A former Argonne National Laboratory employee has struck out in his attempt to sue the lab and some DuPage County Sheriff's deputies for allegedly wrongly accusing him of theft, and then firing him.
Federal judge Matthew F. Kennelly on March 5 dismissed the complaint of Michael Polowinczak, of Lemont, who first worked at Argonne as a machinist in 1989. Polowinczak joined the optics department in 1998, rising to the post of lead optician, which he held until mid-July 2013.
The circumstances of his termination are the focus of a suit Polowinczak filed in July, in which he named as defendants DuPage County; DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba; two DuPage County Sheriff’s deputies; UChicago Argonne LLC; Argonne National Laboratory; and Argonne employee Peter T. Spizzirri.
The nine-count claim accused the defendants of false arrest, unlawful detention, false imprisonment, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination/retaliatory discharge.
He twice amended his claim, and the final version Kennelly considered had just four claims — arrest without probable cause, and state-level claims of retaliatory discharge and the two emotional distress claims. The defendants moved for all claims to be dismissed.
The original complaint relied heavily on the events of July 12, 2013. On that date, two DuPage County Sheriff’s deputies stopped Polowinczak’s private vehicle on the Argonne campus. Polowinczak said the deputies did not say why they ordered him to pull over his car and that they harassed him and searched the vehicle. The deputies purportedly found and, allegedly without permission, opened a black bag containing gloves, safety glasses, batteries, sunglasses, industrial tape and other items, all of which Polowinczak said were either Argonne property or which Argonne authorized him to possess. His job required him to transport lab property in his private car.
Polowinczak was given a citation for improper display of license sticker and expired registration. But the deputies also arrested him on charges of theft of Argonne property. The deputies took him to the DuPage County Jail where he was booked and detained before posting bond. He has alleged the deputies convinced Spizzirri, the operations leader of Argonne security, to file a misdemeanor complaint for the property theft.
Argonne used the criminal charges to justify firing Polowinczak. He ultimately was acquitted, but Argonne did not reinstate his employment.
In his opinion dismissing the latest iteration of Polowinczak’s lawsuit, Kennelly said the officers never stepped over the line in detaining, searching and ultimately arresting Polowinczak.
Kennelly noted Polowinczak did not allege the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him for the vehicle violations, only for the supposedly stolen property. But, the judge wrote, “an arresting officer need not have probable cause to arrest for a particular crime if he has probable cause to arrest for another.” Further, citing two precedents, Kennelly said arrests, even for a very minor traffic offense, do not constitute a Fourth Amendment violation.
With all federal law and constitutional matters resolved, Kennelly said legal precedent did not allow him to continue to preside over Polowinczak’s claims brought under state law. He then dismissed the three remaining claims for lack of jurisdiction.
Polowinczak was represented by attorney Anthony J. Peraica, of Chicago.
The DuPage County Sheriff’s deputies were represented by the firm of Rock, Fusco & Connelly, of Chicago, while Argonne was defended by the firm of Goldberg Kohn, of Chicago. Zaruba was defended in his official capacity as DuPage County Sheriff by the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.