Lenard v. Argento

Decision Date15 February 1983
Docket Number81-2036 and 81-2434,Nos. 80-2602,80-2666,s. 80-2602
Citation699 F.2d 874
PartiesBennie LENARD, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Robert ARGENTO & Joseph Sansone, Defendants-Appellants, v. VILLAGE OF MELROSE PARK, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

John G. Poust and Stephen E. Sward, Rooks, Pitts, Fullagar & Poust, Frank Glazer, Chicago, Ill., for defendants.

Cecile Singer and Edward T. Stein, Singer & Stein, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellee, cross-appellant.

Before PELL, Circuit Judge, CUDAHY, Circuit Judge, and GRANT, Senior District Judge. *

GRANT, Senior District Judge.

This case arises from the events of January 31, 1977 involving plaintiff-appellee, Bennie Lenard, and several police officers of the Village of Melrose Park, Illinois. The particular events of the case are disputed but we will attempt to provide a fair summary of the facts.

Lenard, a 41 year old black mechanic, discovered when he left work at 7:00 A.M. on January 31 that his car had a flat tire. While waiting for the spare tire to be repaired, he and a co-worker went to a neighborhood bar where Lenard consumed two shots of vodka and two glasses of beer. After changing the tire, Lenard returned to the bar where he consumed in a 2 to 2 1/2 hour period two more shots of vodka and three glasses of beer. He had nothing to eat during this time. About 1:00 P.M., Lenard and his co-worker left the bar to go to the co-worker's home, each driving his own vehicle. While en route, Lenard collided with a car driven by Andrea Dreyer, a defendant in the district court trial but not a party in this appeal. There is a dispute whether Lenard's car crossed the center line and struck Dreyer's vehicle.

The damage to each car was minor but the drivers quarreled regarding fault. Dreyer, in her deposition, admitted shouting vulgarities at Lenard. Witnesses, including a passenger in the Dreyer car, testified Lenard appeared drunk and that he struck Dreyer's shoulder with his fist and grabbed her. The Melrose Park police were called with Officer Joseph Sansone the first to arrive at the accident scene. Officer Robert Argento arrived several minutes later.

Lenard was arrested for drunk driving and several other traffic offenses. A scuffle occurred while the officers tried to handcuff Lenard and place him in Argento's squad car. Lenard contends he was beaten by Argento with his nightstick while in the squad car and knocked unconscious. Argento searched Lenard's car after the arrest and discovered a handgun and an open half can of beer.

After his arrest, Argento drove Lenard to the Melrose Park police station where Lenard contends he was further kicked, beaten and called a "black nigger." His next memory is that of lying on the wet floor of a cell in his underwear in extreme pain and cold. He requested to go to a hospital but someone said: "Leave him alone. He doesn't want to go to the hospital." Lenard was unable to identify any of the officers because of his facial injuries. Lenard remained in custody at the Melrose Park police station until late that evening. During the evening while Lenard was still in a cell in the Melrose Park police station, Floydell Henning (Lenard's stepson) testified he heard racial slurs, i.e., "Chicken George," over the loudspeaker in the station. He could not identify the parties involved. At one point while still in police custody, Lenard was brought to the Westlake Community Hospital where he was treated for his injuries and returned to the police. Lenard complains that his family came to the jail on three occasions that evening before his release was finally obtained. Lenard was hospitalized for his injuries for 39 days and later underwent surgery for the injuries. There was medical testimony at trial that he suffered permanent sight impairment from his injuries.

Officers Argento and Sansone deny that Lenard was beaten at any time with clubs or anything else. Two witnesses present at the accident scene testified that they did not see Lenard beaten. The police contend that an altercation occurred in the icy police station parking lot while attempting to remove Lenard from the squad car. Because of his size (6'3", 260 pounds) and drunken condition, three officers, Argento, Culotta and Zito, were necessary to remove him from the car. The officers testified that Lenard swore at them and resisted being taken into the police station. The officers further contend that Lenard repeatedly fell in the icy lot and on the stairway of the station because of his constant struggling. They deny that any beating occurred and maintained Lenard's injuries occurred while resisting his removal into the police station.

