Federal Jury Finds In Favor Of Chicago Police In 100 Pound Marijuana Arrest Case

 After a week-long trial, a federal court jury found in favor of Chicago police officers Sean Whelan and Elise Padilla, who had been sued for false arrest and unlawful entry by plaintiffs Maria Leyva and Laura Leyva. The case stemmed from a 2005 drug bust. On May 24, 2005, Officer Whelan received information from a confidential informant that the informant had purchased marijuana from Rapheal Leyva and Humberto Leyva (sons of Maria and brothers of Laura)  at 312 East 117th Street. Officers Whelan and Padilla went to the 117th Street address and spoke to Maria Leyva and advised her that they were informed that drugs were being sold from the house. Maria Leyva gave them consent to search the house and that search revealed the presence of 100 pounds of marijuana in an upstairs bedroom belonging to Laura Leyva, who had just returned home when the marijuana was found. Maria Leyva told the Officers that  she was aware there was marijuana in the house but not that much and that the bedroom where the marijuana was found belonged to Humberto, not Laura. Maria, Laura and Humberto Leyva were all arrested and charged with felony possession of narcotics with intent to sell. Maria and Laura spent two months in jail before charges against them were dropped. Humberto plead guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to sell. In the civil suit, Maria Leyva claimed that she never consented to a search of her home and that she never told the Officers she was aware of marijuana in the house. Laura Leyva claimed she had no knowledge of marijuana in the house and that the closet where the marijuana was found belonged to Humberto. Each plaintiff asked the jury to award them $3.3 million in damages, for a total of $6.6 million. The jury rejected the plaintiff's claims and found in favor of Officers Whelan and Padilla. Officers Whelan and Padilla were represented at trial by attorneys Scott Jebson and Suyon Reed from the City of Chicago Corporation Counsel's Office. Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Joel Ostrander, Sam Amirante and Pam Curran. Judge Ronald A. Guzman presided over the trial.   

Judge Gottschall Cautions: Attaching a Grand Jury Transcript to a Motion, without Illinois Court Approval, is Punishable by Contempt

In response to a motion to reconsider the granting of summary judgment, defendants attached a copy of the grand jury testimony to support their contention that probable cause existed to prosecute the plaintiff, requiring dismissal of plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim.  Addressing the grand jury transcripts, Judge Gottschall explained:

[Defendants] attached a portion of the grand jury testimony to their motion for summary judgment. Disclosure of Illinois grand jury testimony is prohibited by law absent an order from an Illinois court, and improper disclosure is punishable by a contempt of court action.  (citations omitted). The secrecy of grand jury proceedings is maintained “to insure the grand jury freedom in its deliberations, to prevent subornation of perjury, to encourage disclosure by witnesses, and to protect the innocent from unwarranted exposure,” as well as to “assure freedom of deliberation of future grand juries, and the participation of future witnesses, as well as to provide these assurances to those who appeared before the instant proceeding.” (citations omitted). There is no indication from [Defendant's] papers that a prior order from an Illinois court was obtained which authorized disclosure of this transcript, nor is it clear how this document was obtained. This exhibit is stricken from the record, though Defendants may resubmit it upon a showing that disclosure is legally authorized. 

The Court also disagreed with the premise that because the Grand Jury indicted the plaintiff without testimony from the defendants, defendants cannot be held liable for prosecution.  Defendants were unable to establish that the indictment came independently from them. 

The decision also discusses the Seventh Circuit's holding in Village v. Hoffman Estates, namely that a finding of probable cause for any arrest does not necessarily forecloses every malicious prosecution claim.   Probable cause needs to be established for each count of the prosecution. 

Akbar v. City of Chicago, 2008 WL 5272463 N.D.Ill.,2008.

 

This is a first for me.  Do we need to re-examine the use of grand jury transcripts in civil cases?

Seventh Circuit Rules Detective Entitled to Qualified Immunity

Wheeler v. Lawson

Today the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion in Wheeler v. Lawson (attached), affirming the district court's granting of summary judgement in a false arrest case.

 

Plaintiff had a detached garage on her property. After an explosion in the garage, the police found "a furnace, two propane tanks that were ruptured, thirty cans of starter fluid and lithium batteries that had been broken apart. Someone had used a can-opener to open the bottom of the starter fluid cans. Police also found a clear plastic bag with a powdery substance that later was determined to be methamphetamine; autopsy tests of someone who was in the garage "revealed the presence of methamphetamine in his system". "Detective Lawson noticed that the valves of the propane tanks had been altered, and, based on his prior experience, Detective Lawson knew that these tanks and the type of connection on them often are used in metham-
phetamine labs.

Detective Lawson had only two brief talks with the plaintiff immediately before and immediately after the fire was extinguished. During these short conversations, plaintiff told the Detective that she did not know the cause of the fire, that she was not aware that [someone] had been inside the garage and that she was not aware of any methamphetamine production taking place on her property.

About two weeks later, on June 22, Detective Lawson arrested her on the charge of maintaining a common nuisance. The charges were later dropped and plaintiff brought suit.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that there was no probable cause to arrest plaintiff for maintaining a common nuisance.

The court explained that defendant could not show that plaintiff had constructive possession of the contraband.

