White v. City of Chi.

Decision Date21 July 2016
Docket NumberNo. 15-1280,15-1280
Citation829 F.3d 837
PartiesVonzell White, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. City of Chicago, and Chicago Police Officer John O'Donnell, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Kenneth N. Flaxman, Attorney, Law Office of Kenneth N. Flaxman P.C., Chicago, IL, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Justin A. Houppert, Attorney, City of Chicago Law Department, Chicago, IL, for DefendantsAppellees.

Before Kanne, Rovner, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

From 2008 until 2010, the FBI and Chicago Police Department conducted a narcotics investigation on Chicago's West Side called “Operation Blue Knight.” As the operation was wrapping up, defendant Officer John O'Donnell applied for dozens of arrest warrants, including one for Vonzell White, the plaintiff in this civil case. Other officers had observed White and his brother sell heroin to an informant. The observations were in a more comprehensive report that O'Donnell used as the basis for his arrest warrant application. White was arrested, but the charge was dropped. He then brought this civil lawsuit alleging that Officer O'Donnell's actions and a City of Chicago policy violated his Fourth Amendment rights. All of White's claims are based on the theory that Officer O'Donnell failed to present the judge who issued the warrant enough information to establish probable cause for the arrest.

The district court dismissed the policy claim against the City on the pleadings and later granted summary judgment to Officer O'Donnell on the individual claim against him. Although we agree with White on some important legal points, in the end we affirm the judgment in favor of the defendants. Officer O'Donnell's written application for an arrest warrant, supported by his oral testimony about the report of the surveillance of the drug deal, provided probable cause for the arrest warrant.

I. Factual and Procedural Background
A. Operation Blue Knight

From 2008 until 2010, the FBI and the Chicago Police Department jointly targeted high narcotics areas on the West Side of Chicago in “Operation Blue Knight.” Operation Blue Knight used confidential informants to carry out and record drug deals. On July 31, 2010, Operation Blue Knight officers set up surveillance with an informant stationed near a bus shelter. The officers were targeting Vernon Chapman, who is plaintiff Vonzell White's brother. Both Chapman and White were known to law enforcement as members of the Traveling Vice Lords gang, a target of the investigation. The officers watched Chapman and White drive up, park, and walk toward the bus shelter where the informant was waiting. The officers reported that they watched White and Chapman both speak with the informant. White testified at his deposition that Chapman walked thirty feet away from White and spoke alone with the informant. After the conversation, White and Chapman drove away from the area and police ended surveillance. For purposes of reviewing the grant of summary judgment, we assume the officers did not actually see a hand-to-hand transfer of heroin to the informant.

The informant then called the officers and told them that he had purchased heroin from White and Chapman. The officers met with the informant and retrieved the drugs. The informant identified White and Chapman in a photo array, and field tests confirmed that the drugs were heroin. The officers' observations from the July 31 purchase were summarized in a Narcotics & Gang Investigations Section Supplementary Report, called the NAGIS Report, prepared by one of the participating officers.

B. Arrest Warrant

Several months later, in November 2010, Operation Blue Knight officers prepared to arrest and prosecute numerous suspects. Chicago Police Officer John O'Donnell, who did not participate in the July 31 surveillance, was in charge of submitting the arrest warrant requests for Operation Blue Knight. He discussed the matter with the prosecutor and signed a criminal complaint against White on the basis of the NAGIS Report. The complaint form, which is used regularly by the Chicago Police Department, contained spaces for personal details and a brief description of the alleged offense. The complaint against White alleged in relevant part that “Vonzell White ... committed the offense of Delivery of a Controlled Substance in that he/she Knowingly and Unlawfully delivered ... a substance containing a controlled substance to wit: 3.0 grams of heroin.” The complaint gave the date and street address of the charged delivery but contained no additional factual details about White's alleged drug deal or the basis for the accusation.

