ATKINS v. CITY OF CHICAGO (January 25, 2011)

In late 2003, Chicago police officers arrested William O. Atkins because they had a parole violation warrant for "William Atkins." Atkins was kept in custody overnight and then transferred to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections and held for 36 days. Atkins alternately claimed that he was not the warrant's William Atkins and that he was that William Atkins but that he could not violate his parole because it had expired. After his release, Atkins sued the arresting officers, the City of Chicago, and several employees of the Department of Corrections. The complaint alleged an unlawful arrest as against the City defendants and an unlawful detention as against the state defendants. Judge Shadur (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim. Atkins appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Posner, Manion, and Hamilton (concurring in part and concurring in judgment) affirmed. The Court began with the arrest and whether the officers had probable cause. Although the police lacked probable cause to stop the vehicle in which Atkins was a passenger, they nevertheless had an affidavit with his name on it. If he was the person named in the warrant, the absence of probable cause to stop the car does not vitiate the probable cause to arrest him. The affidavit matched Atkins’ first name, last name, gender, race, day of birth, month of birth, and the first three digits of his Social Security numbers. It did not match Atkins’ height, weight, or year of birth. Given the closeness of the match, the Court concluded that the officers did not err in arresting Atkins or, if they did, it was a reasonable error and did not violate Atkins's constitutional rights. Atkins' stronger complaint is that the state defendants held him unlawfully for 36 days, despite his protests. The Court stated that alleged parole violators must be afforded a preliminary hearing "as promptly as convenient" to determine probable cause and a full hearing within a "reasonable time." The hearings can be administrative. Atkins had an administrative hearing on the seventh day of his incarceration but failed to convince the hearing officer that he was either not the same William Atkins or that his parole has expired. It was on the 36th day that Atkins had his full hearing and was released. The Court noted a possible distinction between the due process rights of an alleged parole violator who admits the parole but denies the violation and an alleged parole violator who denies that he is even on parole. The former has already agreed to administrative adjudication of parole as one of the terms of his parole. The latter has not. But that would give every alleged parole violator an opportunity for two hearings. Particularly given the Court's belief that a judicial hearing is not necessarily superior to an administrative hearing, the Court doubted that the difference would lead to a constitutional distinction. It never resolved the issue, however, because its belief that the question was novel inescapably led to the conclusion that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the Court addressed Atkins' claim that he was mistreated during the 36 days of confinement. The Court ultimately concluded that the claims were properly dismissed. Notwithstanding the fact that Atkins was represented by counsel and had already amended his complaint three times, the Court noted that some allegations were highly implausible while others were contradicted or internally inconsistent. Atkins never stated a plausible claim for a constitutional violation. In addition, Atkins has died and his the estate has no way of even presenting his version of the facts.

Judge Hamilton joined the majority opinion with respect to the claims against the City defendants, the conditions of confinement claims, and the qualified immunity holding He wrote separately, however, to address the merits of the alleged due process violation. Generally, a person arrested without a warrant is entitled to a judicial hearing within 48 hours. An alleged parole violator is entitled to much less protection -- but only because he is already on parole and has a more limited liberty interest. Here Atkins claimed that he was not the parolee named in the warrant. Judge Hamilton therefore concluded that due process imposes procedural protections on identification challenges to parole violation warrants. He addressed the issue under the Matthews framework, considering: the private interest, the risk of erroneous deprivation, and the government interest. The private interest is basic liberty, the risk of error is likely significant, and the government interest is closely aligned with the private interest. Weighing those factors, Judge Hamilton concluded that a claim of misidentification should be resolved by a prompt appearance before a judge.