Stennis v. Armstrong, 18 CV 7846

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtManish S. Shah United States District Judge
PartiesTerrita Stennis, Plaintiff, v. William Armstrong, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number18 CV 7846
Decision Date31 January 2023

Territa Stennis, Plaintiff,

William Armstrong, et al., Defendants.

No. 18 CV 7846

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 31, 2023


Manish S. Shah United States District Judge

Plaintiff Territa Stennis was issued parking tickets by police officers assigned to the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital. Stennis-who filed for bankruptcy around the same time-didn't pay the tickets or appear in court as required. A federal judge issued a warrant for her arrest. Hines police officers arrested Stennis and double-handcuffed her behind her back, possibly injuring Stennis's chest. While Stennis complained of pain, told the officers that she had had breast cancer and surgery, said the handcuffs were hurting her breast implant, and said that she had torn something, the officers didn't seek medical care for Stennis during the course of an hour-long drive. Stennis sues the arresting officers under Bivens for excessive force and for failing to provide medical care. Plaintiff brings four Federal Tort Claims Act claims against the United States. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


I. Legal Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate when the movants show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if the evidence is such that a jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Gordon v. FedEx Freight, Inc., 674 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2012). I construe all facts and draw all inferences in favor of plaintiff, the nonmoving party. Grochocinski v. Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, LLP, 719 F.3d 785, 794 (7th Cir. 2013). I need only consider the cited materials, but I may consider “other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

II. Facts

Territa Stennis worked at the Hines VA Hospital beginning in 2003. [90] ¶ 1; see [80-1] at 11.[1]In 2014, she began working for the education department at Hines. [90] ¶ 1. As an education program assistant, Stennis processed reimbursement requests for employees, including the hospital's police officers. Id. ¶ 3.


In 2010, Stennis was diagnosed with cancer, requiring chemotherapy and surgical treatment. [90] ¶ 2. A year later, Stennis had a bilateral mastectomy. Id. ¶¶ 2, 9. She had a further procedure in 2012 to implant tissue expanders, and two years later Stennis had surgery to exchange her breast implants. Id. ¶ 2.

Hines had its own police department. [85] ¶ 1. There's a dispute about the history between Stennis and one of the department's officers, defendant William Armstrong. see [90] ¶ 4. According to Stennis, at some point before her arrest (discussed below), Armstrong asked Stennis to engage in fraud or theft. Id.; see [801] at 116-18, 131-33; [85-2] at 32-33. But Armstrong said that he first spoke with Stennis when she was arrested. see [80-3] at 49-51, 124.

Hines police officers patrolled the hospital campus parking lots, and issued parking citations. [85] ¶ 1. Between November 2014 and July 2015, Stennis was issued three citations. Id. ¶ 2; see [80-5]; [80-6]; [80-7]. The tickets required Stennis to either pay a fine or appear in court. see [80-5]; [80-6]; [80-7]. On July 16, 2015, a related summons was issued, ordering Stennis to appear in federal court on September 15, 2015. [85] ¶ 2;[2][80-8].

Stennis sent an email to Officer Armstrong, asking that he avoid contacting her supervisor about the parking tickets. [85] ¶ 3; [80-9] at 1. Stennis wrote that she had twice come to the police station to discuss the matter and had talked about it with another officer. [85] ¶ 3; [80-9] at 1. Stennis told Armstrong that she had filed


for bankruptcy, that all of the parking tickets should have been covered by that proceeding, instructed Armstrong to contact her lawyer, and directed that related documents be mailed to a P.O. box. [85] ¶ 3; [80-9].

In March and April 2016, Stennis was issued four more parking citations at the hospital. [85] ¶ 4; [80-10]; [80-11]; [80-12]; [80-13]. Stennis failed to respond to the citations as required, and on May 18 a federal court issued a second summons, ordering Stennis to appear on July 11, 2016. see [85] ¶ 6; [80-15]. Armstrong mailed the summons to Stennis's P.O. box. see [85] ¶ 5; [80-3] at 46-48.[3]

Armstrong also emailed Stennis about her parking tickets. [90] ¶ 5. Stennis asked her bankruptcy attorney to speak to the chief of the Hines police department, because she believed that Armstrong and the chief were acting in retaliation for her refusal to commit fraud with Armstrong. See id.; [80-1] at 29-30. Despite the fact that Armstrong worked nearby, he never came to Stennis's office to inform her of a pending court date. [90] ¶ 6. When Stennis attempted to find Armstrong at the Hines police station, he was unavailable. Id.

