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Winston v. City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

August 16, 2019

KELLY WINSTON, Individually and as Mother and Next Best Friend of Kayla Winston and Kyla Winston, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ASA MYERS, MELISSA BURCHETT, THE ESTATE OF GLENN JONES, and THE ESTATE OF DALILA SMITH, Defendants. The City of Chicago, Asa Myers, and Melissa Burchett, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 15 L 10981. Honorable Kathy M. Flanagan Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Daniel E. Goodman and Terry M. Lachcik, both of Rosemont, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Mark A. Flessner, Corporation Counsel, of Chicago (Benna Ruth Solomon, Myriam Zreczny Kasper, and Sara K. Hornstra, Assistant Corporation Counsel, of counsel), for appellees.

          JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Delort and Justice Cunningham concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HARRIS JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 This is an appeal from the partial disposition of a personal injury action by plaintiff, Kelly Winston, individually and as mother and next friend of Kayla and Kyla Winston (plaintiffs or the Winstons), against defendants, the City of Chicago (City), Asa Myers, and Melissa Burchett (City police officers or City officers), who we shall refer to collectively as the City defendants. The action arose from a collision between the vehicle occupied by the Winstons and a vehicle driven by Glenn Jones and owned by Dalila Smith as the City police officers were pursuing that vehicle. Plaintiffs also sued the estates of Jones and Smith, which we shall refer to collectively as the estate defendants. The circuit court granted the City defendants' motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs contend on appeal that summary judgment for the City defendants was erroneous. For the reasons stated below, we reverse the summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 I. JURISDICTION

         ¶ 3 The circuit court granted summary judgment for the City defendants on March 19, 2018, in an order finding that there was no just reason to delay appeal. Plaintiffs timely filed a motion for reconsideration on April 18, 2018, which the court denied on June 4, 2018. Plaintiffs timely filed their notice of appeal on July 2, 2018. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6), and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 303(a)(1) (eff. July 1, 2017) and 304(a) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016).

         ¶ 4 II. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint in October 2015 and amended it in July 2016 and August 2016. Various counts of the complaint as amended were directed against the City defendants, while other counts were directed against the estates of Jones and Smith. We are concerned here with the counts directed against the City defendants.

         ¶ 6 Plaintiffs alleged that, on April 10, 2014, the vehicle they occupied was struck by Smith's vehicle as Jones was driving it with Smith's permission and as the City officers were pursuing it for fleeing a traffic stop for driving without a front license plate. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that the City officers followed the Smith vehicle after noticing the missing front plate until they tried to curb it, whereupon "Jones drove off at a very high rate of speed" with the City officers pursuing for at least four blocks "at an extremely high rate of speed" through a residential area on a two-lane street posted for no more than 30 miles per hour while "Jones ignored several traffic devices" until he failed to stop for a red light and struck the Winstons' vehicle. Plaintiffs alleged that the City officers "knew that Jones had not committed a felony and that his actions did not pose a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officers or others." Plaintiffs alleged that the City and its employees, including the City officers, had a duty to refrain from willful and wanton conduct that would endanger the safety of persons such as plaintiffs and that the City defendants breached that duty by (a) pursuing Jones at a high rate of speed for a minor traffic violation, (b) failing to reduce speed or end the chase after Jones ignored several traffic control devices, and (c) failing to reduce speed or end the chase despite the risk that the vehicle driven by Jones would collide with another vehicle such as the Winstons' vehicle. Each of the Winstons was alleged to have "serious bodily injury" caused by the collision and proximately caused by the City defendants' willful and wanton conduct.

         ¶ 7 In their answer, the City defendants admitted that the City officers acted within the scope of their employment during the incident and that they tried to curb the vehicle Jones was driving for a traffic stop but otherwise denied the substantive allegations against the City defendants.

         ¶ 8 The City defendants raised five affirmative defenses, all asserting that a local public entity is not liable for an injury resulting from an act or omission of a public employee who is immune or not liable. The first defense was that the City police officers were enforcing the law before and during the incident, and by statute, public employees are not liable for negligence in enforcing the law. The second was that the City police officers were acting within the scope of their employment before and during the incident, that "the fleeing offender caused the injuries" at issue, and that, by statute, a public employee acting within the scope of employment is not liable for an injury caused by the act or omission of another person. The third was that public employees, such as the City police officers acting within the scope of their employment, are immune by statute from liability for failure to provide adequate police services (here, apprehending Jones before and during the incident). The fourth was that public employees, such as the City police officers acting within the scope of their employment, are immune by statute from liability for attempting to enforce the law and failing to do so successfully. The fifth was that public employees, such as the City police officers acting within the scope of their employment, are immune by statute from liability for failing to successfully effect an arrest.

         ¶ 9 The City defendants also raised a counterclaim for contribution against the estate of Jones, alleging his negligence in causing the incident.

         ¶ 10 Plaintiffs answered the City defendants' affirmative defenses, admitting that the City officers were acting within the scope of their employment and enforcing the law before and during the incident but denying the statutory immunities alleged in all five affirmative defenses.

         ¶ 11 In their answer, the estate defendants denied, or demanded strict proof of, the substantive allegations against Jones and Smith. They did not raise any affirmative defenses.

         ¶ 12 The City defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in October 2017, arguing that the City officers performed a traffic stop of the vehicle owned by Smith and driven by Jones because it had a missing front license plate. Jones drove away from the traffic stop at high speed. The officers "initially followed, but then ceased actively attempting to apprehend Jones when he accelerated to a dangerous speed." The officers used their emergency lights and siren, and they decided to cease pursuit when their vehicle reached about 55 miles per hour and the pursued vehicle was going about 70 to 80 miles per hour. Three blocks after the stop, while the officers were "in the process of ending their pursuit, Jones ran a red light and collided with the Winstons' vehicle. The entire incident from the traffic stop to the collision took about 20 seconds. The ...


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