that the force he used in slapping Brock was not excessive. With respect to Count II, Siebel argues he responded reasonably to Brock's medical needs when paramedics were called to assist her. With respect to Count III, Siebel argues he slapped Brock because she was spitting on him, not because she was exercising any First Amendment speech right. Siebel also asserts he is entitled to qualified immunity. With respect to Count IV, the City argues it cannot be liable because Siebel is not liable and because Brock has not identified any City policy that caused a violation her constitutional rights. Brock asserts that genuine issues of material fact remain as to all counts.

         III. Analysis

         A. Count I: Excessive Force

         Brock claims Siebel used excessive force when he slapped her. Siebel believes his force was ...

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