Lenard was charged with the following state offenses: driving while under the influence of intoxicating beverage; improper traffic lane usage; failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident; battery; transportation or possession of alcoholic liquor; possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card; unlawful transportation or use of weapons; resisting a police officer and driving without a valid driver's license.

A jury convicted Lenard of the petty offense of transportation of alcoholic liquor, Ill.Rev.Stat.1977, Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-502, and acquitted him on all other charges. The transportation conviction was subsequently reversed and remanded by the Illinois Appellate Court because of the trial court's refusal to allow Lenard to cross-examine the police officers for impeachment purposes. People v. Lenard, 79 Ill.App.3d 1046, 35 Ill.Dec. 104, 398 N.E.2d 1054 (1979). In dicta, however, the court did state that "[t]he evidence adduced was ample to sustain defendant's conviction." Id. 35 Ill.Dec. at 108, 398 N.E.2d at 1058.

Lenard initiated this action in a five-count complaint pursuant to several sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1983, 1985 and 1988. The named defendants included the Village of Melrose Park, Robert Argento, Joseph Sansone, Bruce Culotta, George Zito, Andrea Dreyer, Dr. T. Mehrpuyan and Westlake Community Hospital. Westlake Hospital and Dr. Mehrpuyan reached a settlement with Lenard and they, along with Count IV of the Complaint, were dismissed from the suit. Count I of the Second Amended Complaint charged Police Officers Argento, Sansone, Culotta and Zito with violating 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 1 by beating Lenard. Count II charged these same officers with conspiracy to deprive equal protection of the law by use of brutal and excessive force on Lenard in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985(3) 2 and the Village of Melrose Park for failure to properly screen, hire, train and supervise its police employees in violation of 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1983 and 1985. Count III charged conspiracy to impede, obstruct and defeat the due course of justice with intent to deny equal protection in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985(2). 3 So charged under Count III were the Village of Melrose Park, Argento, Sansone, Culotta, Zito, Dreyer, Westlake Community Hospital and Dr. T. Mehrpuyan (the latter two were dismissed before trial). Count V charged Argento, Sansone and Dreyer with malicious prosecution for the charges resulting from the traffic accident and arrest, thereby depriving Lenard of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983.

Bifurcated trials lasting five weeks were held on liability and damages in February and March, 1980. A default judgment was entered against defendant Dreyer. In the liability phase of the trial, the jury returned a verdict for all the defendants on the "beating" charge of Count I. However, the jury found for Lenard on the two conspiracy charges of Counts II and III and the malicious prosecution charge of Count V against Argento and Sansone only. In the damage portion of the trial, Lenard was prohibited from presenting any damages resulting from the "beating" because the jury found no "beating" under Count I. 4 No other evidence of damages was presented by Lenard. Over defense objection, the jury was given a three-tier jury verdict form by the trial judge and instructions relating to possible damages under that form. The jury returned a finding of $10,000 actual and compensatory damages, $125,000 "substantial damages" and $150,000 punitive damages against Argento and $75,000 punitive damages against Sansone.

The Village of Melrose Park, Argento and Sansone raise four issues on this appeal. First, whether the district court's use of a three-tier damage verdict form and its damage instructions which stressed "substantial damages" were erroneous. Second, whether the amount of damages awarded by the jury is against the manifest weight of evidence and excessive as a matter of law. Third, whether there was ample evidence to establish a good faith belief in the officers for probable cause to arrest Lenard and prosecute the criminal charges requiring a directed verdict for the defendants on the malicious prosecution charge of Count V. Fourth, whether a conspiracy without an overt act can be the basis of a damage award or whether there can be a duplication of an award for conspiracy when damages have been already awarded for the act.

On cross-appeal, Lenard raises several issues. First, whether the trial court erred in permitting a good faith immunity defense to be asserted by the Village of Melrose Park. Second, whether the trial court erred in not specifically mentioning Lenard's claim of a beating in its verdict form. Third, whether the jury verdict for the "beating" count was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Claims are also raised regarding attorneys' fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1920 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d). Both Lenard and the defendants raise other claims of error, including arguments of various counsel, instructions to the jury and the district court's judgments on Motions in Limine. Each will be addressed individually.

I. Liability

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