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Taylor v. City of Chicago

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

September 23, 2019

DANIEL TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, CHICAGO POLICE OFFICERS ANTHONY VILLARDITA, THOMAS JOHNSON, BRIAN KILLACKY, TERRY O’CONNOR, RICK ABREU, ROBERT DELANEY, SEAN GLINSKI, MICHAEL BERTI, and UNIDENTIFIED EMPLOYEES OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN Z. LEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Daniel Taylor spent more than 20 years in prison for two murders that he did not commit. He has now sued the City of Chicago and various individual police officers, alleging that they coerced him to give a false confession and concealed exculpatory evidence. Currently before the Court are the parties’ objections [474] [475] to Magistrate Judge Finnegan’s report and recommendation [462] proposing certain sanctions against Taylor. For the reasons stated herein, the Court overrules the parties’ objections and adopts the report and recommendation in full.

         Background[1]

         Taylor was arrested on December 3, 1992 and charged with two murders that occurred at 910 W. Agatite Avenue in Chicago around 8:45 p.m. on November 16, 1992. R&R at 3. Police records show, however, that Taylor was in police custody at the time of the murders and was not released until after 10:00 p.m. that evening. Id. According to Taylor, Defendants discovered this fact shortly after his arrest and then fabricated evidence to undermine the validity of his alibi. Id. Additionally, Taylor claims, Defendants coerced his confession and withheld exculpatory evidence. Id. at 3–4.

         According to a transcript of a conversation between Taylor and a prosecutor shortly after his arrest, Taylor confessed to committing the murders with several other individuals. Id. at 4. Taylor allegedly stated that, after committing the crime, he hid the weapon and walked to 834 W. Agatite, where his acquaintance, Akia “Deon” Phillips, was staying. Id. Taylor remained there until the police raided the home later that evening. Id. When the police arrived, they asked Taylor to show them where Phillips was, and Taylor complied. Id. This version of events is largely reflected in a police report prepared by Officers Sean Glinski and Michael Berti on December 14, 1992. Id. at 5.

         During a re-examination of the case in 2003, while Taylor was incarcerated, he provided an interview to the State’s Attorney’s Office (“SAO”). Id. at 6. According to a report of the interview, Taylor stated that, after being released from police lockup on November 16, 1992, he went to the area of Agatite and Hazel, where he encountered officers who asked him if he knew where Phillips was. Id. Taylor showed them where Phillips’s girlfriend lived. Id.

         Taylor initiated this lawsuit in 2014, alleging that Defendants “fabricated an encounter” with him on the street near the murder site on November 16, 1992, when in fact he was in police custody. Id. at 6–7. He responded to written discovery in this case on June 3, 2014. Id. at 7. In response to an interrogatory directing him to “[d]escribe in detail with specific references to time [his] movements and exact whereabouts” between 8:00 a.m. on November 15, 1992 and 8:00 a.m. on November 17, 1992 and to “identify each and every person [he] spoke to or otherwise interacted with during such period of time, ” Taylor did not mention any interaction with Berti and Glinski on November 16, 1992. Id.. Instead, Taylor stated that he got into a fight around 6:00 p.m. that evening and was taken to the police lockup at Addison and Halsted. Id.. Then, he stated, he was released around 10:00 p.m. and went to 854 W. Agatite, where he sometimes stayed. Id. at 7–8. Upon arrival, he “realized that the Agatite house had been raided by the police.” Id. at 8. He remained there until early in the morning of November 17. Id. When he left, a police officer picked him up and drove him to a shelter. Id.

         At his deposition on September 4, 2014, Taylor reaffirmed the accuracy of his discovery responses and testified that he had not interacted with Berti or Glinski on November 16, 1992. Id.. When asked about the encounter described in the police report, Taylor unequivocally stated that no such encounter had occurred. Id. When Taylor was reminded about his interview with the SAO in 2003, he denied ever admitting that the encounter had occurred and reiterated that he had not met the officers on the night in question. Id. at 9–10. But then Taylor was given a summary of the interview with the SAO, which contradicted his account, id. at 10, and he stated that the summary was “pretty much” accurate. Id. at 10–11.

         As discovery in this case continued, a jury trial was held in Patrick v. City of Chicago, No. 14 C 3658 (N.D. Ill.). Id. at 11. The plaintiff in that case, Deon Patrick, was one of the other individuals who had been wrongfully convicted of the November 16, 1992 murders. Id. at 1. Taylor testified at the trial on March 30, 2017. Id. at 11. On the stand, Taylor stated that he, in fact, had interacted with the police officers on the night of the murders. Id. at 11–12. Taylor was shown his deposition testimony from this case, and he admitted that he had been untruthful at his deposition because he “was ashamed that [he] took police officers to look for a friend.” Id. at 12. On cross-examination, Taylor was asked whether he “intentionally lied under oath at [his] deposition.” Id. Taylor responded, “Yes.” Id.

