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DeLeon-Reyes v. Guevara

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

September 10, 2019

ARTURO DeLEON-REYES, Plaintiff,
v.
REYNALDO GUEVARA, et al., Defendants. GABRIEL SOLACHE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUNIL R. HARJANI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Arturo DeLeon-Reyes and Gabriel Solache filed these wrongful conviction cases against the City of Chicago, several members of the Chicago Police Department, and certain Cook County Assistant State's Attorneys under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant Reynaldo Guevara and others violated their constitutional rights by, among other things, coercing their false confessions, manipulating witnesses and fabricating evidence, and suppressing exculpatory information. Plaintiffs also bring claims against the City under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), alleging that the City maintained unconstitutional policies and practices that caused their wrongful convictions. The City's motion to bifurcate discovery related to Plaintiffs' Monell claims was denied by the district court. The parties have been proceeding with fact discovery and now dispute the appropriate scope of Monell discovery. For the reasons set forth below, the Court rejects the City's contention that it should only have to produce Area Five homicide investigative files for which there exists a corresponding Cook County State's Attorney's Office (CCSAO) file and the complaint register files (CR files) for every fifth detective at Area Five for the period from 1992 to 1998. The Court also rejects the Plaintiffs' request for the full seven years of discovery of these two categories of files with no limitations. The Court orders that the City's production is limited to the years 1995 through 1998 for all Area Five homicide investigative files and CR files for detectives.

         BACKGROUND

         In these lawsuits brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Reyes and Solache contend that they were wrongfully convicted and served almost 20 years in prison for the 1998 double murder of Mariano and Jacinta Soto and the abduction of their infant daughter and 3-year old son. On December 21, 2017, following post-conviction hearings, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish vacated Reyes's and Solache's convictions and ordered them released from prison. The Cook County State's Attorney voluntarily dismissed all charges against Reyes and Solache.

         On February 9, 2018, Reyes filed his complaint in No. 18 C 1028 for injuries arising out of his alleged wrongful conviction. Reyes's complaint contains twelve claims against the City of Chicago, eleven Chicago Police Department officers and/or detectives, five Cook County Assistant State's Attorneys, and Cook County: Section 1983 claims for violations of Due Process and the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, failure to intervene, conspiracy, policy and practice against the City, and state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, indemnification, and respondeat superior. Reyes alleges that “false evidence fabricated by Defendants caused [his] arrest, indictment, prosecution, and conviction, ” including an involuntary and false confession attributed to Reyes. Reyes, No. 18 C 1028, Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 4, 5. Reyes further alleges that Defendants “coerced statements they knew to be false from Solache and other witnesses, which falsely implicated [Reyes] in the crime” and “also suppressed and destroyed evidence that would have shown [Reyes] was innocent, as well as evidence that could have been used to undermine the testimony of State's witnesses, including the testimony of Defendants themselves.” Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8.

         Solache filed his complaint on March 30, 2018 in No. 18 C 2312. Solache's complaint includes nine claims against the City and nine police officer defendants: Section 1983 claims for violations of Due Process and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, failure to intervene, Monell policy claims, and state law claims for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, respondeat superior, and indemnification. Solache's complaint alleges that “Defendant Guevara prepared fraudulent police reports memorializing the fabricated, false inculpatory statements he coerced from [Solache] and Reyes, and never disclosed to prosecutors, the court, [Solache] or his attorney the fact that he beat, threatened and otherwise coerced [Solache] and witnesses to give the fabricated, false statement implicating [Solache] in the Soto crimes, resulting in [Solache's] wrongful imprisonment for two decades.” Solache, No. 18 C 2312, Doc. 1 at ¶ 54. Solache's complaint also alleges that “before and after [his] convictions, the Defendants further conspired to fabricate inculpatory evidence and also deprive Plaintiff of exculpatory information to which he was lawfully entitled and which would have led either to his not being charged, his acquittal, or his more timely exoneration.” Id. at ¶ 55. Defendants deny Reyes and Solache were wrongfully convicted and deny there exists any basis for Reyes's and Solache's claims against them.

