FLOREK v. VILLAGE OF MUNDELEIN, ILLINOIS (August 16, 2011)

After successfully completing a controlled marijuana buy at a Mundelein, Illinois apartment, the police obtained a search warrant. They executed the warrant late in the evening of December 7, 2004. Linda Florek and her son lived in the apartment (apparently, the son’s friend was the marijuana seller). Florek arrived home from work at approximately 10:00 p.m., at which point she enjoyed a marijuana cigarette. The police arrived at approximately 10:20 p.m. According to the police, they knocked and announced their presence and broke down the door after about 15 seconds without a response. The apartment still smelled of marijuana. Florek admitted to the police that she had hidden some marijuana upon their arrival. Florek and her son were handcuffed and kept in the living room during the one-hour search. The parties disagree about what happened next. According to Florek, she asked if she could take some baby aspirin because she was experiencing chest pains and thought she might be experiencing a heart attack. After the police rejected her request, she asked for an ambulance. The police told her to wait until they got to the police station. Florek also claims she told police she was having a heart attack before being placed in the van for transportation to the police station. According to the police, Florek did ask for a baby aspirin and they denied the request because of police policy that only physicians administer medication. Instead, they offered to summon paramedics if she needed help. She refused. The police concede that Florek complained about the choice of transportation to the police station but assert that she did not tell them of any chest pains until they were on their way. They immediately radioed for assistance and met an ambulance when they arrived at the police station, minutes later. Florek was taken to the hospital, where physicians confirmed that she had suffered a heart attack. Florek filed suit against the Village and individual police officer Hansen, alleging that: a) the denial of her request for baby aspirin was an unreasonable seizure, b) that the refusal to call an ambulance was an unreasonable seizure, and c) that the police's failure to wait a reasonable time after the knock and announce amounted to an unreasonable search. Magistrate Judge Valdez (N.D. Ill.) denied summary judgment on the knock and announce and ambulance claims and granted summary judgment to the defendants on the aspirin claim on qualified immunity grounds. At trial, after the close of plaintiff's case, the court directed a verdict for the Village. After trial, the jury found against Florek on the remaining claims. Florek appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Flaum and Sykes and District Judge Conley affirmed. The appeal raised three challenges: the summary judgment on the aspirin claim, the directed verdict for the Village, and the exclusion of an expert on the knock and announce claim. The Court rejected each. It first addressed the qualified immunity on the aspirin claim. The qualified immunity analysis involves two questions: whether there is a constitutional deprivation and whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time. If either question is answered no, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Although the magistrate judge found qualified immunity by answering the clearly established prong in the negative, the Court affirmed by answering the deprivation prong in the negative. In the medical needs context, a seizure is unconstitutional if an arresting officer does not respond reasonably considering the totality of the circumstances. Here, the Court criticized the way the case was litigated in the district court. Since the aspirin claim and the ambulance claim were, in fact, both part of the same arrest and both were included in the totality of circumstances, they should have been presented as one claim. Nevertheless, the Court addressed the aspirin claim as a distinct claim. The Court considered the four Williams factors: the officer's notice of a medical need, the seriousness of the need, the requested treatment, and any police interests. Here, the officers were not on notice of a serious medical condition, the requested treatment was minor, the police were conducting a search for illegal drugs, and the officers summoned an ambulance when they were on notice of a serious medical condition. Therefore, the Court concluded that the officer was entitled to summary judgment on the aspirin claim. Florek’s only argument with respect to the directed verdict for the Village also related to the aspirin claim. Given the court's resolution of the individual claim, the directed verdict was appropriate. On the knock and announce claim, Florek presented expert testimony to the effect that no reasonable officer would expect a response from an apartment’s resident within 15 seconds at that time of night. The magistrate judge excluded the evidence on the grounds that the subject matter was within a layperson’s normal comprehension. Evidence Rule 702 requires that expert testimony "assist the trier of fact" in determining a fact issue. That generally means that the expert must have some specialized knowledge or experience that will help the trier of fact understand the testimony’s subject matter. Here, the Court concluded that the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion in excluding the testimony. In some circumstances, expert testimony might be helpful in determining whether officers waited a reasonable time before forcefully entering a residence. A witness with expertise in law enforcement might offer testimony about how drugs are disposed of or what dangers await police officers in such a situation. But testimony about how long it would take a person to answer the door late at night is within the everyday experience of a layperson.