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Brown v. Morsi

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

June 26, 2018

CATHERINE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELLE MORSI et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Robert Blakey United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Catherine Brown sued the City of Chicago and multiple Chicago police officers for alleged constitutional violations arising from a 2013 traffic stop. [36]. Plaintiff asserted claims for excessive force (Counts I and II), failure to intervene (Count III), and unlawful seizure (Count IV) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff raised state-law claims for malicious prosecution (Count V) and willful and wanton conduct (Count VI). Finally, Plaintiff brought claims against the City under Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/9-402.

         This opinion addresses Defendants Michelle Morsi[1] and Jose Lopez's (Defendants) joint motion for summary judgment on Count IV [117] and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on Counts I and II [125]. For the reasons explained below, this Court grants Defendants' motion and denies Plaintiff's motion. This Court also grants Morsi summary judgment on Plaintiff's excessive force claims relating to Morsi's intentional collision with Plaintiff's vehicle.

         I. Background

         The facts in this section come from Defendants' statement of undisputed facts [119], Plaintiff's statement of undisputed facts [125-2], Defendants' statement of additional facts [134], and Plaintiff's statement of additional facts [139]. This Court further assesses the parties' accounts in light of the video evidence submitted with the parties' motions. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81 (2007); Hurt v. Wise, 880 F.3d 831, 840 (7th Cir. 2018). That evidence consists of dashboard camera (dash cam) footage from Defendants' squad car, see [119-5]; [125-8], which captures most of the events giving rise to this case.

         On May 13, 2013, Plaintiff drove her car down the alley behind her home in Chicago, Illinois. [125-2] ¶ 6; [139] ¶ 1. Her two children, aged about eight and one, were in the car. See [125-2] ¶¶ 5, 6; [134-6] at 7. In the part of the alley located approximately behind 8320 South Kerfoot Street, Plaintiff's car came across Defendants' squad car heading in the opposite direction. [125-2] ¶¶ 6-7.

         When they encountered Plaintiff, Defendants were on duty with Lopez driving their marked squad car. [119] ¶¶ 4-5; [119-4] at 7. As the parties' vehicles neared each other, each slowed and stopped. [119] ¶ 7. The cars did not have space to pass each other in the alley, so they came to a halt with their front bumpers facing each other. Id. ¶ 10; [125-8] at 3:16. As Defendants' car slowed, the high beam headlights on Plaintiff's car flashed on for about 17 seconds. See [125-8] at 3:13-3:29; [119] ¶ 9. The parties vigorously dispute whether Plaintiff also honked her horn repeatedly. See, e.g., [144] ¶ 3.

         After Plaintiff switched off her high beams, Defendants exited the squad car and approached her. See [125-8] at 3:30-3:58; [119] ¶ 11. Morsi testified that at this point she did not believe that Plaintiff committed any traffic violations, [139] ¶ 6, while Lopez testified that he intended to speak to Plaintiff about her “improper usage of a horn and improper usage of highlights or high beams, ” [119-4] at 9. Lopez stated that he believed Plaintiff's use of high beams violated the Illinois Vehicle Code because she “was not in traffic” and the conditions did not otherwise merit her use of them. Id. Morsi testified that she approached Plaintiff intending to get Plaintiff to back her car out of the alley. [139] ¶ 7.

         The angle of the dash cam video does not fully capture the ensuing interaction-the frame cuts off at the front passenger seat, which is empty, and omits the driver's seat, where Plaintiff sat. See [125-8] at 4:00. Nevertheless, the video shows Lopez approaching the passenger side; the parties agree that Morsi approached the driver's side and asked Plaintiff for her license and proof of insurance. Id.; [119] ¶ 13. Plaintiff testified that Morsi supposedly also told her, “Bitch move that fucking car back, ” which Morsi denies. See [144] ¶ 11. The parties agree that Plaintiff proceeded to call 911, but Defendants deny that she did so in response to any profanity and the parties also dispute their interactions regarding that call. See id. ¶¶ 12-14.

         At some point Plaintiff moved so that her hands went out of Defendants' view; Plaintiff claims that she reached for her license in response to Defendants' request, id. ¶ 15, but her cited deposition testimony contains conflicting evidence about the timing of her movements, see [140-1] at 24-27. The parties agree that Defendants drew their weapons in response, but holstered them again once Plaintiff complied with their instruction to show her hands. [119] ¶¶ 14-15. Morsi then tried to open Plaintiff's door, though the parties dispute exactly what she did. See id. ¶ 16; [139] ¶ 16. Somehow and at some point, Morsi opened Plaintiff's door. [119] ¶ 17. The dash cam video does not show these interactions, or much of what happened next.