         On April 24, 2018, these cases were consolidated for purposes of coordinated discovery before District Judge Andrea R. Wood. Reyes, No. 18 C 1028, Doc. 49.[1] The question of whether the cases will be consolidated for trial will be determined by the district court at a later date. Id. On August 16, 2018, the district court referred discovery supervision in these cases to Magistrate Judge Gilbert, the predecessor magistrate judge. Id., at Doc. 80. These cases were reassigned to the undersigned magistrate judge on January 10, 2019. Id., at Doc. 133. On April 24, 2019, Judge Wood denied the City's Motion to Bifurcate Monell Claim for purposes of discovery and trial. Id., at Doc. 174.

         The parties' present dispute involves the appropriate scope of discovery regarding Plaintiffs' Monell claims in these two cases. Monell discovery is also underway in two other similar cases in this district, Sierra v. City of Chicago, No. 18 C 3029 (N.D. Ill.) (Lee, J. & Weisman, MJ.), and Gomez v. City of Chicago, No. 18 C 3335 (N.D. Ill) (Kocoras, J.). All four cases allege that Defendant Guevara and others violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights by, among other things, coercing their false confessions, manipulating witnesses and fabricating evidence, and suppressing exculpatory information resulting in their wrongful convictions.[2] In all four cases, plaintiffs also allege that the City maintained unconstitutional policies and practices that caused their wrongful convictions, the City's motion to bifurcate those Monell claims was denied, and Monell discovery has been ordered to proceed. The underlying homicide investigations in these four cases occurred during the following years: Sierra - 1995; Gomez - 1997; and Reyes & Solache - 1998.[3]

         The parties conferred and tried to reach an agreement regarding the appropriate scope of Monell discovery in all four cases. The City agreed that if an agreement was reached between the parties in this case, that agreement would apply to all four of the cases. However, no agreement was reached between the parties regarding the scope of Monell discovery in these two cases or in the Sierra and Gomez cases. Nor did the parties agree that a ruling in this case would presumptively apply to the Sierra and Gomez cases. While Plaintiffs encourage this Court to consider the other two cases in evaluating the scope of Monell discovery, this Court declines to do so. Although this Opinion may address issues common to Sierra and Gomez and other cases in district, other judges may not agree with this ruling. Nor does the Court have any basis to order discovery that essentially determines the scope of discovery (and as a result, additional time frame for discovery) in other cases that are being handled by other judges in this district. Accordingly, this ruling applies only to the Reyes and Solache cases and does not apply those cases assigned to other judges in this district.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 governs the scope of civil discovery and allows parties to “obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). However, a court “must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by [the] rules” if “the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative” or “the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C). Rule 1 likewise directs that the civil rules should be “construed, administered, and employed by the court to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. Finally, magistrate judges “enjoy extremely broad discretion in controlling discovery.” Jones v. City of Elkhart, 737 F.3d 1107, 1115 (7th Cir. 2013). With these principles in mind, the Court considers and resolves the Monell discovery issues presented by the parties.

         The parties' Monell discovery dispute involves two categories of documents: (1) homicide investigative files and (2) CR files reflecting the investigation and disposition of allegations of officer misconduct. As a threshold matter, the City argues that discovery of other homicide investigative files is not warranted absent a showing by Plaintiffs that exculpatory evidence was in fact suppressed in these cases. Should discovery of other Area Five homicide investigation files be allowed, the parties have agreed on a time frame for production of 1992-1998. The City seeks to limit its production of Area Five homicide investigation files during this time period to homicide files for which there exists a corresponding CCSAO file. Plaintiffs object to the City's proposed limitation on its production of other Area Five homicide investigation files.

