Where an off-duty sheriff’s deputy assaulted a teenager in a county outside of his jurisdiction, the plaintiff could not show that deputy acted within the scope of his employment.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis.

Urija Elston and his friends were playing basketball in a park in DuPage County while Brian Demeter, an off-duty Kane County sheriff’s deputy was watching his child’s soccer game on an adjacent field.

When Elston and his friends started heckling one another, Demeter confronted them and demanded that they stop swearing. Demeter flashed his badge and his gun and warned the group to “watch who you’re messing with.”

When the boys refused to stop swearing, Demeter grabbed Elston by the neck, threw him to the ground and climbed on top of him. Bystanders later separated Demeter and Elston, but not before Demeter ripped Elston’s shirt in an attempt to keep hold of him.

After the fight broke up, Demeter called 911 from his personal cellphone, identifying himself as a police officer in need of assistance. Elston called his father for help. When Elston’s father arrived at the park, Demeter explained the incident by saying that he had just snapped during his argument with the boys.

Demeter then told Elston’s father that he was a police officer attempting to take Elston into custody for disorderly conduct and that he intended to turn Elston over to the Aurora Police Department.

Elston was never charged with any offense. Demeter later pleaded guilty to violating Aurora’s ordinance against battery. Elston then sued Demeter under both 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and Illinois state law.

Elston won a default judgment and an award of $110,000 in compensatory damages. Elston also sued Kane County under Illinois’ Tort Immunity Act. Elston argued that the county was obliged to pay the judgment that he had obtained against Demeter because Demeter was acting within the scope of his employment during the assault.

The county moved for summary judgment, and the U.S. District Court granted the motion. Elston appealed.

The appellate panel began by stating that, under Illinois law, there are three necessary criteria for an employee’s action to be within the scope of his employment.

The panel noted that first, the relevant conduct must be of the kind that the employee was employed to perform, second the conduct must have occurred substantially within the time and space limits authorized by the employment and third, the conduct must have been motivated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the employer.

The panel noted that the parties disputed whether Demeter’s action satisfied the first criterion, but even assuming that it did, Elston could not carry his burden with regards to the second and third criteria.

The panel stated that, while conduct committed off hours and outside of the general spatial confines of employment was not dispositive, an examination of the facts of the instant case indicated that Demeter was not acting substantially within the time and space limits authorized by his employment.

The panel noted that Demeter was off duty, not in uniform and acting in a county where he was not authorized as a sheriff’s deputy.

Finally, the panel stated that no reasonable jury could find for Elston on the third criterion. The panel stated that Demeter had no authority to make an arrest or take other actions to keep the peace during the incident.

The panel noted that the Kane County Sheriff’s Office had a policy prohibiting off-duty deputies from making arrests or performing other enforcement actions outside the jurisdictional limits of Kane County.

The panel stated that Demeter acted out of personal animus to accost, threaten and physically assault a teenager and the fact that he used his badge, gun and training in an unauthorized manner in pursuit of that goal did not bring his conduct within the scope of his employment.

As a result, the panel affirmed the district court’s decision.

Urija Elston v. County of Kane

No. 19-1746

Writing for the court: Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Concurring: Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Daniel A. Manion

Released: Jan. 28, 2020