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Wonsey v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 15, 2019

Antoinette Wonsey, Plaintiff-Appellant,
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 16, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:16-cv-09936 - Sara L. Ellis, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Brennan, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.


         Antoinette Wonsey's Chicago home attracted two types of visitors: tourists and police. The tourists came for short-term lodging, which Wonsey sublet through Airbnb. The police first came after an Airbnb guest reported a theft at Wonsey's home. Five days later, police showed up again to help city examiners during a building inspection. Claiming these two police encounters amounted to Fourth Amendment violations, Wonsey sued the City of Chicago and several police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. On appeal, Wonsey submits a bare explanation of the police encounters, and she makes no effort to connect them with a cognizable Fourth Amendment claim. Because Wonsey fails to show any reason why the district court's judgment should be disturbed, we affirm.


         On June 4, 2016, an Airbnb guest of Wonsey's reported to police that his personal belongings, including cash and a laptop computer, disappeared after he lost consciousness from a seizure. Chicago Police Sergeant Antonio Valentin drove to Wonsey's house to investigate and arrived at 8:30 a.m. The front gate to Wonsey's house was locked, and no one responded when Valentin rang the doorbell. He then attempted to open the gate by reaching his arm around and trying to open it from the inside. When that did not work, Valentin called the police station and spoke with the theft victim, who gave Valentin the entry code to unlock the gate.

         After opening the gate, Valentin went to the front door, knocked, and rang the doorbell. Two men opened the door and, as shown in Wonsey's home security video footage, allowed Valentin inside. Shortly after, another officer arrived to assist. The officers saw residents scattered throughout the first floor who appeared to have been sleeping in the living room areas. As Valentin discussed the theft victim's claim with the residents, Wonsey, who had been asleep until that point, entered the dining room and joined the conversation. After Valentin asked Wonsey for permission to see where the theft victim was staying, Wonsey refused and told the officers to leave. The officers complied and Wonsey walked them outside. Although Valentin felt Wonsey acted "evasive," he described his conversation with her as "friendly" and "cordial." At no point during this encounter did the officers arrest Wonsey, search her home, or tell her she was not free to leave.

         Five days later, on June 9, and prompted by a police request, the city's buildings department sent out a team of inspectors to Wonsey's house. They were accompanied by five police officers. On arrival, the inspectors found Wonsey's front gate was locked, so they visually inspected the exterior of her house where they saw a man sitting on Wonsey's back porch. The inspectors explained why they were there, and the man opened the back gate to let them in. They entered, walked to the front of the house, and met Wonsey, who willingly allowed the inspectors into her home. Home security video footage corroborated Wonsey's grant of permission. The police officers waited outside during the inspection.

         The inspectors recorded 32 code violations and concluded the house should be immediately evacuated. Including Wonsey, at least eight occupants were in the house that morning and the inspection report speculated 12-18 occupants resided there. Due to "dangerous conditions in the home," the inspectors asked the police to assist with "emergency evacuations." At that point the officers entered the house and stayed in the common areas. As Wonsey explains it, the officers "surrounded her" in the dining room. Defendants alleged Wonsey was "irate," "very ballistic," "screaming," and "yelling." She denies these characterizations. Wonsey agrees no police officer placed her in handcuffs or told her she was not free to leave. She also admits she refused to leave despite being asked to do so as part of the evacuation order.

         Wonsey sued the city and some of the police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the June 4 and June 9 encounters. She claimed defendants' actions violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. After discovery defendants moved for summary judgment. On Wonsey's June 4 claims, defendants argued: (1) Valentin had consent to enter Wonsey's home to investigate the stolen property report; and (2) Wonsey presented no evidence of a Fourth Amendment seizure.[1] On the June 9 claims defendants contended the doctrine of qualified immunity shielded all the officers' actions that day. The district court agreed with defendants across the board and granted summary judgment in their favor. Wonsey appeals that decision.


         "The purpose of an appeal is to evaluate the reasoning and result reached by the district court." Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc., 882 F.3d 686, 690 (7th Cir. 2018). A party asking this court to reverse a district court's judgment must "argue why we should reverse that judgment" and "cite appropriate authority to support that argument." United States v. Berkowitz, 927 F.2d 1376, 1384 (7th Cir. 1991). That task starts with the appellant's brief. See Fed. R. App. P. 28.

         Although appellate briefs should embrace brevity, Wonsey's initial brief is extraordinarily sparse. Critically, the "argument" section, which runs only two and a half pages, does not attempt to show how the district court erred. More importantly, it never addresses her Fourth Amendment claims. See, e.g., Sambrano v. Mabus,663 F.3d 879, 881 (7th Cir. 2011) (censuring similarly deficient brief). Instead, almost all the section is poached from a law review article about qualified immunity that Wonsey's counsel failed to cite. This was not an instance of less than perfect citation, but rather copying an academic work without any attribution. Even the article's footnotes appear as citations in ...

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