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Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Suit Alleging Excessive Force, Retaliation and Inadequate Medical Care; Settles for $15,000

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit against Cook County Jail (CCJ) officials in Chicago, Illinois that alleged excessive force, retaliation and inadequate medical treatment.

Fredrick Lee Walker, a pre-trial detainee at CCJ for some eight years, sued CCJ and numerous guards for allegedly using excessive force against him four times during 2004, retaliating against him, and denying him medical care. After extensive discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Walker appealed.

The Court of Appeals first disagreed with the district court’s decision to dismiss two of Walker’s excessive force claims on statute of limitations grounds. A two-year statute of limitations applied to Walker’s claims, but the limitations period should have been tolled during the pendency of the grievance process, the appellate court held.

The Seventh Circuit further disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that Walker had failed to present sufficient evidence demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact as to one of his excessive force claims. Walker presented evidence that CCJ guards “hit him in the face, beat him with handcuffs, and stomp[ed] on him while he was on the floor.” He also submitted medical records indicating that he suffered “trauma, bruises, and cuts on his face as a result” of the beating. Such evidence, the Court of Appeals held, was sufficient to take Walker’s excessive force claim to trial.

The appellate court also took issue with the district court’s treatment of Walker’s retaliation claim. The district court had found “insufficient evidence” to support a claim of retaliation, but this argument was never advanced by the defendants. In effect, the district court had sua sponte granted summary judgment for the defendants on Walker’s retaliation claim. This was error, the Court of Appeals explained, as Walker “had no notice that the adequacy of his retaliation evidence was being challenged.”

Finally, the Seventh Circuit rejected the district court’s dismissal of Walker’s medical care claims. Walker had “consistently disputed that he received adequate medical care,” and his medical records supported his allegations. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was reversed. See: Walker v. Sheahan, 526 F.3d 973 (7th Cir. 2008).

Following remand, the case settled on the day of trial, January 12, 2009, for $15,000. Although Walker later refused to sign the settlement papers, the district court dismissed the case based upon the “firm” settlement agreement between the parties.

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Related legal case

Walker v. Sheahan