LAWSON v. VERUCHI (January 28, 2011)

A June, 2007 confrontation inside a Target store in Rockford, Illinois spilled out into the parking lot and down the street where Kimberly Colvin was assaulted by an unknown man. She reported the matter the next day to Rockford police She described the man and provided the license plate number of the car he was driving. A follow-up investigation on the plate led Detective Veruchi to Jeffrey W. Lawson ("JW"). JW's mother told Smith that she would have JW call him. Veruchi also received a call from a courtroom bailiff, who knew JW and knew that he had had an altercation in the Target. Veruchi even received a call from JW who originally agreed to come to the station but later reconsidered and referred Veruchi to his lawyer. In the meantime, Veruchi arranged a photo array with the victim and another witness. Veruchi obtained what he thought was JW's photograph from the county jail system. What he got, however, was a picture of Jeffery A. Lawson ("JA"). What happened at the photo array is disputed. Veruchi claims that the victim and witness both identified JA's picture as the attacker. Both the victim and witness denied that they positively identified JA as the attacker. Nevertheless, Veruchi relied on his version of the facts in an affidavit for a warrant. JA was arrested on the warrant and held in custody for 34 days before his release. JA brought suit against Veruchi and the City of Rockford under § 1983, alleging that his arrest was without probable cause and that municipal liability attached because Rockford had no policy to prevent his arrest. Judge Kapala (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Veruchi and the City. JA appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Posner, Manion, and Hamilton reversed and remanded. In order to prevail on a claim of unconstitutional arrest, a plaintiff must establish the absence of probable cause. In most cases, the issuance of a warrant will shield an officer from liability even if the arrest is later determined to be without probable cause. But if the warrant is issued on an affidavit that contains statements that the affiant knows are false or made with reckless disregard for the truth, the warrant does not shield the officer. Here, JA presented sufficient evidence of just that situation. The district judge erred when he discounted the victim's testimony (that is a question for the jury) and found the plaintiffs theory incredible (it is not). Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to JA, a jury could find that Veruchi intentionally provided false information in order to obtain the warrant and that probable cause to arrest JA did not exist. Since the district court's ruling in favor of the City was based on its dismissal of the underlying claim against Veruchi, the Court also reversed that decision and remanded for further consideration.