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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Seventh Circuit Overturns $44.7 Million Jury Verdict Against City in Shooting Incident

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned a jury verdict against the City of Chicago awarding $44.7 million in damages relating to a shooting involving an off duty police officer. First Midwest Bank as Guardian v. City of Chicago.

According to the court opinion, the plaintiff claimed that a Chicago police officer shot his friend during an argument when the two had been drinking. The friend suffered traumatic brain and other injuries. The friend sued the City of Chicago seeking damages for the shooting, arguing that the City was responsible for the officer's conduct. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the City's failure to have an "early warning system" to identify officers who might engage in misconduct, failure to adequately investigate and discipline officers who engage in misconduct, and the "code of silence" among police officers contributed to the shooting incident. The City argued that the officer was off duty and not acting under "color of state law" at the time of the shooting, so the City was not liable under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. The case made its way to a jury which found the City of Chicago liable and awarded $44.7 million in damages to the plaintiff. The jury found that two of the City's policies - its failure to maintain an adequate early warning system and failure to adequately investigate and discipline officers - caused the officer to shoot his friend. 

The City appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the jury verdict and award. The appeals court found that although the injuries suffered by plaintiff from the shooting incident were grievous, the City was not responsible for the officer's actions, where the officer was acting as a private citizen and not as a City police officer. The Seventh Circuit noted that Section 1983 imposes liability only when a municipality has violated a federal right. Since none of the plaintiff's federal rights were violated, the court of appeals overturned the jury verdict against the City of Chicago.


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