United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JANET GODINEZ, on behalf of herself and as administrator of the estate of her brother, HERIBERTO GODINEZ, Deceased, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND, United States District Judge.
Janet Godinez filed this action against Defendant City of
Chicago (“the City”) and individually named
Defendant Police Officers for conduct, she alleges, resulted
in the death of her 26-year-old brother Heriberto Godinez on
July 20, 2015. Plaintiff asserts excessive force, failure to
intervene, supervisory liability and conspiracy claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as a Monell policy
claim and Illinois state law claims for wrongful death,
battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The City moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's
Illinois wrongful death claim and the Monell policy
claim (Counts V and VI). For the reasons stated below, the
Court denies the City's motion for summary judgment 
as to these claims.
judgment is proper where “the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine dispute as
to any material fact exists if “the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The substantive law
controls which facts are material. Id.
party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.
See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (1986). After a
“properly supported motion for summary judgment is
made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (quotation omitted).
Construing the evidence and facts supported by the record in
favor of the non-moving party, the Court gives the non-moving
party “the benefit of reasonable inferences from the
evidence, but not speculative inferences in [its]
favor.” White v. City of Chi., 829 F.3d 837,
841 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal citations omitted). “The
controlling question is whether a reasonable trier of fact
could find in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence
submitted in support of and opposition to the motion for
summary judgment.” Id. (citation omitted).
Illinois Wrongful Death Claim
the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/1, a
decedent's estate may bring a suit against a party
“whose alleged ‘wrongful act, neglect or
default' caused the death.” Paredes v. Cook
Cty., No. 15 C 3644, 2018 WL 4955865, at *3 (N.D. Ill.
Oct. 12, 2018) (quoting 740 ILCS 180/1). A plaintiff
must prove causation in order to prevail on a wrongful death
claim. Id. “Proximate cause is a question of
fact for the jury unless there is no material issue regarding
the matter or only one conclusion is clearly evident.”
Williams v. Univ. of Chicago Hosps., 179 Ill.2d 80,
88-89, 688 N.E.2d 130, 134 (1997).
City moves for summary judgment against Plaintiff on the
wrongful death claim because “Plaintiff cannot produce
admissible evidence from which a jury could reasonably find
that Godinez's death was caused by the actions of police
officers.” (Dkt. 280 at 4). Defendants argue that
because Plaintiff's retained cause of death experts,
forensic pathologist Michael Baden, M.D., and
neuropathologist, Jan Leestma, M.D., should be barred,
Plaintiff cannot meet the essential element of causation.
with the instant motion, the City filed motions to exclude
the testimony of Drs. Leestma and Baden. For the reasons
described in separate rulings, (Dkts. 400 & 401), the
Court will allow both Drs. Leestma and Baden to testify as to
cause of death. The Court found those experts qualified to
opine as to the cause of death, that their methodology is
sound, and that their testimony will be helpful to the jury.
The weight to be given to the doctors' conclusions are
questions for the jury to decide and can be tested on
cross-examination at trial. Gayton v. McCoy, 593
F.3d 610, 619 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[W]hether the cause put
forth by a qualified expert actually proximately caused the
injury at issue is a question for the jury at trial; a
district court should only evaluate whether an expert's
conclusion on causation was reasoned and based on a reliable
methodology.”); Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharms., 509 U.S. 579, 596 (1993) (“Vigorous
cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and
careful instruction on the burden of proof are the
traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but
the Court will allow the testimony of Drs. Leestma and Baden
as qualified and reliable experts, this case presents the
classic “battle of the experts” on the cause of
death issue. Defendants will present expert testimony from
forensic pathologists that the cause of Mr. Godinez's
death was alcohol and cocaine intoxication, (dkt. 280 at 4)
(citing Def. SOF ¶¶44, 57); whereas,
Plaintiffs' experts will testify that the cause of death
was positional asphyxia and spinal cord injury caused by
Defendant Officers' use of force. (Dkt. 344 at 4-6)
(citing Pl. SOAF ¶¶8, 11, 13-14). It is
not for this Court to make credibility determinations on the
expert opinions on summary judgment. Manjarrez v.
Georgia-Pac. LLC, No. 12 C 1257, 2013 WL 3754861, at *5
(N.D. Ill. July 16, 2013). This “battle of the
experts” creates a genuine issue of material fact.
Chamberlain Grp., Inc. v. Lear Corp., 756 F.Supp.2d
938, 951 (N.D.Ill.2010) (“It is indeed true that a
‘battle of the experts' can preclude summary
judgment”). Given the conflicting expert testimony, and
drawing all reasonable inferences against the moving party,
the Court finds the issue of causation to be appropriately
left to the trier of fact and denies summary judgment as to
the wrongful death claim.
municipality can be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a
constitutional violation. Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978). Liability
arises “only where the municipality itself
causes the constitutional violation at issue.” City
of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 109 S.Ct.
1197 (1989) (emphasis in original). Therefore under
Monell, the “critical question” is
whether a municipal policy or custom “gave rise to the
harm (that is, caused it), or if ...