Chicago U.S. District Court Judge granted summary judgment in favor of the City of Chicago, dismissing the case brought against two Chicago police officers who ran over two young Chicago children. When it hit the children the officers’ unmarked car was driving at high speed with no lights or flashers.
The suit claimed that the City of Chicago and its two officers violated the children’s right to substantive due process under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The issue before the court was whether an Illinois auto accident caused by reckless driving forms the basis for constitutional liability under the substantive due process clause.
According to Judge Hibbler, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that recklessness in such a situation is not enough. The rule of thumb for establishing the threshold in a substantive due process challenge comes for the ruling in County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998): whether the behavior “is so egregious, so outrageous that it may fairly be said to shock the conscience.”
Under Hill v. Shobe, 93 F.3d 418 (7th Cir. 1996), it was held that reckless driving alone was not enough cause to impose liability under the due process clause. Furthermore, Lewis ruled that a high speed chase without the intention of causing harm does not meet the level of shocking one’s conscience.
Judge Hiller further reviewed the facts of the current case to determine whether the two police officers had intended to harm the two children. Evidence supported that the officer driving was indeed reckless when he struck the children. At the time the officers were speeding down the wrong side of the street with neither their lights or sirens on in an area near a school zone. According to the officers they were chasing a man with a gun. Yet Hiller felt that there was evidence to support the victims’ family’s claim that the officers were in fact avoiding traffic and there was no man with a gun. One of the boys struck by the police officers died, the other survived.
But while there was ample evidence to support the officers’ reckless behavior, there was no evidence that they had intended to harm the two children. Therefore Hiller reluctantly ruled in favor of the City of Chicago’s summary judgment and dismissed the case. However, Hiller did recommend to the family that they appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago for further review of the due process claim. That perhaps the Appeals Court would review whether the recklessness shown in the present case would be enough to shock the conscious and thereby violate the substantive due process clause.
While the due process clause might have been denied, this isn’t the last of this case. The family has state-law claims against both the Chicago police officers and the City for willful and wanton conduct, negligence and conspiracy. Additionally, there are wrongful death and survival counts brought by the boy’s estate.
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