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Roberson v. Liebermann

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

October 2, 2019

DAE ROBERSON, Plaintiff,
P.O. KENT LIEBERMANN, #225, P.O. MATTHEW CAMPOS, #191, Individually, and THE CITY OF JOLIET, a municipal corporation, Defendants.



         After City of Joliet police officers arrested Plaintiff Dae Roberson for obstruction and resisting arrest, Roberson brought claims against several of the officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force (Count I), unlawful stop (Count II), false arrest (Count III), and malicious prosecution (Count IV). Roberson also filed a claim for indemnification against Defendant City of Joliet for any judgment entered against the officers (Count V). Roberson has since dismissed all of the individual officers with the exception of Defendants Kent Liebermann and Matthew Campos (collectively, the “Defendants”). Defendants now move for partial summary judgment as to Campos' liability on the unlawful stop claim, and as to both officers' liability on the false arrest claim. Because Roberson fails to respond to Defendants' arguments that Campos played no role in the allegedly unlawful stop, the Court grants summary judgment to Campos as to the alleged unlawful stop. But the Court denies summary judgment as to the false arrest claim because the record before the Court precludes a finding of qualified immunity.


         At approximately 6:20 p.m. on September 19, 2016, an unknown person called 911 to complain about gang members loitering around the intersection of Benton and Youngs Avenues in Joliet, Illinois. Several squads responded to the call, and Liebermann was the first to arrive with his partner Officer Zettergren. Liebermann approached going westbound on Benton Avenue. Campos, who was in a different squad car, arrived shortly thereafter from the opposite end of the block. In the previous months, Campos and Liebermann had responded to similar calls in the same area, and they were aware of numerous gang-related crimes that had occurred, including a shooting a few days earlier. They both knew that members of the Vice Lords street gang hung out in this area.

         Upon leaving his car, Liebermann saw numerous people in the street about a block away. As he and Zettergren approached, there was a group of four people walking eastbound in his direction. Liebermann recognized two people in the group who were known members of the Vice Lords, one of whom Liebermann had personally arrested for illegal weapon possession. Liebermann was not familiar with the other two people, one of whom was Roberson. Roberson was wearing black and red clothing-colors that are associated with the Vice Lords.

         Liebermann and Zettergren stopped the group of four people and asked them to step over to a chain link fence nearby so that the officers could conduct a pat-down search for weapons. Here, Liebermann's testimony diverges from Roberson's. Liebermann testified that three of the four people complied, but that Roberson turned around and began walking away from him. Roberson testified that he never changed direction, and that after they told him to stop, he “[t]ook one extra step, ” after which they told him to stop again and he immediately stopped. Doc. 60-1 at 40:19-21. Both parties agree that Liebermann then grabbed Roberson, physically pulled him to the fence, and told him to put his hands on the fence. Roberson did not physically resist.

         The parties again offer different versions of what happened next. Liebermann testified that Roberson spun around and that Liebermann, who still had one hand on Roberson's right arm, leaned his weight against Roberson to push him against the fence. Roberson does not mention any of this in his testimony. However, both parties agree that while Zettergren began to search the other three individuals in the group, Roberson was angry and “exchanged words” with Liebermann. Doc. 60 ¶ 28. Liebermann then ordered Roberson to place his hands behind his back as “Liebermann was arresting Roberson for obstructing a police officer.” Id. ¶ 33. Roberson refused and kept his hands on the fence for approximately twenty seconds. Liebermann began to struggle with Roberson, punched Roberson twice in his side, and again ordered Roberson to place his hands behind his back. Roberson continued to hold on to the fence for approximately thirty to forty more seconds before Liebermann and other officers who had arrived, including Campos, were able to place him in handcuffs.


         Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to identify specific material facts that demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).


         I. Unlawful Stop Claim

         Defendants argue that Campos cannot be liable for the unlawful stop claim because Campos did not participate in the initial stop. See Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 776 (7th Cir. 2008) (“A plaintiff bringing a civil rights action must prove that the defendant personally participated in or caused the unconstitutional actions.” (citation omitted)). Roberson makes no argument in response. Thus, Roberson has waived his argument, and the Court concludes that Campos is entitled to summary judgment on the unlawful stop claim. See Bonte v. U.S. Bank, N.A., 624 F.3d 461, 466 (7th Cir. 2010) (“Failure to respond to an argument . . . results in waiver.”).

         II. False Arrest Claim

         Defendants assert that they had probable cause to arrest Roberson for resisting or obstructing a police officer, and that even if they lacked probable cause they are protected by qualified immunity. “Probable cause to arrest is an absolute defense to any claim under Section 1983 against police officers for wrongful arrest[.]” Burritt v. Ditlefsen, 807 F.3d 239, 249 (7th Cir. 2015). “[P]robable cause to believe that a person has committed any crime will preclude a false arrest claim, even if the person was arrested on additional or different charges for which there was no probable cause.” Holmes v. Vill. of Hoffman Estate, 511 F.3d 673, 682 (7th Cir. 2007). This is a “purely objective inquiry; the officer's subjective state of mind and beliefs are irrelevant.” Abbott v. Sangamon Cty., Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 714 (7th Cir. 2013). Even if the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Roberson, qualified immunity protects them from civil liability so long as they did not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right about which a reasonable officer would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). In other words, qualified immunity protects Defendants if a reasonable officer could have believed that he had probable cause to arrest Roberson in light of the information he possessed ...

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