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Milhouse v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp.

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

September 20, 2019




         Plaintiff Stephen Milhouse has sued the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (“Metra”) and Metra Police Officers Isaac Ash and Lyndell Luster pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Milhouse alleges that they violated his right to be free from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment and his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[1] Additionally, Millhouse claims malicious prosecution and indemnification under Illinois law. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted as to Milhouse’s equal protection claim (Count IV) and denied in all other respects.

         Factual Background [2]

         While waiting for a train, Milhouse, who is African-American, was seated at a table in a food court at Ogilvie Transportation Center on Sunday, April 24, 2016, at approximately 7:00 a.m. Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 13, ECF No. 129; Pl.’s Ex. 1, Pl.’s Dep. (“Pl.’s Dep.”) at 27, ECF No. 135-1. Milhouse plugged his laptop and cell phone into an electrical outlet located near the table. Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 14; Pl.’s Dep. at 50.

         At that point, two building security guards, Ward and Cook, who are both African-American, approached Milhouse and told him to unplug his devices from the outlet. Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 15; Pl.’s Ex. 3, Cook Dep. at 81, ECF No. 135-3. The guards informed Milhouse of a building policy that prohibited the use of electrical outlets by anyone other than maintenance personnel. Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 16. Milhouse refused to unplug his devices, stating that there were no signs indicating the building’s policy. Id. ¶ 17. According to Milhouse, he also informed Ward that other people in the food court had their devices plugged into outlets. Pl.’s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 17, ECF No. 134.

         The parties offer drastically different accounts as to what transpired next. According to Milhouse, neither guard ever asked him to leave the building. See Cook Dep. at 82–83; Pl.’s Dep. at 96. He remained seated at the table and never raised his voice, elevated his arms, or gestured with his hands. See Pl.’s Dep. at 85. Rather, it was Ward who raised his voice, threatening to unplug Milhouse’s devices himself. Id. at 92–93; Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 20; Pl.’s Ex. 2, Ward Dep. at 31–32, ECF No. 135-3. After Milhouse responded that he didn’t “think it would be a good idea, ” the guards hastily left the area. See Pl.’s Dep. at 83–84.

         Approximately five to ten minutes later, two Metra police officers, Ash and Luster, who also are African-American, appeared in the food court. See Ward Dep. at 33. According to Ward and Cook, neither had spoken to the officers to request their assistance. See Cook Dep. at 21, 31, 34, 37, 52; Ward Dep. at 55–56, 66. Nor did they communicate with Ash and Luster after the officers encountered Milhouse. See Cook Dep. at 12, 40, 63; Ward Dep. at 66.

         Ash and Luster approached Milhouse, who was speaking to a Caucasian woman, see Defs.’ Ex. I, Luster Dep. at 34, ECF No. 129-9, and informed him that building policies prohibited the use of electrical outlets and directed him to unplug his laptop and cell phone. See Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 25; Pl.’s Dep. at 99–100. According to Milhouse, he responded to the officer’s directive in a calm and collected manner by stating that he was waiting for his train. Pl.’s Dep. at 109. As Milhouse was showing the officers his train ticket, Ash handcuffed him and threatened to tase him if he did not comply with the handcuffing. Id. at 99–100, 108–11. According to Milhouse, these events took place only seconds after the officer approached him, and he was never given an opportunity to gather his belongings. Id.; Pl.’s Dep. at 102.

         Luster and Ash’s account of the events differs substantially from Milhouse’s. As they recall, Ward approached Luster and Ash and informed them that Milhouse was causing a commotion by refusing to leave when requested, hurling profanities at Ward, and threatening him. Luster Dep. at 33, 36. In fact, Luster recounts, Ash asked Ward whether Milhouse had left the building, and Ward replied that Milhouse was still there. Id. at 33. Luster believed that he could have placed Milhouse in custody on that information alone. Luster Dep. at 35. (Interestingly, Ward denies that he spoke to the officers at all. Ward Dep. at 18–19, 38, 55–56, 65–68.)

         As the officers tell it, after speaking with Ward, they walked over to the food court. Id. at 33. Ash and Luster approached Milhouse and asked him to unplug his devices, but he refused. Id. at 35; Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 25. Luster told Milhouse he could plug his devices into the charging stations in the waiting area near the train platform; Milhouse retorted that he could plug them in anywhere he wanted. Luster Dep. at 39.

         According to the officers, because Milhouse was acting in an irate and belligerent manner, Luster asked Milhouse to calm down. Id. at 35. And Ash began packing up Milhouse’s belongings. When Milhouse protested, Ash said that they were just trying to get him moving because he was not moving. Id. at 39–40. Ash then told Milhouse to leave or else he would go to jail, but Milhouse did not budge and refused to leave. Id. at 40–41.

         At this point, Officer Luster took control of one of Milhouse’s arms and placed a handcuff on his right wrist. Id. at 42. Luster states that, because Milhouse started to tense up before his other wrist could be handcuffed, Ash instructed Luster to tase Milhouse. Id. at 43. When Luster brought out his taser, Milhouse hurriedly placed his hands behind his back for handcuffing. Id.

         The parties agree that Milhouse was placed in a squad car, taken to the Metra Police Facility, and transferred to the Chicago Police Department for bonding procedures. Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 32. It is also undisputed that Milhouse was charged with misdemeanor Disorderly Conduct and Criminal Trespass to Property and was released from custody within a few hours. Id. ¶¶ 30, 33. According to Defendants, Ward had agreed to be the complainant in the criminal proceedings. Luster Dep. at 75, 79. But, again, Ward denies doing so. Ward Dep. at 18– 19, 38, 44, 67–68; Pl.’s Ex. 7, Misdemeanor Complaints, ECF No. 135-7.

         Milhouse was released from police custody within a few hours. Defs.’ LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 33. When his criminal case was called for trial on October 3, 2016, the judge dismissed the case. Id. ¶¶ 34, 35.

         Milhouse claims that Luster and Ash targeted him because of his race in violation of his equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. He also claims that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him and lacked probable cause to arrest him as the Fourth Amendment requires. Lastly, he claims that Luster and Ash maliciously prosecuted him in violation of Illinois law and that Metra must indemnify them, if they are held liable based upon their actions.

         Legal ...

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