One way defendant attempted to show constructive possession was through information learned in discovery, but the Seventh Circuit dismissed this information because "[a]ny evidence . . . that came to light after the arrest,” we have explained, “is not relevant to the probable cause inquiry.” Maltby v. Winston, 36 F.3d 548, 557 (7th Cir. 1994). Before the district court and on appeal, Detective Lawson asserts that Ms. Wheeler stored numerous personal items, including bicycles, a lawnmower, patio equipment and clothing, inside the garage and that she used the garage about once a week. In support of this factual assertion, however, Detective Lawson relies only upon Ms. Wheeler’s deposition that was taken for purposes of this case. Critically, nothing in Detective Lawson’s deposition or in the reports that were created in the course of the investigation indicates that, at the time that he arrested Ms. Wheeler, he knew that she kept personal items in the garage or that she used the garage once a week. This absence of evidence thus eliminates one of the corroborating circumstances upon which Detective Lawson relies.


Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit found that the detective was shielded by qualified immunity

The Court explained:

"These circumstances provided a reasonable, although ultimately mistaken, basis for Officer Lawson to believe that Ms. Wheeler was aware of the activities taking place in the garage. Although Detective Lawson could have conducted a more thorough investigation under the circumstances, given the information that he knew and given that the burden is on Ms. Wheeler to defeat his qualified immunity defense, we cannot conclude that a reasonable officer could not have believed that there was probable cause to arrest Ms. Wheeler for maintaining a common nuisance."

 

Supreme Court Highlights Re: Statute Of Limitations In False Arrest Claims

Here are some highlights from the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Andrew Wallace v. Kato, et al regarding the statute of limitations in false arrest claims. First, the court noted that "[w]hile we have never stated so expressly, the accrual date of a 1983 cause of action is a question of federal law that is not resolved by reference to state law."  Second, the court stated that "limitations begin to run against an action for false imprisonment when the alleged false imprisonment ends." Third, the court held that "a false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to such process - when, for example, he is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges." In the case of Andre Wallace, the Supreme Court concluded that "the statute of limitations on petitioner's 1983 claim commenced to run when he appeared before the examining magistrate and was bound over for trial." Since more than two years (Illinois statute of limitations for personal injury torts) had elapsed between the date when Wallace appeared before the magistrate and was bound over for trial and the filing of his suit, his action was time-barred.

US Supreme Court Affirms Wallace v. Kato Ruling

The United States Supreme Court has affirmed the Seventh Circuit's holding in Wallace v. Kato, et al. The Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia, held that the statute of limitations upon a section 1983 claim seeking damages for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, where the arrest is followed by criminal proceedings, begins to run at the time the claimant becomes detained pursuant to to legal process. As background, in January 1994, the Chicago police arrested Wallace for murder. He was tried and convicted, but the charges were later dropped in April 2002. In April 2003, Wallace filed suit under section 1983 against the City of Chicago and several police offices , seeking damages for, among other things, his alleged unlawful arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment and the Seventh Circuit affirmed, ruling that the section 1983 suit was time barred because Wallace's cause of action accrued at the time of his arrest,  not when his conviction was later set aside. In a written opinion dated February 21, 2007, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's ruling. The case was argued before the Supreme Court by Benna Ruth Solomon on behalf of the City of Chicago.

Donald Vance Files Suit Against Donald Rumsfeld

On Monday, December 18, 2006, Donald Vance, a 29 year-old former member of the United States Navy, and a former supervisor of security personnel for the Sandi Group and later Shield Group Security (SGS) in Iraq, filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld in the Northern District of Illinois. In his suit, Vance alleges that while employed by SGS in Iraq he observed suspicious payments by SGS agents to Iraqi Sheikhs and reported this activity to the FBI, in particular, to FBI agent Travis Carlisle in Chicago. Vance alleges that he was subsequently removed from the SGS compound and then taken to the US Embassy, then to Camp Prosperity and later to Camp Cropper which Vance alleges houses "high-value" detainees. Vance alleges he was detained for almost 100 days purely for purposes of conducting months of abusive interrogations. Vance alleges he was detained without due process of law, was never charged with a crime, was never told why he was being detained, was never given the opportunity to obtain a lawyer, was never given the opportunity to challenge his detention, and not even his family was told of his detention. Vance alleges that while detained his detention and interrogation were tantamount to torture in that he was exposed to intolerable cold and continuous artificial light, he was placed in solitary confinement, he was subjected to blarring music, he was awoken by startling if he fell asleep, he was subjected to blindfolding and "hooding" and deprived of food and water. Vance alleges that defendant Donald Rumsfeld was personally responsible for developing, authorizing, supervising and implementing the policies and practices of arrest, detention, treatment, and interrogation of detainees in Iraq. Vance alleges that Rumsfeld's policies and directives are inconsistent with fundamental Constitutional and human rights and that "Defendant Rumsfeld is not entitled to any form of official immunity for his knowing decisions to break with the laws protecting American citizens and international treaties on human rights." Vance's complaint contains the following ten counts: false arrest (I), unlawful detention (II), unlawful search and seizure (III), right to counsel in interrogations - coerced statements (IV), denial of Sixth Amendment right to counsel (V), denial of right to confront adverse witnesses (VI), denial of right to present witnesses and evidence, and to have exculpatory evidence disclosed (VII), conditions of detention (VIII), denial of necessary medical care (IX) and denial of property without due process (X). Vance's suit seeks unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs and attorneys' fees. Vance's suit has been assigned to the Honorable Milton I. Shadur. Vance is represented by attorneys Michael Kanovitz and Jon Loevy of the law firm of Loevy & Loevy.