333 F.3d 780 (7th Cir. 2003), 02-1604, Rice v. City of Chicago

Docket Nº:02-1604
Citation:333 F.3d 780
Party Name:Rice v. City of Chicago
Case Date:June 24, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 780

333 F.3d 780 (7th Cir. 2003)

Joe RICE, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

THE CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 02-1604.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 24, 2003

Argued Oct. 16, 2002.

Page 781

David A. Cerda (argued), Cerda & Associates, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Mara S. Georges, Emily K. Paster (argued), Office of Corporation Counsel, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before COFFEY, RIPPLE, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Joe Rice ("Rice"), with five other plaintiffs, filed suit against the City of Chicago and several Chicago police officers on December 11, 1998. They alleged that the defendants had violated their civil rights six months earlier, on June 14, 1998, the evening the Chicago Bulls' victory in the NBA Championship Finals sparked riotous celebrations throughout the Chicago area.

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On March 7, 2002, the district court dismissed Rice as a plaintiff from the suit because Rice's attorney had allegedly failed to comply with several court-imposed deadlines relating to discovery requests. 1 Rice appeals, arguing that dismissal of his case was unwarranted and unfair, given the City's own dilatory tactics. We agree that the district judge abused his discretion in dismissing Rice's case. The attorneys for the City of Chicago were as guilty as Rice's attorney of disobedience of court orders, and we believe that the sanction of dismissal is not warranted in this instance. Thus, we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Rice alleges that on the evening of June 14, 1998, he was riding around the City of Chicago celebrating the Bulls' victory over the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. Rice, who was 14 years old at the time, was riding on the roof of an automobile which was carrying nine other revelers. Two of the other occupants were riding in the vehicle's open trunk.

Just after the auto stopped in front of a liquor store near the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Springfield Avenue, Rice claims that several officers approached the vehicle, one of whom began making racial comments intended for the car's occupants. This officer then allegedly cursed at Rice and his friends, and ordered them to leave the area at once under the pretext that the store was closed (Rice maintains that the store was not, in fact, closed). Rice further alleged that an officer, without justification, then started to spray Rice and the other occupants of the car with mace. Finally, Rice claims that several officers then began discharging their weapons at the car, again without any provocation, and that Rice and several of the other occupants suffered injuries.

On December 11, 1998, Rice and five other occupants of the car filed a civil rights lawsuit against the individual defendant officers and the City of Chicago. The plaintiffs claimed, inter alia, that the individual defendant officers had used excessive force against them on the evening of June 14, 1998, and that the City's policies and practices were a proximate cause of their injuries. The case was initially dismissed for want of prosecution on July 26, 2000, but on plaintiffs' motion, the court vacated the dismissal and reinstated the lawsuit in September 2000.

On May 30, 2001, the officers served interrogatories and document requests upon the plaintiffs, including Rice. The responses were due on June 29. Rice, through his attorney David A. Cerda, served the officers with objections to their discovery requests on July 2, but failed to complete all of the answers to the interrogatories. On August 23, Magistrate Judge Edward A. Bobrick, to whom the court had assigned discovery matters, ordered Rice's attorney to make full responses by September 28, and warned him that the failure to do so would result in the dismissal of Rice's case.

Attorney Cerda failed to respond to the discovery requests within this court-imposed deadline. The court extended another opportunity to Cerda to comply with the court's discovery order, warning that Rice's case would be dismissed if Cerda failed to provide complete responses to the defendants' interrogatories by October 26, 2001. On October 30, the defendants received

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an envelope (postmarked October 29) with interrogatories that were not only late, but also incomplete and not verified by Rice himself.

At a hearing on the motion on November 5, Cerda explained that the October 29 postmark resulted from his mailing of the responses after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, October 26. Cerda also stated that the reason he could not locate Rice was because the plaintiff had been confined in the Cook County Jail under the name Joe Moore. Cerda further explained that when he met with Rice at the jail on October 25, Cerda asked his client whether he could read and understand his answers to the interrogatories if they were typed for him...

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