         As to the requested CR files, the parties have agreed that the City will identify officers who worked as Area Five homicide detectives during the period from 1992-1998. The City proposes to produce the CR file from every fifth detective on this list. Plaintiffs object to this limitation.

         As explained below, the Court rejects the City's threshold objection to production of any other homicide investigative files at this time, and also finds that neither side's proposal as to the scope of Monell discovery strikes the appropriate balance between permitting relevant discovery with limiting the burden of discovery to what is proportional to these cases.

         A. Homicide Investigative Files

         Plaintiffs seek to hold the City liable on the basis that a number of its official policies and customs were the moving force behind their wrongful convictions. A municipality is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 “when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. A municipal policy can be shown in one of three ways: “(1) an express policy that would cause a constitutional deprivation if enforced; (2) a common practice that is so widespread and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law even though it is not authorized by written law or express policy; or (3) an allegation that a person with final policy-making authority caused the constitutional injury.” Lawrence v. Kenosha Cty., 391 F.3d 837, 844 (7th Cir. 2004). Monell therefore “requires a plaintiff suing a municipal or comparable entity to demonstrate that the entity's official policy, widespread custom, or action by an official with policy-making authority was the ‘moving force' behind his constitutional injury.” Dixon v. County of Cook, 819 F.3d 343, 348 (7th Cir. 2016).

         As part of the Monell discovery sought in these cases, Plaintiffs requested other CPD Area Five homicide investigation files from 1992 through 1998. Plaintiffs intend to use the homicide files to prove that the City maintained a number of unconstitutional policies and practices, including that the City suppressed evidence, fabricated evidence, including witness statements, used against them, and coerced confessions from suspects.[4] Reyes, 18 C 1028, Doc. 185-1 at 2. In response to questions posed by the Court, Plaintiffs explained specifically how other investigative homicide files may support these Monell claims. Id., Doc. 212 at 4-5, 8-10. For example, with respect to their suppressed evidence theory, Plaintiffs state that the Area Five homicide investigative files can be: (1) examined themselves and (2) compared to other files concerning the same investigation and prosecution. By way of illustration, Plaintiffs explain that in Rivera v. Guevara, No. 12 C 4428 (N.D. Ill.), the homicide file contained a number of General Progress Reports (GPRs) on which CPD officers were required to take notes, but the Investigative File Inventory included with the file reflected that multiple GPRs created on key dates and logged into the file shortly thereafter were missing. In addition to the corresponding CCSAO files, the homicide investigative files can be compared to the Permanent Retention File maintained by the City, which reports the official account of a criminal defendant's guilt in a homicide case, and to the corresponding criminal defense files. Homicide investigative files could also contain evidence supporting allegations of coercion. For example, the homicide files will contain arrest reports indicating when the individual was arrested, and when the individual gave a statement, information about the length of an interrogation, the participants in the interrogation, and a copy of the handwritten confessions. Finally, Plaintiffs state that homicide investigative files can reveal evidence of fabricated police reports. With this explanation, the Court has no trouble concluding that the Area Five homicide files in question are relevant to Plaintiffs' stated Monell claims.

         The City argues, however, that at this point in the litigation, the production of other homicide investigative files is irrelevant, unduly burdensome, and disproportionate to the needs of the cases because discovery has not yet shown that Plaintiffs' homicide investigative file based Monell theories have any viability in the context of the facts of these cases. The City objects to production of any other Area Five homicide investigation files, arguing that Plaintiffs must first make a threshold showing that some evidence was withheld from them. As to Plaintiffs' suppression of evidence claims, the City claims that despite being in possession of the Soto investigative file since September of 2018, Plaintiffs have not identified a single document that was not produced to them. Without such a showing that a specific document or piece of evidence was withheld from them, the City claims that the production of hundreds of other homicide investigative files is unduly burdensome and not proportional to the needs of the case. The City contends that if Plaintiffs cannot identify what documents were allegedly withheld from them, then production of other investigative files “seems purposeless.” Reyes, No. 18 C 1028, Doc. 178, at 11; see Elizarri v. Sheriff of Cook County, 901 F.3d 787, 791 (7th Cir. 2018) (citing Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796 (1986)) (“[I]t is established that a municipality cannot be held liable [under Monell] without an underlying violation of the Constitution by a municipal employee.”).[5]According to the City, Plaintiffs should be obligated to identify some document that existed at the time of the Soto homicide investigation that was not produced to them in violation of Brady before beginning Monell discovery related to Plaintiffs' underproduction theory.

