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Fields v. Zolkowski

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 2, 2018

JASON M. FIELDS, Plaintiff,


          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District Court.

         Plaintiff Jason Fields filed this pro se civil rights action against three Grand Chute law enforcement officers alleging they used excessive force in effecting his arrest at the Extended Stay Motel in Grand Chute, Wisconsin on March 8, 2015. His complaint also asserts state law claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Fields filed the case in the Circuit Court for Outagamie County, but the defendants removed it to federal court asserting jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The case is before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 14, 23. Fields has agreed to voluntarily dismiss his state law claims since he failed to comply with the state law governing notice. Because a dispute as to the material facts exists as to the remaining federal claim, both motions will be denied.

         I. Background

         Shortly after midnight on March 8, 2015, Lieutenant Todd Zolkowski and Officers Ted Vandenberg and Russell Blahnik of the Grand Chute Police Department were dispatched to the Extended Stay America motel to arrest Fields, who was staying at the motel with a woman and a child. Fields had three outstanding warrants for his arrest on felony charges of forgery, bailjumping and fraud. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 8, 37. The officers were advised by dispatch that Fields and the woman were probably drinking and that Fields had a weapon and would probably run.

         Armed with this information, the defendants, dressed in their uniforms and with their badges displayed, stationed themselves in the hallway outside Field's motel room and had the night auditor at the motel call the room and tell Fields that there was someone waiting for him. As Fields stepped outside the room, Officer Blahnik stated “police department.” Fields made the statement “the police” and quickly stepped back into the room. With the door closing, Lieutenant Zolkowski reached in and attempted to grab Fields. The ensuing struggle which continued out into the hallway was partially captured on the officers' body cameras and downloaded to a disc submitted in support of the defendants' motion. ECF No. 16, Ex. F. Fields contends that without provocation or justification, Officer Vandenberg grabbed him and slammed him up against the wall, causing injury to his face and neck. ECF No. 25 ¶ 8. The video depicts Fields struggling with the officers and insisting that he is not resisting, while at the same time failing to comply with their command that he stop struggling with them and face the wall so they can place handcuffs on him. At one point, Fields is taken to the floor where he is eventually handcuffed, searched, and taken into custody. In the course of the struggle, Fields sustained abrasions to the side of his face and to his chin.

         Fields was later charged in Outagamie Circuit Court with bailjumping and resisting arrest based on the events described above. Following a trial at which Fields and each of the defendants testified, a jury returned a verdict finding Fields not guilty of each count. This lawsuit followed.

         Fields contends that the defendants falsely claimed he was resisting as a pretext for using excessive force against him and causing him unnecessary pain and suffering. Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Proposed Findings of Fact, ECF No. 34, ¶ 23. He argues that the jury's verdict in his favor in the criminal case conclusively establishes that he did not resist and thus the defendants' use of force against him was unreasonable. The defendants deny that the jury verdict in the criminal case has any preclusive effect and contend that the force used to effect the arrest was reasonable. Alternatively, the defendants argue that they acted in good faith and are therefore immune from liability.

         II. Legal Standards

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).

         “At the summary judgment stage, the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). However, “when the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)). “The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         A. Issue Preclusion

         Fields argues his acquittal for resisting an officer precludes the defendants from arguing that he was resisting them while they arrested him. The Court must apply Wisconsin law to determine whether a Wisconsin state court judgment has a preclusive effect. Simpson v. Nickel, 450 F.3d 303, 306 (7th Cir. 2006) (“Whether a given decision has preclusive effect depends on state law”) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1738); see also Stericycle, Inc. v. City of Devalan, 120 F.3d 657, 658-59 (7th Cir. 1997) (“Federal courts must give Wisconsin judgments the same preclusive effect as would the state courts of Wisconsin.”). “Issue preclusion . . . ‘is designed to limit the relitigating of issues that have been actually litigated in a previous action.'” Paige K.B. v. Steven G.B., 226 Wis.2d 210, 219, 594 N.W.2d 370 (1999) (quoting Lindas v. Cady, 183 Wis.2d 547, 558, 515 N.W.2d 458 (1994)) (remaining citations omitted). The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that the doctrine of issue preclusion (collateral estoppel), applies “‘where the matter raised in the second suit is identical in all respects with that decided in the first proceeding and where the controlling facts and applicable legal rules remain unchanged . . . .” State ex rel. Flowers v. Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., 81 Wis.2d 376, 387, 260 N.W.2d 727 (1978) (quoting C.I.R. v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 599 (1948) (emphasis in original).

         Flowers is dispositive as to how a Wisconsin court would treat whether Fields' acquittal would have preclusive effect on the issue of whether he was resisting officers during a civil case. In Flowers, a defendant on parole was charged with reckless use of a weapon and battery. The first charge was dismissed for lack of evidence, and a jury acquitted him of the second. Id. at 383. Nevertheless, the defendant's parole was revoked on these and other grounds. Id. Flowers alleged that the government was collaterally estopped from using the conduct underlying the charges on which he was acquitted as the basis of his parole revocation. Noting that the burden of proof in a criminal case was beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas the burden at a parole revocation was only a preponderance of the evidence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the acquittal could not have a preclusive effect. Id. at 387-89; see also Restatement (Second) ...

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