135 F.3d 510 (7th Cir. 1998), 96-2960, Tangwall v. Stuckey

Docket Nº:96-2960.
Citation:135 F.3d 510
Party Name:Donald TANGWALL, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Thomas STUCKEY, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:February 02, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 510

135 F.3d 510 (7th Cir. 1998)

Donald TANGWALL, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Thomas STUCKEY, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 96-2960.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 2, 1998

Argued April 2, 1997.

Page 511

Kathleen T. Zellner (argued), Daniel W. Pisani, Zellner & Associates, Naperville, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Nancy J. Wolfe (argued), Alison I. Abel, Office of the States Attorney of DuPage County, Wheaton, IL, for Defendant-Appellant.

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Before WOOD, Jr., COFFEY and EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

In September of 1994, plaintiff-appellee, Donald Tangwall, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendant-appellant, Detective Thomas Stuckey, while acting as an employee of the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, arrested him without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The complaint also set forth supplemental state claims of false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and wanton and willful conduct against Detective Stuckey, 1 as well as claimed that the County of DuPage was vicariously liable for the Detective's actions. Detective Stuckey, asserting both qualified immunity under § 1983 and an "advice of counsel defense," and the County of DuPage each filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied Stuckey's motion and granted DuPage County's. 2 Detective Stuckey appeals the former of those two determinations. 3 We reverse.


On July 16, 1992, an unknown assailant sexually attacked Valerie Smith while she was walking in an area known as the Prairie Path in Carol Stream (DuPage County), Illinois. After the assault, Smith, extremely upset, covered with mud, and crying so hard she was almost speechless, proceeded to a friend's house; this friend, in turn, called the police. Several officers, Detective Stuckey not being among them, arrived at the friend's house and requested that Smith return to the scene of the attack. She accompanied the officers back to the Prairie Path and recounted the event to them, describing her assailant as a white male, in his 20s, approximately 5'11" tall, stocky, having blond, curly hair and blue eyes. The investigating officers also spoke with two individuals at the crime scene who stated that they were in the general vicinity of the Prairie Path and had observed a man leaving the area at about the time of Smith's rape. These two individuals (witnesses) described the person (suspect) as a white male, 30 to 35 years of age, 5'6" to 5'7", with a flabby build and blond, light, curly hair.

Shortly thereafter, Detective Stuckey arrived at the Prairie Path and spoke with the investigating officers. They relayed the victim's description of her assailant to the Detective, who then took charge of the case. Detective Stuckey transported Smith to a hospital, where she was administered a sexual assault kit. 4 The Detective had intended to question Smith immediately upon her release from the hospital, but because she had become ill, she returned home instead of proceeding with the interview. The following morning Smith met with Detective Stuckey at the Sheriff's Department, and she again detailed the attack, identifying her assailant as a white male, in his 20s, 5'11" tall, approximately 180 pounds, having blond, curly hair and blue eyes, wearing a navy blue tee-shirt, blue jeans spattered with paint, and blue and white gym shoes. A composite sketch of the assailant was prepared based on this description.

Some two months after the assault, on the evening of September 16, 1992, the plaintiff Tangwall, dressed in a navy blue tee-shirt, blue jeans, and blue and white gym shoes, entered the Geneva Inn Restaurant in Carol Stream, Illinois, where Smith was employed

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as a waitress. Since Tangwall's attire resembled that of her attacker, Smith's attention was immediately drawn toward him. For a period of about half an hour, while waiting on other customers, Smith had an opportunity to intermittently observe Tangwall's face and physical appearance as he sat in a booth eating dinner. 5 She thought that he "looked a little bit older" than she remembered, but believed his weight was about the same. 6 In fact, at the time, Tangwall was 43 years of age, approximately 6' tall and 220 pounds, with straight, medium-brown hair and green eyes. After observing Tangwall, Smith became convinced that he was her assailant. She telephoned her mother, who, in turn, notified the police. When officers of the DuPage County Sheriff's Department (Detective Stuckey again not being among them) arrived at the restaurant, Smith directed them to Tangwall's booth. Notwithstanding the company of armed law enforcement officers, Smith was so fear-striken by Tangwall's presence that she refused to go anywhere near him.