         The Court rejects the City's contention that Plaintiffs are required to make some kind of threshold evidentiary showing that certain items of exculpatory evidence were withheld from them to justify proceeding with discovery of other Area Five homicide investigation files. First, the district judge rejected the City's motion for bifurcation of the individual constitutional claims from the Monell claims. As a result, discovery on Plaintiffs' individual constitutional claims and the Monell claims are occurring simultaneously. The Court cannot require a threshold showing when discovery is not complete on the individual claims - such a process would essentially be a de facto bifurcation and would also not be appropriate because the Court cannot be sure that all discovery has been uncovered yet as to the individual claims. The Court has worked to phase discovery in this case, so that the individual constitutional claims could proceed while the parties debated and decided the scope of the Monell discovery. However, the Court has not mandated that discovery on the individual claims be completed first, and indeed, the parties continue to locate witnesses and take their depositions on the individual claims.[6] While the Court has some sympathy for the City's argument, because it may turn out to be true that without a basis in the individual claims, the burdensome Monell discovery is unnecessary, the City lost that battle with a denial of its motion for bifurcation. The City must now live with those consequences.

         Thus, under that analysis, Plaintiffs are only required to plausibly allege a suppression of evidence based Monell claim to engage in discovery to explore their claims. Plaintiffs have satisfied their pleading burden with respect to their claims that the City had a policy, among other policies, of failing to produce exculpatory and/or impeaching material to the criminal justice system, and the City did not move to dismiss those claims. Reyes, No. 18 C 1028, Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 95-122, 170-182; Solache, No. 18 C 2312, Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 62-73, 91-95. Nothing more is required to justify Monell discovery at this time.

         Second, and contrary to the City's contention, Plaintiffs have identified some evidence that they believe was suppressed in the complaint in Reyes, their interrogatory responses, and their Joint Status Report. Reyes, No. 18 C 1028, Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 73, 74 & Doc. 178 at 4. The suppressed evidence Plaintiffs allege in these cases includes photos of the crime scene that undermine Plaintiffs' confessions, Defendants' notes of interviews with witnesses including Alfredo Aranda, Leobardo Mejia, and others, and information about vehicles that the police suspected may have been involved in the crime and pointed to alternate suspects. Id. The City acknowledges that in response to written discovery requests, Plaintiffs stated that “Defendant Officers (1) destroyed crime scene photos, and (2) suppressed notes, memos, and other evidence in secret files.” Id., Doc. 178 at 11. According to Plaintiffs, additional items of evidence were allegedly suppressed, including: (1) Norma Salazar, who was implicated by Plaintiffs' co-defendant Adriana Mejia, was placed in a lineup during the investigation, and Plaintiffs received no documentation of the lineup; (2) parts of Adriana Mejia's confession was excluded from handwritten statements and police reports; (3) members of the Soto and Mejia families were treated as alternative suspects by police, unbeknownst to Plaintiffs; and (4) GPRs reflecting interviews with witnesses and suspects are missing. Id., Doc. 212 at 6. By filing Reyes's complaint and submitting their Joint Status Report and Second Supplemental Brief, Plaintiffs' counsel has certified that “the factual contentions [regarding the suppressed evidence] have evidentiary support or . . . will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(3). In addition, by signing interrogatory responses, Plaintiffs certified that their discovery responses are not interposed “for an improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly ...


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