         The dash cam captures part of an altercation around the driver's seat of Plaintiff's car, after which Plaintiff backs her car down the alley at a high rate of speed. [125-8] at 8:49-9:04. According to Defendants, Plaintiff suddenly reversed down the alley, dragging Morsi alongside the car. See [147] ¶ 2. Plaintiff says she never dragged Morsi and says that Morsi simply fell. Id. The parties agree that Plaintiff backed down the alley and onto South Kerfoot. See [133] ¶ 9. The dash cam video then shows Morsi getting back into the squad car, while-according to Defendants-Lopez pursued Plaintiff's car on foot. See id. at 9:19; [134] ¶ 2-3. In the video, Morsi drives the squad car out of the alley, going over a speed bump before turning right onto South Kerfoot. [125-8] at 9:21-9:33. On South Kerfoot, the dash cam shows Plaintiff's car driving in reverse down the middle of the street with the driver's side door open, facing the squad car. Id. at 9:33-9:38. Morsi then drives the squad car into the front of Plaintiff's car. See id. at 9:38-9:41; [133] ¶ 11.

         Some of the circumstances of that collision remain disputed and cannot be definitively resolved by the dash cam video. Plaintiff claims that her car came to “a stop next to, or made slight contact with, a car parked on Kerfoot” and that Morsi drove into her stopped car, pushing it into the parked vehicle. [125-2] ¶¶ 10, 19. Morsi says that she saw Plaintiff crash into the parked car on Kerfoot before she bumped Plaintiff's car. [134] ¶¶ 5-6. On the video, Plaintiff's car appears to still be in motion as Morsi's squad car makes contact and Plaintiff's car then bumps into the parked car. See [125-8] at 9:34-9:43. The video does confirm that Plaintiff's car door was still open as she fled down the street and when the squad car made contact with Plaintiff's car. Id.

         Morsi knew that Plaintiff's children were in the car at the time of the slow speed collision. [133] ¶ 13. Morsi stated that she decided to “make contact” with Plaintiff's car to prevent her from using it to “flee the scene or strike anybody else, ” or otherwise continuing to operate her vehicle. [147-1] at 8-9. Morsi estimated that she was traveling under 30 miles per hour when she hit Plaintiff's car. [125-2] ¶ 18.[2] According to her co-defendant's discovery responses, Officer Jason Brown was “not aware” of any “training” by the Chicago Police Department to employ their cars to intentionally hit other vehicles as a disabling technique. See [133] ¶ 21.

         After the officers stopped Plaintiff's vehicle, Plaintiff still refused to submit to arrest and instead, over the next couple of minutes, she exited and reentered her car on multiple occasions and moved about the interior of her vehicle. [125-8] at 9:55-11:40. Based upon Plaintiff's actions, the officers ultimately needed to deploy mace and Morsi had to draw her weapon again, before the Plaintiff showed her hands. Id. at 11:00-11:40. Finally, Morsi, Lopez, and other officers (who arrived on the scene shortly after the stop) arrested Plaintiff, following some extremely rough handling. See id. at 9:54-12:00; [119-6] at 2-4. Plaintiff's arrest record shows that Defendants charged her with various offenses, including violating section 9-40-090 of the Chicago Municipal Code, governing the use of high beam headlights.[3] See [119] ¶ 19; [119-6] at 2.

         As a result of these events, Plaintiff faced a criminal trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County. See [134] ¶ 15; [134-6]. After a bench trial, the state judge found Plaintiff guilty of reckless conduct, meaning that she performed “an act or acts that cause bodily harm to or endanger the safety of another person” (in that case, Morsi). [134-6] at 54-55.

         Plaintiff filed this suit in May 2015. [1]. She amended her complaint in May 2016. [36]. This Court then bifurcated and stayed Plaintiff's Monell claims, pending resolution of the allegations against the individual officers. [96]. Before the deadline for dispositive motions, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed a number of officers from this case. [115, 116]. Morsi and Lopez then filed their motion for partial summary judgment [117], as did Plaintiff [125] and Defendant Michelle Moore-Grose [121]. Plaintiff has since voluntarily dismissed her claims against Moore-Grose. [136]. This ...


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