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Johnson v. City of Rockford

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

December 17, 2019

Lumont Johnson and Anthony Ross, Plaintiffs, Tyjuan Anderson, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Rockford; Doug Palmer; Joseph Stevens; and Scott Mastroianni, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge.

         In these two related cases (which the Court will refer to as one), Plaintiffs originally alleged that twelve Rockford police officers framed them for a murder for which Plaintiffs were convicted and subsequently exonerated. Judge Kapala's decision granting summary judgment in favor of all defendants on all claims was partially reversed by the Seventh Circuit. See Anderson v. City of Rockford, 932 F.3d 494 (7th Cir. 2019). In light of that decision, the Court ordered the parties to submit reports stating their positions on what claims and defendants remained in the case. After review of those reports, the Court ordered that the following claims and defendants would proceed to trial:

(1) the claim by all three plaintiffs that defendant [Doug Palmer] fabricated evidence pertaining to the testimony of witnesses Alex Dowthard and Lataurean Brown;
(2) the claim by all three plaintiffs that defendants [Joseph Stevens] and [Scott Mastroianni] failed to disclose impeachment evidence offered by witness Rickedda Young;
(3) the claim by all three plaintiffs that defendant Palmer failed to disclose the circumstances surrounding witness Bryce Croft's statement;
(4) the claim by all three plaintiffs that defendants Stevens and Palmer failed to disclose the improper police tactics that produced witness Brown's statement;
(5) the claim by plaintiffs Johnson and Anderson that defendant Stevens failed to timely disclose the recordings of witness Dowthard's jailhouse telephone calls; and
(6) the claims for failure to intervene and conspiracy based on the underlying due process claims.

R. 296 at 1-2.[1]

         At a status hearing held six days later, Plaintiffs did not object to the Court's order or indicate that they might seek reconsideration. Counsel for the dismissed defendants raised the issue of entry of partial judgment for those defendants under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), and the Court invited counsel to submit a proposed order. Plaintiffs did not object to that contemplated process either.

         In accordance with what had been discussed during the status hearing, the dismissed defendants filed a motion for entry of partial judgment. Plaintiffs also submitted a proposed order to the Court's electronic in-box. The Court reviewed both submissions and granted the dismissed defendants' motion and entered judgment in their favor.

         That same day, immediately after the Court's entry of judgment, Plaintiffs filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) to alter the judgment so as to return defendant James Randall to the case under a theory of conspiracy liability. R. 301; 15 C 50065, R. 288. The Court requested further briefing on the issue. In their brief, Plaintiffs argue that “[t]here is ample evidence in the record demonstrating that Randall can be held liable as a conspirator to frame Plaintiffs for the Hanson murder, ” and that they “should be given a trial on whether Defendant Randall conspired to frame them for the Hanson murder.” R. 308 at 8. Randall filed a brief in opposition, R. 313, and Plaintiffs filed a reply, R. 315-1.

         Background

         We are here because Demarcus Hanson-an eight-year-old boy sleeping in his grandmother's house-was killed by gunshots fired into her Rockford home on April 14, 2002. The police focused their investigation of Demarcus's murder on a shoot-out that same night between Demarcus's uncle, Alex Dowthard, and the plaintiffs in this case. Despite this altercation, Dowthard initially maintained that the shootout did not take place near his mother's house, and that he did not know who could have fired the shots that killed his nephew. Plaintiffs allege, however, that Palmer threatened and coerced Dowthard (and another man who was with Dowthard at the time of the shooting, Lataurean Brown) into stating and testifying (i) that Plaintiffs fired shots at them while they were at the house where Demarcus slept, and (ii) that ...


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