BROWN v. CITY OF CHICAGO

Chicago police officers Blackman and Long were on a plain-clothes detail in a Chicago neighborhood when they observed what they believed was an illegal drug transaction. During their pursuit of the suspects, Blackman came across Arthur Brown. According to Blackman, Brown was holding a gun. When he failed to follow the officer's orders to drop it, Blackman shot him several times. According to Brown and another witness, he did not have a gun. Instead, Brown claims that Blackman shot him in the back and then planted a gun in his hand. Brown was charged and convicted of several counts of aggravated assault, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and unlawful possession of a weapon. His conviction was affirmed. Nevertheless, Brown brought a § 1983 complaint against Blackman, alleging that Blackman's conduct amounted to the excessive use of force in violation of the Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment to Blackman, concluding that the complaint was barred by collateral estoppel. Brown appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Manion and Tinder affirmed. The Court noted that Brown conceded that the elements of collateral estoppel existed in the case. Instead, he argued that two exceptions to the rule applied: that he was denied a fair hearing and that new evidence made the rule’s application unfair. The Court agreed that Brown's exceptions to the application of collateral estoppel were recognized in Illinois. However, the Court rejected their application in this case. First, with respect to the fair hearing exception, the Court concluded that the two evidentiary issue rulings at his criminal trial did not deny Brown a fair hearing. The third ground on which he based his “fair hearing” argument was the accusation by the prosecutor that Brown and his attorney made up a theory of conspiracy by police officers in order to “cash in” in a civil action against the City. The state appellate court found the remarks improper but did not reverse the conviction. Likewise, the Court found that the remarks, though improper, did not amount to the deprivation of a fair hearing. Second, with respect to the new evidence exception, the Court concluded that any discrepancy between a witness’ testimony in Brown's criminal trial and his deposition testimony in the § 1983 case was not significant enough to create the type of injustice that would bar the application of collateral estoppel.