The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals scuttled a lawsuit from a man who said the village of Wilmette violated his constitutional rights by asking him to stop tracking his neighbors’ activities to prove they were violating condo association rules.
Seventh Circuit Judges William Bauer, Michael Kanne and Michael Brennan heard arguments on appeal of a decision from U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis, who dismissed the complaint Marshall Spiegel filed against the village and his neighbor, Corrine McClintic. Kanne wrote the opinion, which was issued Feb. 14.
According to court documents, Spiegel believed McClintic and her husband, William McClintic, have been improperly renting the unit they bought in 2015 in a building where he’s lived for 22 years. Spiegel said the couple doesn’t live in the building but uses the pool almost daily. After he began photographing and filming them, Corinne McClintic filed police reports from June through October 2016. In a June 2016 incident, she said he jumped in front of her car to photograph her. Although Spiegel wasn’t arrested, Wilmette Police officers threatened a disorderly conduct arrest, prompting his lawsuit.
Ellis dismissed Spiegel’s second amended complaint in which he accused McClintic and the village of a conspiracy to violate his rights and also said McClintic violated state law by photographing the inside of his condo without consent. Spiegel also claimed Wilmette Police didn’t act on his reports, including an association meeting altercation where “a resident’s son-in-law battered Spiegel in front of roughly 10 people until security guards pulled him off.”
After that dismissal, Spiegel moved to have the judgment vacated and filed a third amended complaint. Judge Ellis denied the motion to vacate and the motion to amend, giving rise to the present appeal.
In affirming Ellis’ finding, Kanne explained the conspiracy allegations fail because Spiegel didn’t say Wilmette Police agreed to arrest Spiegel at McClintic’s direction, and that a private citizen giving information to law enforcement doesn’t mean they worked together, even if an unconstitutional arrest ensues. Saying police didn’t consider his explanations for why he was acting within the law is insufficient to establish a conspiracy.
“The officers clearly retained full discretion, evidenced by their decision to not arrest Spiegel,” Kanne wrote. “Spiegel never alleges that the officers were aware that the reports were false, much less that they had previously agreed with McClintic to investigate such false reports. In fact, it’s unclear whether Corrine McClintic’s reports contained falsehoods.”
In targeting Wilmette, Spiegel said the village’s disorderly conduct ordinance shows the city has an expressly unconstitutional policy. However, the appellate panel determined the rule doesn’t criminalize taking pictures or video in public, only doing so “in such unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another. … Certainly, a person can photograph and videotape in a sufficiently disruptive way that it would be ... constitutional to arrest the individual for disorderly conduct.”
Therefore, Spiegel’s complaint isn’t about the law’s legality, but in how it is enforced. And since he didn’t allege a municipal policy of enforcement in an unconstitutional fashion, nor did he sufficiently argue the village expressly ratified the actions of the police officers who asked him to stop recording McClintic, his claim fails.
Kanne also explained why Spiegel’s claim of intrusion upon seclusion against McClintic failed, noting Ellis’ statement that finding Spiegel “did not allege damages from the purported intrusions,” a necessary requirement for such pleadings.