Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Police take $500, but have to give it back to suspect

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Case: COURTNEY v. CITY OF CHICAGO, No. 11-1760 (7th Cir., December 2, 2011)

What happened: Police conducted a drug raid on a woman’s house and took ownership of $500 in cash from the home under asset forfeiture law. Woman filed a claim to get the $500 back, and she got the $500 back. She then sued anyway.

Decision: The decision is limited to municipal liability issues — that is, issues of whether the police department and/or city are liable for any wrongdoing that some of its individual police officers may have done. Municipal liability was denied here, as it so often is.


Finally, {plaintiff] argues that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on her failure-to-train claim because some of the officers who searched her apartment are involved in other lawsuits alleging constitutional violations. But as the district court noted, the mere fact that an officer has been sued is not evidence of misconduct, much less a pattern of misconduct. And, in any event, [Plaintiff] failed to produce evidence showing that the seizure of her cash was unreasonable, as she must in order to recover on a theory of municipal liability. Officers acting within the scope of a valid warrant do not engage in official misconduct, and [Plaintiff] cites no authority for her assertion that the officers could not seize money without finding other evidence of a crime.

Comment: “[X] failed to produce evidence showing that [y] was unreasonable.” This statement of the opinion bugs me, and this is a type of statement I hear all the time. My issue here is that “reasonableness” or “unreasonableness” doesn’t seem to me to be properly characterizable as a “fact” supportable by what is properly thought of as “evidence.” I would propose that it would have been better if the opinion had instead said: “[Plaintiff] failed to produce evidence showing facts sufficient to support a legal conclusion that the seizure of her cash was unreasonable.” Assuming that that is what the opinion really intended to convey, of course.

Written by Burgers Allday

December 7, 2011 at 6:36 am

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