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Byrne v. City of Chicago

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

December 5, 2019




         Theresa Byrne brings claims against the City of Chicago and Chicago police officer John Schuler under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law. After Schuler moved to dismiss the original complaint, Doc. 22, and the City moved for a more definite statement, Doc. 24, Byrne filed an amended complaint, Doc. 38. Defendants move separately under Civil Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss the amended complaint. Docs. 42, 44. The motions are granted in part and denied in part.


         In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider “documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice, ” along with additional facts set forth in Byrne's briefs opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). The facts are set forth as favorably to Byrne as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, Inc., 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting forth the facts at the pleading stage, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Goldberg v. United States, 881 F.3d 529, 531 (7th Cir. 2018).

         On February 25, 2018, Schuler and Byrne, who were involved in a romantic relationship, drank alcohol at a bar to the point of intoxication. Doc. 38 at ¶¶ 37, 40-41, 44. Later at Schuler's residence, Schuler verbally abused Byrne. Id. at ¶¶ 45-46. Despite knowing that Byrne was intoxicated and that she had no experience with firearms, Schuler placed his service weapon on a table in front of her and said: “You should use this on yourself.” Id. at ¶¶ 47-49. At the time, Schuler knew that the weapon, a semi-automatic handgun, was loaded with the safety off. Id. at ¶¶ 50-52. Byrne decided to go home. Id. at ¶ 53.

         The last thing Byrne remembers from that night is leaning over to put on her boots. Ibid. Schuler's weapon discharged and struck her in the chin, dislodging pieces of her jaw, tongue, teeth, and cheek. Id. at ¶¶ 54, 57. Byrne does not know whether Schuler shot her or whether she shot herself, so she pleads both facts in the alternative, as permitted by Rule 8(d)(2). Id. at ¶¶ 55-56. Byrne sustained serious and permanent injuries, requiring her to undergo several intensive and painful reconstructive surgeries. Id. at ¶ 59.

         Prior to that evening, the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) had received over fifty complaints about Schuler. Id. at ¶ 8-9. Numerous Chicago entities investigated the complaints, including the Independent Police Review Authority (“IPRA”) and the Bureau of Internal Affairs (“BIA”). Id. at ¶ 10. Based on those complaints, the City knew or should have known that Schuler had a substance abuse problem with alcohol. Id. at ¶ 12. Two complaints, one in 1998 and the other in 2008, involved Schuler driving under the influence. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14, 16-17. As to the 1998 incident, Schuler was arrested and charged with a DUI, and received a five-day suspension from the force. Id. at ¶¶ 13, 15. As to the 2008 incident, Schuler received a five-day suspension. Id. at ¶ 19. Chicago police officers typically receive a thirty-day suspension for a first DUI, followed by termination for a second. Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.

         The City also knew or should have known that Schuler had a history of excessive force and violence. At least twenty-six of the complaints alleged excessive force. Id. at ¶ 11. Another complaint alleged a May 2012 incident in which Schuler got drunk and threw a full beer bottle at a bartender, striking her in the head and injuring her. Id. at ¶ 23. The bartender sued Schuler and the City, and the City settled for $75, 000. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 27. The bartender was dissuaded from filing a criminal complaint against Schuler by other Chicago police officers, who implied that they would shut down her bar and falsely accuse her of stealing Schuler's cell phone. Id. at ¶ 25. The City did not discipline Schuler for this incident, but instead promoted him to sergeant, id. at ¶¶ 28-29, and even placed him in charge of investigating misconduct by other officers, id. at ¶ 61. In another incident, an intoxicated Schuler threw a pool cue, made threatening remarks, and displayed his service weapon to patrons at a bar. Id. at ¶ 30. When frequenting bars, Schuler typically wore his service weapon tucked into his waistband. Id. at ¶¶ 30, 43.

         The City also knew or should have known that Schuler had a history of violence against Byrne in particular. Id. at ¶ 31. In November 2016, Schuler dragged Byrne down the stairs of his home and threw her out the door. Id. at ¶ 32. Schuler's brother, a CPD officer assigned to the BIA, reported this incident to the IPRA, id. at ¶ 33, but the City did not discipline Schuler, id. at ¶ 34. On numerous occasions from September 2017 to January 2018, Schuler, while intoxicated, held his gun to Byrne's head. Id. at ¶ 35.

         According to Byrne, the City's refusal to meaningfully discipline Schuler for these incidents manifests a custom and unwritten policy of cover-ups, preferential treatment, and protection of police officers. Id. at ¶ 62. Had CPD properly disciplined or terminated Schuler, he would not have had access to a firearm at the time of Byrne's 2018 shooting. Id. at ¶ 63. The City's failure to discipline Schuler encouraged him to act with impunity. Id. at ¶ 64.


         I. Section 1983 Claims

         A. Claims Against Schuler

         Byrne's § 1983 claims against Schuler allege excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and violation of her right to bodily integrity under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Id. at ¶¶ 106-118. Schuler argues that the complaint's allegations do not permit a reasonable inference that he acted “under color of state law, ” as ...

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