705 F.3d 706 (7th Cir. 2013), 12-1121, Abbott v. Sangamon County, Illinois

Docket Nº:12-1121.
Citation:705 F.3d 706
Opinion Judge:TINDER, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Cindy C. ABBOTT and Travis Abbott, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. SANGAMON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Neil Williamson, Sheriff, Sangamon County, Illinois, and Troy M. Sweeney, Deputy Sheriff, Sangamon County, Illinois, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Michael J. Costello (argued), Attorney, Law Office of Michael J. Costello, Springfield, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. Brad A. Elward (argued), Craig L. Unrath, Attorneys, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Peoria, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before KANNE, TINDER, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:January 29, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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705 F.3d 706 (7th Cir. 2013)

Cindy C. ABBOTT and Travis Abbott, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


SANGAMON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Neil Williamson, Sheriff, Sangamon County, Illinois, and Troy M. Sweeney, Deputy Sheriff, Sangamon County, Illinois, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 12-1121.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

January 29, 2013

Argued Sept. 25, 2012.

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Michael J. Costello (argued), Attorney, Law Office of Michael J. Costello, Springfield, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Brad A. Elward (argued), Craig L. Unrath, Attorneys, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Peoria, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before KANNE, TINDER, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

TINDER, Circuit Judge.

Cindy Abbott and her adult son Travis Abbott (collectively, the Abbotts) brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sangamon County, Sheriff Neil Williamson, and Deputy Troy Sweeney, each asserting Fourth Amendment claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and excessive force. The district court granted summary judgment for Deputy Sweeney on all claims, and the County and Sheriff Williamson were subsequently dismissed. We affirm the district court's judgment with respect to all of Travis's claims because Deputy Sweeney had probable cause to arrest Travis and is entitled to qualified immunity on Travis's excessive-force claim. We also affirm the district court's judgment with respect to Cindy's false-arrest and false-imprisonment claims on the basis of qualified immunity. But we vacate the judgment with respect to Cindy's excessive-force claim and remand for further proceedings.



Given the procedural posture of this case, we view the facts in a light favorable to the Abbotts, the non movants. E.g., Vodak v. City of Chicago, 639 F.3d 738, 740 (7th Cir.2011). But we also point out several of the material differences between the Abbotts' version of events and Deputy Sweeney's narrative.

On the morning of June 25, 2007, Sangamon County animal control officers responded to a complaint that the Abbotts' dog, a Chow mix named Biscuit, had been running loose on Lyons Road in Spaulding, Illinois. After visiting the complainants' residence, Animal Control Officer John Moore went to the Abbotts' residence and observed twenty-year-old Travis Abbott running into the house and Biscuit unchained in the garage area. (The record indicates that up to two additional animal control officers were present, but it is unclear whether they arrived with Officer Moore.)

Over the next hour-and-a-half Officer Moore attempted to corral Biscuit, but Travis interfered with those efforts by running to different doors and windows in the house and calling out Biscuit's name, which prompted Biscuit to run to that area of the house. At one point, Travis told Moore and another animal control officer that if they touched his dog he would " knock them out." Travis shouted additional threats at Officer Moore while displaying his middle finger, at one point yelling, " If you don't leave I'm going to kick your ass." These repeated threats prompted Officer Moore to call the police. When informed that the police had been called, Travis locked himself inside but continued calling Biscuit to different areas of the house. At some point, Travis called his mother, Cindy Abbott, who was at work, and asked her to come home.

Sergeant James Lawley of the Riverton Police Department was the first police officer to arrive at the Abbotts' residence, but he was instructed to standby until a Sangamon County Deputy arrived. The animal control officers informed Sergeant

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Lawley that Travis had obstructed their efforts to capture Biscuit and had threatened them by shouting, " If you touch my dog I am going to kick your ass[; ] I am going to knock you out." Sergeant Lawley successfully summoned Travis to the house's front window and then asked him to step outside and talk; Travis responded, " Fuck you. I am no[t] coming out there." A few minutes later, Deputy Sweeney arrived and was told by Sergeant Lawley that Travis had threatened the animal control officers while making a fist; Sweeney attempted to coax Travis out of the house but was unsuccessful. Around this time, Cindy arrived home and parked her Jeep Liberty in the driveway behind Sweeney's squad car. Deputy Sweeney talked with Cindy and requested that she convince Travis to come outside and tell his side of the story; Sweeney advised Cindy that he could get a warrant if Travis refused. Cindy went inside the house and came back outside a short time later with Travis in tow.