The responding officers spoke with Tangwall and asked him to accompany them to the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, and he agreed to do so. Detective Stuckey was thereafter notified that an individual whom Smith had identified as her attacker was being conveyed to the Department. Stuckey spoke with Tangwall at the Department headquarters and, after informing the plaintiff-appellee of Smith's identification in the restaurant, the Detective read him his Miranda rights. Tangwall emphatically denied any involvement in, or knowledge of, the crime. At that time, Detective Stuckey proceeded to make a series of telephone calls. Initially, he contacted Smith at home to confirm her identification of Tangwall. Next, he called an Assistant State's Attorney for DuPage County, who approved charges against Tangwall for the felony of criminal sexual assault. And finally, the Detective again called Smith in an attempt to make absolutely certain that Tangwall was the individual who attacked her on July 16, 1992. She again confirmed that Tangwall was her attacker. 7 Detective Stuckey arrested Tangwall based on the foregoing information. That same day, Tangwall was formally charged with criminal sexual assault and released on bond within twenty-four hours.

The investigation into Smith's assault continued. As part of the investigation, the Illinois State Police medically analyzed saliva and hair standards obtained from Tangwall and, in a report dated December 23, 1992, concluded that "the seminal material identified on [the victim's] shorts could have originated from D. Tangwall." Some time later, however, Tangwall agreed to subject himself to a DNA test, the results of which were returned to Detective Stuckey on June 16, 1994. The DNA analysis excluded Tangwall as Smith's assailant. The next day, the Government requested, and the court entered, a nolle prosequi of Tangwall's criminal sexual assault charge based on these DNA test results. Three years after her identification of Tangwall, Smith remained convinced that he was her attacker, having stated at her deposition, "Well, the DNA--you know, that's just a DNA. But I'll believe it as long as I live that it's still him." 8

On September 19, 1994, Tangwall brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Stuckey, while acting as an agent or employee of DuPage County, arrested him for the felony of criminal sexual assault without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. He also asserted several state claims against the Detective and alleged respondeat superior liability against the County of DuPage on account of the official acts of its employee,

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Detective Stuckey. On May 10, 1996, Stuckey, claiming qualified immunity, and the County of DuPage joined in filing a motion for summary judgment; the district court granted the County's motion and denied Stuckey's. 9 In denying Stuckey's motion and, in turn, his claim of qualified immunity, the court reasoned that the existence of probable cause remained the center of a factual dispute because of: (1) the discrepancies between Tangwall's appearance and the descriptions given by Smith and the witnesses; (2) Stuckey's failure to have Smith identify Tangwall in Stuckey's presence; and (3) Stuckey's credibility, or lack thereof, as illuminated by Smith's testimony that she did not recall speaking with him the night of Tangwall's arrest. It went on to conclude that these issues of material fact precluded a grant of summary judgment. Stuckey appeals that determination. We reverse.


The parties present two issues for review. Initially, Tangwall asserts that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Detective Stuckey's appeal because the trial court's denial of summary judgment turned on a factual dispute relating to whether the Detective's actions were objectively reasonable in light of clearly established law. Detective Stuckey argues that, as a matter of law, Smith's firm and positive identification of Tangwall as her assailant to the Detective's fellow officers on September 16, 1992, was not in violation of clearly established law and, thus, the district court committed error in denying his claim of qualified immunity.


As previously noted, this interlocutory appeal comes to us on denial of Detective Stuckey's motion for summary judgment on his qualified immunity claim, and "[w]e review a district court's [denial] of summary judgment and its determination [whether] the defendant[ ][is] entitled to qualified immunity de novo." Jones v. Watson, 106 F.3d 774, 777 (7th Cir.1997). A court must grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322...

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