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White v. Hefel

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 7, 2017

Michael A. White, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Steven L. Hefel, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 6, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 12 C 7853 - Charles R. Norgle, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and ROVNER and Sykes, Circuit Judges.


         Shortly after 9:00 in the evening on September 30, 2011, Semajay Hyles charged uninvited into the White family's Chicago home. No more than a few minutes later, police officers pushed past Michael White, Sr., and followed Hyles into the house. They found Hyles huddled in a basement room and arrested him, but they did not leave the house right away. Instead, they spent some time searching it before finally departing. The Whites did not appreciate the intrusion, and so they brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages related to the entry and search of their home. The district court ultimately denied cross-motions for summary judgment, but at trial, it granted judgment as a matter of law for the defendant officers on three claims. The jury ruled for the defendants on the remaining four claims, and the Whites now appeal. We can find no reversible error, and so we affirm the district court's judgment.


         It is easy to understand why the district court thought that a trial was necessary in this case. The parties' accounts of what happened differ significantly. The plaintiffs-Michael White, Sr., his wife Linda, and their three children-testified that just before the events in question, Michael Sr. was escorting some visitors outside. He had gotten as far as the street when an unknown teenager (Hyles) ran up to the unlocked door, opened it, ran in, and locked it behind him. Police officers who were chasing the teenager quickly arrived and began to kick down the door. Michael Sr. tried to let them know that he had a key to the house, but before he could get that message across, one of the officers shoved him down the stairs, injuring him. With their guns drawn, the officers kicked down the door, went into the house, and found Hyles. After Hyles was secured, they thoroughly searched the house even though they had no warrant and the urgency had passed. The police claimed that Linda gave her consent for the search, but Linda denied that. Instead, she said, they pushed some forms in front of her in the waning light, and she thought that she was signing only a complaint for criminal trespass.

         The police painted quite a different picture. As they portrayed the evening's events, the encounter began when six Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers spotted Hyles on a nearby street corner. When one of the officers tried to speak with him, Hyles fled. The officers pursued him, partly in their squad cars, partly on foot. Some of the officers saw Hyles drop a baggie, which (when it was eventually retrieved) turned out to contain crack cocaine. The route that the squad cars took was recorded on the GPS systems in the cars; we discuss this further when we consider the Whites' argument that some of the testimony from the police describes physically impossible events. The police wound up in the vicinity of the Whites' house. One officer observed Hyles unsuccessfully try to open the gate of a nearby home; other witnesses testified that he approached several places. He got lucky at the Whites' home, where the door was unlocked. An officer testified that Hyles kicked the door open. When the officer tried to follow Hyles, the officer accidentally collided with Michael Sr. and both fell down. The officers arrested Hyles, and then, with Linda's consent, they searched the home and obtained her signature on complaints against Hyles.

         Approximately a year after these events, Michael Sr., Linda, and the three children brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state common law. In it, they raised a host of theories arising out of the Hyles incident. The critical ones for present purposes are Counts I and III, which raise claims of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; Count XI, asserting a failure on the part of some officers to intervene; and Counts V, VII, and VIII, which raise unconstitutional seizure and detention, entry, and search claims, also under the Fourth Amendment. (For those who would like a comprehensive list of the counts and their disposition, we include a table showing who made which claims, and how they were resolved, in an appendix to this opinion.)

         Jurisdiction over the federal claims was proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343; the state-law claims fell within the court's supplemental jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Before the trial, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on Counts VII, VIII, and XL The Whites' argument was that the police account of the chase was incredible as a matter of law because the GPS units in the squad cars contradicted the officers' testimony. The court granted judgment as a matter of law to all of the individual defendants on the claims of illegal seizure, illegal entry of the home, illegal search of the home, and indemnification. (For reasons that are unclear, the court also instructed the jury on Count XI, though it had previously granted judgment as a matter of law.) The excessive-force and failure-to-intervene claims went to trial before a jury, which ruled in the defendants' favor. This appeal followed.



         We can dispose of one part of this appeal easily. The Whites sought summary judgment in their favor on Counts VII, VIII, and XI, but the court found disputed issues of fact that warranted a trial. The Whites would like us to review that issue, but they have overlooked the rule against revisiting summary judgment after trial. See Ortiz v. Jordan, 562 U.S. 180, 184-85 (2011); see also Chemetall GMBH v. ZR Energy, Inc., 320 F.3d 714, 718 (7th Cir. 2003). There are good practical reasons for this rule. Once a trial has taken place, we have an authoritative decision by a jury resolving whatever disputes of fact existed. If the jury behaved irrationally there are two safeguards built into the system: first, the losing party can file a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 and seek a new trial on the ground that the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence; second, the party that believes that a claim should not reach the jury is free to file timely motions under Rule 50(a) and (b) for judgment as a matter of law. In the latter instance, the moving party will seek to persuade the court that the case should not go (Rule 50(a)) or never should have been sent (Rule 50(b)) to the jury Going back to the earlier summary judgment stage and plugging one's ears to the actual evidence that the jury heard would be, at a minimum, wasteful, and at worst, would fail to take account of the actual trial that took place and the jury's response.

         When they were seeking summary judgment, the Whites argued that the GPS data from the squad cars conclusively showed that the officers' chase of Hyles could not have happened as they said it did. The district court decided, however, that the officers' account was not incredible as a matter of law (in contrast, for instance, to an assertion that someone drove in an ordinary car the roughly 1, 100 miles from Chicago to Houston in just three hours). Instead, the court ruled that the differing accounts required "credibility determinations ... best suited for a jury." This was a reasonable assessment of the evidence. But even if the district court's assessment had been unreasonable, the jury has now resolved all credibility disputes, and Ortiz ...

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