MUCHA v. VILLAGE OF OAK BROOK (February 14, 2011)

Randy Mucha was an Oak Brook, Illinois police officer. He began an internal investigation into potential police officer misconduct in 2004. He discovered that officers were frequently parked near the residence of Frances Gaik, a local woman who had organized a group that was critical of the Oak Brook Police Department. After he became suspicious that she had an internal Department phone list, he began investigating her. He infiltrated her group under a false identity and ran a criminal background check on her through the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System. Gaik discovered the background check only after she subpoenaed the Illinois State Police more than a year later. Police Chief Thomas Sheahan obtained a warrant and arrested Mucha, charging him with unlawfully requesting a background check. After the charges were dismissed, Mucha filed a § 1983 false arrest claim against the Village. Judge Hart (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to the Village. Mucha appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Wood, and Sykes affirmed. In order for Mucha to prevail, the Court noted he had the burden to prove that he was arrested without probable cause. Probable cause exists if the facts and circumstances known at the time support a belief by a prudent person that a crime has been committed. Here, Sheahan knew at the time of the arrest that Mucha did not approve of Gaik’s group and that he spied on her and the group, infiltrated their meetings, ran Internet searches, and did in fact run a criminal background check when Gaik was not the subject of any legitimate investigation. Given that knowledge, in the absence of any knowledge supporting a conclusion that the background check was legitimate, the Court concluded that probable cause existed. The existence of probable cause is also not affected by any improper motive on the part of Sheahan.