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Baker v. Fermon

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

June 26, 2018

SALIH BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER JOHN FERMON and THE CITY OF BLOOMINGTON, Defendants.

          ORDER & OPINION

          JOE BILLY MCDADE UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all four counts of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 36). The matter has been fully briefed and is ready for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         On September 27, 2014, at approximately 2:43 A.M., Bloomington Police Officer John Fermon observed a gray vehicle stop over an intersection's crosswalk. After following the vehicle, Officer Fermon saw it cross over the median lines several times. Accordingly, he activated his emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop.

         Officer Fermon approached the vehicle and made contact with the driver, Bathsheba Brooks. Rodney Pillows, Brooks' boyfriend, was the front passenger and Plaintiff Salih Baker was the rear passenger sitting behind Brooks. About three weeks prior to this incident, Officer Fermon arrested Plaintiff for possessing cocaine and resisting arrest. (See Doc. 36 at 2-3; Doc. 38 at 7). Officer Fermon took their identification to his vehicle and radioed for K9 Officer Steve Statz to assist. Officer Fermon intended to have Officer Statz and his canine conduct a “free air sniff” of the vehicle. Since the free air sniff required the occupants of the vehicle to exit, Officer Fermon approached the vehicle a second time to explain the K9 procedure and order the occupants out of the vehicle.

         As Officer Fermon explained the K9 procedure from the driver side of the vehicle, Officer Fermon noticed an open bottle of Patron tequila on the floor board in front of Plaintiff. Officer Fermon then noticed that Plaintiff seemed to be clenching something in his right hand.[2] Plaintiff complied with Officer Fermon's request that he exit the vehicle. As he exited, Officer Fermon attempted to grab his right hand to see what, if anything, he was holding. Before he could do so, however, Plaintiff raised his right hand toward his mouth.[3] At this point, Officer Statz informed Officer Fermon that he thought Plaintiff ate something, although he admits in his deposition he could not identify what, if anything, Plaintiff swallowed.

         After handcuffing Plaintiff, the officers thoroughly searched Plaintiff's person in an attempt to find the baggie in case Plaintiff did not, in fact, eat it. After finding no evidence of drugs, the officers attempted to remove any substances from Plaintiff's mouth and had Plaintiff spit on the ground, ultimately revealing no drugs. After a search of the vehicle and the ground near where Plaintiff allegedly ate the baggie, the officers found no evidence of drugs, only the open bottle of tequila. Officer Fermon therefore believed that Plaintiff had already swallowed the baggie containing what he believed to be crack cocaine. Officer Fermon then placed Plaintiff in the front seat of his squad car and issued him a citation for illegal transportation of alcohol as a passenger.

         Officer Fermon brought Plaintiff to the McLean County Jail where jail officials directed him to take Plaintiff to the hospital to address any medical concerns associated with swallowing crack cocaine. They arrived at St. Joseph Medical Center at approximately 3:42 A.M. The attending doctor, Dr. Darrell Looney, did not notice any symptoms of cocaine ingestion after observation and physical examinations. Nevertheless, the doctor and nurses provided Plaintiff with charcoal and sorbitol; charcoal neutralizes any toxic substances, and sorbitol flushes the digestive system to allow foreign substances or objects to pass through. Plaintiff did not object to taking charcoal and sorbitol because he wanted to show his innocence. Plaintiff also did not object to doctors and nurses taking an x-ray to look for the baggie in his body. After about two hours of waiting, Plaintiff did not pass any baggie of cocaine nor did his x- ray show a baggie's presence in his body.[4] At approximately 7:30 A.M., Plaintiff received clearance for discharge and Officer Fermon brought him back to the McLean County Jail.

         After bringing Plaintiff back to the jail, Officer Fermon wrote a probable cause statement asserting the existence of probable cause that Plaintiff obstructed justice. At the jail, officials continued to observe Plaintiff for any foreign substances that may pass as a result of taking sorbitol. Plaintiff remained in an observation cell for about one week. Neither drugs nor a baggie were ever recovered.

         Later on September 27, 2014, an Assistant State's Attorney, Ashley Scarborough, submitted a verified statement of arrest to a judge. That same day, a judge signed the statement of arrest, thus concluding that Officer Fermon had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for obstructing justice and to detain him in lieu of bond. On September 28, one day later, Officer Fermon wrote a more detailed police report of the incident.[5] After Officer Fermon submitted his reports to the State's Attorney's Office, he had no further involvement with the criminal proceedings relevant to Plaintiff's arrest on September 27, 2014.

         A grand jury convened on October 8, 2014 to consider whether to indict Plaintiff for obstruction of justice. Officer Fermon did not testify; instead, Sergeant Randall Wikoff testified based on knowledge he obtained from reading reports on this matter. Later that same day, the grand jury returned a bill of indictment charging Plaintiff with obstruction of justice.

         On October 14, 2016, Assistant State's Attorney, Patrick Sheehan, entered an order of nolle prosequi regarding Plaintiff's obstruction of justice charge, thus terminating its prosecution.[6]

         On March 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint, in which he alleges that Officer Fermon is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. 22). In Count I, Plaintiff alleges unreasonable seizure. (Doc. 22 at 4). In Count II, Plaintiff alleges unreasonable search. (Doc. 22 at 5). And in Count III, Plaintiff alleges unreasonable detention. (Doc. 22 at 6). Plaintiff also states a supplemental state law claim of malicious prosecution against Officer Fermon and the City of Bloomington (Count IV). (Doc. 22 at 6-7).

         On May 1, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 36) seeking summary judgment on all counts of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 36 at 1). Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot show that Officer Fermon unreasonably seized, searched, and detained Plaintiff on September 27, 2014, as is required to violate the Fourth Amendment. (Id.). Defendants further contend that, even if Plaintiff could establish constitutional violations, qualified immunity bars Plaintiff's claims. (Id.). Defendants lastly argue that Plaintiff cannot succeed in establishing the elements of his state law malicious prosecution claim. (Doc. 36 at 1-2).

         Plaintiff timely filed his Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on May 29, 2018. (Doc. 38). Plaintiff argues that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to him, genuine issues of material fact exist as to the underlying facts of Plaintiff's constitutional claims. (Doc. 38 at 1). Specifically, Plaintiff argues that whether Officer Fermon had probable cause to seize, search, and continue to detain Plaintiff (Counts I, II, and III, respectively) rests on an underlying factual dispute. (Id.). Plaintiff further responds that the record supports all elements of his malicious prosecution claim. (See Doc. 38 at 17).

         Defendants timely filed their reply on June 12, 2018. Thus, this matter is ripe for decision.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Courts grant summary judgment where “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). A grant of summary judgment is appropriate only where the movant shows that the evidence could not justify a reasonable jury finding in favor of the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (defining a genuine dispute of material fact). In other words, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit . . . will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. At this stage, courts view evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, with material factual disputes resolved in the nonmovant's favor. See Zaya v. Sood, 836 F.3d 800, 804 (7th Cir. 2016). However, when the parties “tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, . . . a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         To survive a defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff “must show evidence sufficient to establish every element that is essential to its claim and for which it will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Life Plans, Inc. v. Security Life of Denver Ins. Co., 800 F.3d 343, 349 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). Specifically, “[i]n a § 1983 case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the constitutional deprivation that underlies the claim, and thus must come forward with sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact to avoid summary judgment.” McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir. 2010). The plaintiff-nonmovant cannot survive summary judgment by simply asserting that a material fact is genuinely disputed; it must instead “support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts ...


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