Upon questioning by Deputy Sweeney, Travis admitted that he had verbally threatened the animal control officers, knowing them to be animal control officers. Sweeney informed Travis that he was under arrest for obstruction and assault. Travis protested and began backing away, but Sergeant Lawley grabbed his arm and advised him not to resist. Sweeney handcuffed Travis's arms behind his back, double locked the handcuffs, and confirmed the proper fit. Once handcuffed, Travis became agitated and angry with Cindy, yelling and cursing at her. And as he was being escorted to Sweeney's police cruiser, Travis yelled to the animal control officers, " Thanks a lot assholes!" Sweeney conducted a quick pat-down search and then placed Travis in the backseat of his squad car, fastening him in with a seatbelt.

Once Travis had been handcuffed, Cindy had gone back into the house to use the restroom and to lock up. When she came back outside, she stood in the driveway and talked with Sergeant Lawley. At this point, Deputy Sweeney had begun backing his squad car out of the driveway, which required him to maneuver around Cindy's vehicle.

Meanwhile, Travis had become even more agitated in the backseat of the squad car. He had elevated his legs, struggled around, and successfully maneuvered his hands from behind his back to the front of his body; he had also begun screaming for his mother to get him out. (According to Sweeney, Travis had also unfastened his seatbelt and was reaching for the door, but Travis denies this.) Sweeney's squad car that day was not equipped with a partition or a prisoner-transport shield, so when Sweeney saw Travis fidgeting around he reached back and attempted to gain control of Travis, all the while still trying to navigate his car backward around Cindy's vehicle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sweeney's foot slipped off the brake pedal as he was trying to control Travis and his cruiser rolled into Cindy's vehicle.

Cindy, who was still speaking with Sergeant Lawley, began screaming when the vehicles collided. Lawley attempted to calm her, telling her that Sweeney had merely bumped her vehicle and that any damage would be covered by insurance. Cindy did not calm down. Instead, she began walking toward her vehicle and the squad car to inspect the damage and was screaming, " I can't believe you hit my vehicle!"

Deputy Sweeney placed his cruiser in park and exited so that he could go to the rear passenger-side door where, according to him, Travis was attempting to escape. But as he exited the vehicle, he observed Cindy, upset and screaming, moving toward

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his location at the front driver-side door of the squad car. According to Sweeney, he was concerned that Cindy was trying to help her son escape, for Travis was still " going nuts" in the backseat of the car. As a result, he held up his hand and twice ordered Cindy to stop, but she continued on toward the vehicles. Cindy does not recall whether Sweeney ordered her to stop, though she does recall that he attempted to calm her. According to Cindy, she was walking toward her vehicle to inspect the damage when Deputy Sweeney, without warning, shot her in the abdomen with his taser, causing her to fall to the ground. Specifically, she explained that " something hit me and it dropped me to my knees and then on my back and I was immobilized." As she was screaming from the pain, Deputy Sweeney came closer to her and yelled for her to roll over onto her stomach, but she could not move so Sweeney hit her with another jolt of electricity. After the second jolt, Sweeney rolled Cindy over onto her stomach and handcuffed her with her arms behind her back. With Cindy secure, Sweeney then went to the other side of the squad car to resecure Travis.

Sweeney disputes Cindy's version. According to Sweeney and Sergeant Lawley, Cindy was screaming about her son being arrested and her car being hit. When Cindy disobeyed Sweeney's orders to stop, he warned her twice that if she failed to comply he would use his taser. And when she continued approaching, he shot her in the abdomen with his taser, delivered an electric shock, and caused her to drop to the ground. Sergeant Lawley claims that after the first tasing, Cindy disobeyed Sweeney's order to turn over and attempted to get up, so Sweeney zapped her a second time. Sweeney, however, testified that he " began giving her commands to turn over onto her stomach so that she could be handcuffed," but she was not responsive so he " again commanded her and told her if she did not comply that she would be tased again" ; Cindy again gave no response, so Sweeney tased her a second time. After the second tasing, Cindy rolled over onto her stomach without help and placed her hands behind her back. Sergeant Lawley placed her in handcuffs, while Sweeney went to deal with Travis.

Travis testified that when Sweeney arrived at the rear passenger-side door, he " got on top of me and dropped an elbow on my throat and just tried to ta[s]e me. The top was off of it, the ta[s]er.... And he tried to getting [sic] me all over my whole body. And he did, he kept getting me, getting...

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