United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge.
plaintiff Jon Soto brings this lawsuit against defendants
David Gibbons and Kevin Ely, officers employed by the
Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Office, for their conduct
in entering his home without a warrant in an attempt to
arrest him. Officers awoke Jon’smother, Donna
Soto, after they entered the house, and the parties dispute
whether the officers mistreated Donna in the process. Donna
died two years later from heart-related problems.
brings a Fourth Amendment claim for the officers’
warrantless entry, and also brings a Wisconsin-law wrongful
death claim for defendants’ actions toward Donna.
Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment,
contending that exigent circumstances gave them reason to
make the warrantless entry into the house, that they did not
mistreat Donna, and that her death was unrelated to the
incident. I will grant summary judgment to defendants because
the record shows that the officers had good reason to enter
the house without a warrant, and because Jon fails to present
evidence showing that the officers caused Donna’s
the following facts from the parties’ proposed findings
of fact and supporting evidence.
Jon Soto is currently incarcerated at the Fox Lake
Correctional Institution. At the time of the events in
question here, he was living at the home of is mother, Donna
Soto, in Blair, Wisconsin. Donna was 68 or 69 years old at
the time of the events in question. Defendants David Gibbons
and Kevin Ely are deputies with the Trempealeau County
early morning of April 13, 2009, Tim Wheeler, the Blair chief
of police, responded to a domestic disturbance report at a
residence on Pearl Street in Blair. The victim told Wheeler
that Jon (her former boyfriend) attacked her with a knife,
stabbing her several times, including once in the neck, twice
in the shoulder, and once in the abdomen. The victim said
that after the attack, Jon told her that he was going to kill
himself, and then fled heading east. Jon admits that the
attack happened but that it was less serious than defendants
portray it: he says that the victim required only one stitch
for her injuries.
County deputies, including defendants, arrived at the scene.
Wheeler searched the immediate neighborhood, looking for Jon,
but did not find him. Wheeler then organized a search along
with defendants to continue to search for Jon. At about 6
a.m., they arrived at the home of Donna Soto (Jon’s
mother) on Broadway Street. Wheeler knew that Jon was
currently living there.
officers searched the perimeter of the house but did not see
Jon. They saw two vehicles in the garage, which led them to
believe that Donna was home. They also saw several drops of
red liquid, which they believed to be blood, on the concrete
near the back door, and a drop of the lower portion of the
door. Jon says that this was red paint.
knocked on the door several times, identified himself and
officers Gibbons and Ely, and informed anyone inside the
house that they were looking for Jon, but no one answered the
door. They contacted dispatch and had dispatch call the
house. Despite the knocking, yelling into the house, and
phone call, Donna did not answer the door. Jon says that
“Donna wore a hearing aid because she is deaf,”
but there is no indication that the officers knew this.
their belief that Donna was home, Jon’s reported
conduct, the possible drops of blood outside the house, and
the failure of anyone to respond to the door, the officers
believed that “the occupants” of the home might
be in danger. They entered through an unlocked door.
say the following happened: they entered without guns drawn.
Wheeler found Donna asleep in her bed, woke her up, and
explained that they were looking for Jon. Donna told Wheeler
she understood the situation and then gave the officers
permission to search the house for Jon. The officers did not
push or scream at Donna. After the officers finished
searching the house, Wheeler showed Donna the dried red
liquid on the porch and door. Donna explained that stains
were likely blood stains left by her cat. The officers
examined the spots further and concluded that they appeared
to be older than the events of that day. The officers
continued their search. Jon was later arrested a few blocks
away from the house.
says that defendants’ entry into the house unfolded
quite differently. He states that Donna told him that she did
not give them permission to search the house, that defendants
pushed her onto the bed, and that she was “scared half
to death” by the encounter. Soto provides statements
from a neighbor and from Donna’s sister stating that
Donna told them similar things about the incident.
did not have heart problems prior to the April 2009 incident.
Medical notes show that Donna was diagnosed with atrial
fibrillation in November 2009, and underwent numerous rounds
of treatment for “persistent” fibrillation. Donna
died in May 2011.
succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party
must show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and
that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986). “A genuine issue of material fact
arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving
party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that
party.” Brummett v. Sinclair Broad. Grp.,
Inc.,414 F.3d 686, 692 (7th Cir. 2005). All reasonable
inferences from the facts in the summary judgment record must
be drawn in the nonmoving party’s favor. Baron v.
City of Highland Park,195 F.3d 333, 338 (7th Cir.
1999). If the nonmoving party ...