On November 16, Officer O'Donnell and the prosecutor appeared before a state court judge to seek an arrest warrant for several Operation Blue Knight suspects, including White. Officer O'Donnell presented the criminal complaint and testified under oath about White's actions as detailed in the NAGIS Report. The judge issued a warrant to arrest White.

To support his claim that Officer O'Donnell failed to provide the state court with sufficient information to establish probable cause to arrest him, White emphasizes that Officer O'Donnell and the prosecutor could not remember at their depositions in this federal civil case exactly what Officer O'Donnell told the judge about White's participation in the drug deal. Nevertheless, Officer O'Donnell specifically testified: “On November 10, 2010, I signed a criminal complaint against Vonzell White for delivery of a controlled substance based on the 7/31/10 NAGIS report documenting that Vernon Chapman and Vonzell White delivered a controlled substance to the C/I in a covert narcotics purchase on July 31, 2010.” He added that the “NAGIS report identifies Vonzell White, a/k/a ‘Zebo’ and Vernon Chapman a/k/a ‘C-Dog’ as affiliated with the Traveling Vice Lords and lists both Chapman and White as the offenders who delivered heroin to the C/I on July 31, 2010, in the covert narcotics purchase. Based on my experience and understanding of the incident, I believed the 7/31/2010 NAGIS report set forth sufficient probable cause to secure the arrest of Vonzell White for delivery of a controlled substance.” The NAGIS report's account of the controlled buy, if believed, provided sufficient information to find probable cause to arrest White.

C. Dismissal of Criminal Case and Filing of Civil Suit

White was arrested on November 17, 2010. He remained in custody until January 5, 2011. On July 21, 2011, prosecutors dismissed the charges against him, apparently because the informant was not available to testify against him.

White then filed this civil suit against both Officer O'Donnell and the City of Chicago alleging that he was arrested in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and was prosecuted maliciously under state law. White contends that Officer O'Donnell knowingly sought an arrest warrant without probable cause. White argues that the sparse description of the offense on the standard complaint form failed to provide the state court judge with sufficient information to find probable cause for the arrest. White also alleges a Monell claim against the city for the allegedly widespread practice of seeking arrest warrants on the basis of the conclusory complaint forms. See Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York , 436 U.S. 658, 694–95, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) (rejecting respondeat superior liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 but allowing claims against local governments for official policies or customs that violate federal rights).

The district court granted the city's motion to dismiss the Monell claim for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), finding that the complaint did not allege a sufficient factual basis to believe the alleged practice was actually so widespread as to support a Monell claim. Defendants later moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims. The district court granted summary judgment for Officer O'Donnell on the federal claim for false arrest, finding that he was entitled to qualified immunity, and the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law malicious prosecution claim. White has appealed.

II. Fourth Amendment Claim Against Officer O'Donnell

We first consider summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim against Officer O'Donnell as an individual. We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Miller v. Gonzalez , 761 F.3d 822, 826 (7th Cir. 2014). We review the evidence in the light reasonably most favorable to the non-moving party—here, plaintiff White. Id . We give him the benefit of reasonable inferences from the evidence, id. , citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), but not speculative inferences in his favor, see Tubergen v. St. Vincent Hosp. and Health Care Center, Inc ., 517 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2008), quoting McDonald v. Village of Winnetka , 371 F.3d 992, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine dispute of material fact exists and the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ; see also Carroll v. Lynch , 698 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2012). The controlling question is whether a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence submitted in support of and opposition to the motion for summary judgment. See Sweat v. Peabody Coal Co ., 94 F.3d 301, 304 (7th Cir. 1996).

White asserts that he was arrested based on an invalid warrant because Officer O'Donnell failed to present sufficient information to allow the state court judge to evaluate probable cause for arrest. White argues that the bare-bones criminal complaint could not establish probable cause and that the insufficiency was not cured by Officer O'Donnell's testimony because he could not recall his testimony more specifically. Defendants...

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