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Ezell v. City of Chicago

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

August 12, 2019

LASHAWN EZELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants. LAROD STYLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants. CHARLES JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants. TROSHAWN MCCOY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON, VIRGINIA M. KENDALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs LaShawn Ezell, Larod Styles, Charles Johnson, and Troshawn McCoy each filed a nearly identical civil rights action[1] against the City of Chicago, Cook County, a number of Chicago Police Officers, [2] and former Cook County State's Attorney Joseph Alesia. Each asserts claims stemming from his wrongful conviction in 1998 for crimes related to the double murder of Khaled Ibrahim and Yousef Ali including: several claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendant Officers and Defendant Alesia for allegedly coercing his false confession, fabricating evidence, and withholding and suppressing exculpatory evidence (Counts I-VI); a claim for municipal liability under Monell[3] against the City alleging that its policies, practices and customs and/or inadequate training, discipline and supervision caused the unconstitutional acts committed the Defendant Officers and Plaintiffs' resulting injuries (Count VII); and state law claims for malicious prosecution against the Defendant Officers (Count VIII), intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy against the Defendants Officers and Defendant Alesia (Counts IX and X), respondeat superior liability against the City (Count XI) and indemnification against the City and Cook County (Count XII). (See, e.g., Dkt. 1). Plaintiffs' cases were consolidated before this Court for the purpose of discovery. (Dkts. 39, 46). The City now seeks to bifurcate and stay discovery on Plaintiffs' Monell claims (Count VII) against it. For the following reasons, the City's Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery on Plaintiffs' Monell Claims (Dkt. 81)[4] is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs cases stem from the 1995 murders of Khaled Ibrahim and Yousef Ali. The following summary of the allegations is based on the facts as alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaints.

         Around 6:30 p.m. on December 4, 1995, two men visited Elegant Auto, a used car lot on Chicago's South Side owned by Ibrahim and Ali. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 15). The men examined and touched two vehicles and then left. (Id.). They returned around 7:00 p.m., shot and killed Ibrahim and Ali execution-style in their office, stole two cars, and fled. (Id. at ¶ 16). That evening, CPD investigators lifted fingerprints and palm prints from the cars the perpetrators had touched during their initial visit to the lot. (Id. at ¶ 18). They also lifted fingerprints from the two stolen vehicles once they were recovered early the next morning. (Id. at ¶ 19). None of these prints matched any Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 20).

         On December 6, the Defendant Officers arrested Plaintiff McCoy who was 17 at the time at his high school without any reason to believe he was involved in the murders and took him to the police station, isolated him, denied him counsel, harshly interrogated him and fed him information about the murders. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). Eventually, McCoy succumbed to the coercive tactics and gave a false and inculpatory statement to Defendants. (Id. at ¶ 23). In the false confession, McCoy stated that he and Ezell were acting as lookouts for Johnson and Styles who planned to steal a car from Elegant Auto when he and Ezell heard gunshots and saw Johnson and Styles leave the lot in two stolen cars. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         The Defendant Officers used McCoy's coerced confession to then arrest Styles, Johnson and Ezell without probable cause. (Id. at ¶ 26). After arresting Styles, who was 16 at the time, Defendants interrogated him for hours without an attorney, parent, guardian or other adult present. (Id. at ¶ 28). Defendants eventually brought in a youth officer who never spoke and did nothing to intervene or protect Styles. (Id. at ¶ 29). Styles initially denied any involvement in the murders but after several hours, gave a false and inculpatory statement. (Id. at ¶ 31).

         Defendants arrested Johnson, who was 19 at the time, at his home. (Id. at ¶ 32). Upon learning he had been arrested for murder, Johnson immediately denied any involvement in the crime. (Id. at ¶ 35). Despite being subjected to hours of hostile and aggressive interrogation, Johnson continued to proclaim his innocence. (Id. at ¶ 36). Eventually after more than ten hours of questioning and denying Johnsons' requests to contact an attorney, Defendants misled Johnson into signing a false confession to being a shooter in the murders. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-44).

         Ezell was 15 at the time he was arrested. (Id. at ¶ 46). The Defendant Officers took him to police headquarters, interrogated him without any attorney, parent or guardian present, and denied his requests to see his grandmother. (Id. at ¶ 47-51). A youth officer was present during portions of the interrogation but did nothing to intervene or to protect Ezell. (Id. at ¶ 50). Despite initially denying any involvement in the crimes, Ezell was eventually coerced by the Defendant Officers into signing a false confession. (Id. at ¶ 52).

         In January 1998, Styles and Johnson were tried jointly before separate juries and each found guilty of first-degree murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Styles, Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 49-52; Johnson, Dkt. at ¶¶ 48-51). In November 1998, Plaintiffs Ezell and McCoy were tried jointly before separate juries; each was found guilty of armed robbery but the jury did not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charge against McCoy. (Ezell, Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 53-56; McCoy, Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 49-52). Ezell was sentenced to 20 years in prison. (Ezell, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 56). McCoy eventually pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 55 years for murder and 30 years for armed robbery. (McCoy, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 52).

         In 2009, the state court ordered that the fingerprints from the murder investigation be reanalyzed and uploaded to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. (Ezell, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 58). This testing excluded Plaintiffs and matched the prints to three other previously unidentified men. (Id.). The state court granted each Plaintiff a new trial based on newly-discovered evidence and the State's Attorney's Office dismissed all charges against them. (Id. at ¶ 59; Styles, Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 55-57; Johnson, Dkt. 1 at ¶¶ 54-56; McCoy, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 55). Each Plaintiff filed a petition for a Certificate of Innocence and on January 22, 2018, the Court granted their petitions. (Ezell, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 60; Styles, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 58; Johnson, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 57; McCoy, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 56). Ezell served 10 years in prison and had been released in 2005. (Ezell, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 56). Styles, Johnson and McCoy each served approximately 21 years in prison before being released. (Styles, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 56; Johnson, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 55; McCoy, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 52).

         On February 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed the present actions seeking to recover damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state-law claims for the physical harm, mental suffering, and loss of normal life caused by the Individual Defendants', the City's, and Cook County's alleged misconduct. (See, e.g., Ezell, Dkt. 1 at ¶ 64).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b), the Court has considerable discretion to separate claims or issues for trial if the separation would prevent prejudice to a party or promote judicial economy. Chlopek v. Fed. Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 692, 700 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Houseman v. U.S. Aviation Underwriters, 171 F.3d 1117, 1121 (7th Cir. 1999)); Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b); seealso Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 365 (7th Cir. 2000). “If one of these criteria is met, the district court may order bifurcation as long as doing so will not prejudice the non-moving party or violate the Seventh Amendment, ” which guarantees a jury trial for civil cases in federal court. Id. at 700 (citing Krocka v. City of Chi., 203 F.3d 507, 516 (7th Cir. 2000)). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d) also permits a court to stay ...


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