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Vergara v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 30, 2019

John Vergara, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 17, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15-cv-02407 - Andrea R. Wood, Judge.

          Before Manion, Sykes, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         John Vergara, Carlos Ruiz, and Jose Garcia filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Officers John Dal Ponte, Boonserm Srisuch, and Perry Nigro. The defendants moved to dismiss the suit as untimely. The plaintiffs asked the district judge to equitably estop the defendants from raising the limitations defense, claiming that the officers intimidated them into silence.

         The judge dismissed the suit in a minute order saying she would later file an opinion explaining her reasons. The promised opinion came almost two years later, and the plaintiffs then appealed. Under the Rules of Appellate Procedure, however, entry of judgment for appeal purposes occurred 150 days after the judge's minute order, see Fed. R. Apr P. 4(a)(7)(A), and the 30-day time to file a notice of appeal ran from that date, see Walker v. Weatherspoon, 900 F.3d 354, 356 (7th Cir. 2018). The appeal was therefore woefully late.

         The defendants noted the untimeliness problem in their docketing statement, but this filing too was quite late. Our circuit's rules require the appellee to identify errors in the appellant's docketing statement within 14 days. 7th CIR. R. 3(c)(1); see Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Sews, of Chi., 897 F.3d 835, 839 (7th Cir. 2018). The defendants missed that deadline by about six months.

         After disentangling this procedural web, we decline to dismiss the appeal. The defendants' objection to the Rule 4(a) violation came too late under Circuit Rule 3(c)(1). But the suit is untimely, and our precedent forecloses the plaintiffs' equitable estoppel theory. We affirm.

         I. Background

         This case comes to us from a dismissal on the pleadings, so we accept the following facts from the plaintiffs' complaint as true. See Price v. City of Chicago, 915 F.3d 1107, 1109 (7th Cir. 2019). In September 2011 Chicago Police Officers Dal Ponte, Srisuch, and Nigro stopped and searched the plaintiffs without justification and took them to Homan Square, a notorious police warehouse that was later exposed as a den of police misconduct. There the officers interrogated the plaintiffs for eight or nine hours, omitting Miranda warnings and ignoring their repeated requests for an attorney. The plaintiffs were denied food, water, and access to a bathroom, and the officers tried to coerce false confessions from them. The officers also threatened to file false charges against the plaintiffs if they told anyone about their mistreatment at Homan Square.

         The plaintiffs were released only after they agreed to keep quiet about what had happened. Over the next two weeks, the officers told the plaintiffs they "were watching" them. Fearing for their safety, the plaintiffs did not seek legal redress for this police misconduct.

         In early 2015 the Guardian newspaper ran an expose on Homan Square, and at that point the plaintiffs felt secure enough to speak to an attorney. In March they sued the City and the three officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a raft of constitutional violations. But the suit came three and a half years after their detention, so the defendants moved to dismiss it as untimely under the applicable two-year statute of limitations.

         On March 31, 2016, the district judge issued a minute order dismissing the suit "[f]or the reasons stated in the Memorandum Opinion and Order to follow." The judge issued her opinion almost two years later, on January 31, 2018, together with a Rule 58 judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. R 58(a). On February 6, 2018, the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal and docketing statement.

         By then, however, the time to appeal had long since expired. A notice of appeal is due 30 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from, but when the district court omits a separate Rule 58 judgment, "entry" occurs 150 days after the judgment or order is entered on the court docket. See Fed. R. Apr P. 4(a)(7)(A). Here the judge dismissed the case by minute order entered on March 31, 2016. By operation of Rule 4(a)(7)(A), that order was deemed ...

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