In June, Stennis's bankruptcy attorney sent an email to the Hines police department and the federal prosecutor assigned to Stennis's case. [85] ¶ 7; [80-16]. The attorney wrote that Stennis had filed for bankruptcy in August 2015, and that


the citations were nullified by the bankruptcy proceeding. [85] ¶ 7; [80-16]. The federal prosecutor responded that the citations were a criminal matter and were not a form of civil debt collection. [85] ¶ 8; [80-16]. The prosecutor wrote that if Stennis failed to appear in court pursuant to the second summons, a warrant would be issued for her arrest, and asked Stennis's attorney to tell his client about the summons. [85] ¶ 8; [80-16].

Stennis didn't appear, and a federal judge issued a warrant for her arrest. [85] ¶ 10; [80-17]. The warrant was to be executed by the Hines police so that Stennis could be brought before the court on the same day that the warrant was executed. [85] ¶ 10; [80-17].

On November 30, 2016, Hines police officers Armstrong and Amina Sahtout were assigned to arrest Stennis. [85] ¶ 11.[4] Armstrong went to Stennis's office and placed her under arrest. see [85] ¶ 12; [90] ¶ 7; [80-2] at 15-17; [80-1] at 38-39.[5] While the officers waited, Stennis called her bankruptcy attorney, and someone at that office emailed her a list of creditors. see [90] ¶ 7; [80-1] at 39; [85] ¶¶ 13-14.


Armstrong got mad and crumpled up the list of Stennis's creditors. see [90] ¶ 7; [801] at 38-39.[6] Accompanied by Armstrong (and possibly by Sahtout) Stennis walked to a room in the Hines police department. [90] ¶ 8. Armstrong printed out a paper, and then (with Stennis's colleagues and others watching) escorted Stennis to a police vehicle. See id.; [85] ¶ 14; [80-1] at 51; [80-2] at 20-21.

Before being restrained, Stennis told the officers that she had had cancer and breast surgery, and had breast implants. see [90] ¶ 9; [80-2] at 28-29 (According to Sahtout, Stennis said that she had had cancer and breast surgery.); [80-3] at 63-64 (Armstrong testified that Stennis told the officers about her breast implants, but didn't recall Stennis mentioning cancer or surgery.). Preparing to handcuff Stennis, one of the officers put Stennis's arms behind her back. see [90] ¶ 10.[7]Stennis yelled in pain and complained that it hurt. Id. The officers didn't seek medical care for Stennis, and instead handcuffed her (with hands behind her back) with two sets of cuffs. see [85] ¶¶ 15-16, 18; [90] ¶¶ 10, 13. The parties dispute how those handcuffs were applied: either one on top of the other or linked together. see [90] ¶ 13; [80-2] at 34. Stennis said that the second set of cuffs further restricted her movement. see [85] ¶ 17; [90] ¶ 13. Stennis felt that her implants were being damaged, but tried to deal with the pain because she was shameful of her mastectomy. [90] ¶ 14; [80-1] at 5657.


Stennis complained that the handcuffs were tight, and Sahtout asked Armstrong if they could handcuff Stennis in front of her body, rather than behind her back. see [85] ¶ 19; [90] ¶¶ 12, 14. Another officer was in the area, and Stennis asked him if he could intervene because she had had breast cancer surgery and her implant was in pain. see [90] ¶ 14; [80-1] at 57; [85-2] at 12. That officer told Armstrong that Stennis had had cancer surgery, that Stennis said the handcuffs were pulling on her surgically-repaired skin, and suggested handcuffing Stennis in front of her body so as to avoid putting stress on Stennis's chest. [90] ¶ 11; [85-2] at 21. Armstrong-who was serving as the Hines police department's liaison to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois-said that Stennis couldn't be cuffed in front because the U.S. Marshals (who would handle custody at the federal courthouse) wouldn't take custody of prisoners who were restrained in that way. see [85] ¶ 19; [80-3] at 64-65.[8]Armstrong also said that it was his arrest, and that he would decide how to handcuff Stennis. [90] ¶ 11; [85-2] at 12.[9]


Armstrong and Sahtout placed Stennis in a police car, and Armstrong, who seemed angry, slammed the car door to prevent Stennis from speaking to the other officer. see [90] ¶ 14;[10] [85] ¶ 20. Sahtout, Armstrong, and Stennis drove an hour east from the hospital to the Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. [85] ¶ 20. Stennis's handcuffs got tighter over the course of the drive. see [85] ¶ 21; [80-1] at 59. Stennis complained as soon as she got in the vehicle that she was uncomfortable, and every few minutes during the drive moaned in pain and said that she was hurting. [90] ¶ 19. Stennis had difficulty breathing, and told Sahtout that she couldn't breathe. See [85] ¶ 21; [90] ¶¶ 19-20; [80-1] at 59, 61-62.[11]Sahtout was sympathetic, but she and Armstrong didn't help Stennis or seek medical care for her. see [85] ¶ 21; [90] ¶¶ 2021; [80-1] at 59.[12]At some point on the way to the courthouse, Stennis told the officers that she...

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