         Defendants filed a motion for sanctions on August 18, 2017, arguing that this case should be dismissed due to Taylor’s dishonesty. Id. at 13. The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Finnegan, who issued a report and recommendation on September 12, 2018. Magistrate Judge Finnegan declined to dismiss the case, but recommended sanctions against Taylor in the form of a jury instruction and an award of attorneys’ fees related to the motion for sanctions. Id. at 37. Both sides filed objections to the report and recommendation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72.

         Legal Standard

         The imposition of sanctions is a dispositive matter for which a magistrate judge makes a recommendation that a district court reviews de novo. See Cleversafe, Inc. v. Amplidata, Inc., 287 F.R.D. 424, 431 (N.D. Ill. 2012). As the Seventh Circuit has explained:

De novo review requires the district judge to decide the case based on an independent review of the evidence and arguments without giving any presumptive weight to the magistrate judge’s conclusion. The district judge is free, and encouraged, to consider all of the available information about the case when making this independent decision. A district judge may be persuaded by the reasoning of a magistrate judge or a special master while still engaging in an independent decision-making process.

Mendez v. Republic Bank, 725 F.3d 651, 661 (7th Cir. 2013).

         Analysis

         Both sides object to the magistrate judge’s recommended sanctions. Defendants contend that the recommended sanctions are insufficient, and that the case should have been dismissed. Alternatively, they argue, the Court should adopt additional sanctions that were rejected by the magistrate judge. Taylor, on the other hand, contends that Defendants’ motion should have been denied in its entirety.

         I. Dismissal as a Sanction

         Defendants argue that dismissal is the only appropriate sanction for Taylor’s “repeated and intentional bouts of perjury committed . . . during discovery in this case relating to material issues.” Defs.’ R. 72 Obj. at 1–2, ECF No. 474. The magistrate judge rejected this sanction because she believed it was disproportionate to the gravity of Taylor’s misconduct. The Court agrees.

         The Seventh Circuit has recognized that dismissal may be an appropriate sanction in some cases, such as when a party has “shown a lack of respect for the court or proceedings, ” White v. Williams, 423 Fed.Appx. 645, 647 (7th Cir. 2011), or upon a finding of “willfulness, bad faith, or fault, ” Maynard v. Nygren, 332 F.3d 462, 468 (7th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds by Ramirez v. T&H Lemont, Inc., 845 F.3d 772 (7th Cir. 2016). That said, while perjury in the course of discovery may warrant dismissal in some cases, see, e.g., Jackson v. Murphy, 468 Fed.Appx. 616, 619–20 (7th Cir. 2012), dismissal is a “draconian” measure that should be “employed sparingly and only when there is a record of delay, contumacious conduct, or when other, less drastic sanctions prove unavailing, ” Dotson v. Bravo, 321 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2003). “Dismissing a case with prejudice is one of the harshest sanctions a court can impose, and so courts must be especially careful before taking that step.” Evans v. Griffin, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-1957, 2019 WL 3720917, at *5 (7th Cir. Aug. 7, 2019).

         Here, there is no dispute that Taylor testified at the Patrick trial that he had deliberately lied in his deposition about his encounter with Berti and Glinski on the night of November 16, 1992. According to Defendants, this type of misconduct must be sanctioned by dismissal. But the cases upon which Defendants rely all involved conduct much more egregious than what occurred in this case. See Ramirez, 845 F.3d at 781–82 (affirming dismissal as a sanction where the plaintiff had engaged in witness tampering); Jackson, 468 Fed.Appx. at 620 (affirming dismissal where the plaintiff had forged a prison grievance and lied to the court, and the fraud was uncovered only after a “costly and contested” hearing); Greviskes v. Univs. Research Ass’n, Inc., 417 F.3d 752, 755, 759 (7th Cir. 2005) (affirming dismissal where the plaintiff had impersonated a colleague to obtain records, concealed the fraudulent activity, refused to stipulate to basic facts, and submitted multiple frivolous motions); Thomas v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 288 F.3d 305, 306 (7th Cir. 2002) (affirming dismissal where the plaintiff had lied on an application to proceed in forma pauperis in an attempt to “defraud the government”); Ridge Chrysler Jeep, LLC v. Daimler Chrysler Servs. N. Am., LLC, No. 03 C 760, 2006 WL 2808158, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 6, 2006) (dismissing case as a sanction where the plaintiffs’ president and owner had failed to preserve or fabricated ...


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