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Court Vacates Police Officers' Suit Over Order to Cover Tattoos

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

A federal appeals court vacated a lawsuit by police officers who sued because their department ordered them to cover their tattoos.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the controversy was moot because the plaintiffs prevailed in a related arbitration, and the city rescinded its tattoo order. In Medici v. City of Chicago, the appeals court said there was nothing left to decide -- even though the city had prevailed in the trial court.

"So what should be done with the district judge's grant of judgment in favor of the City?," Judge Richard Posner asked rhetorically.

" The answer is "vacatur [that is, erasing a judgment so that its legal effect is as if it had never been written, vacatur being Latin for "it is made void"] is in order when mootness occurs through ... the 'unilateral action of the party who prevailed in the lower court.'"

Angels and Warriors

It didn't take long for the appeals court to terminate the case, which had dragged on for two years through two courts and one arbitration. It also gained traction in the press, which followed the "tattoo cover-up rule."

Daniel Medici, a nine-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, had a tattoo honoring his service in the Marine Corps. He said his "wings and halos" tattoo was in remembrance of his fallen comrades. Two other officers in the case, who were Air Force veterans, had religious tattoos of St. Michael.

They sued after the department issued a rule that officers must wear clothing or tape to cover-up tattoos. The rule was to "promote uniformity and professionalism," the department said. A trial judge dismissed the officers' case.

Maintain Public Trust

"Due to a tattoo's unique character, if this Court allowed on-duty police officers to display their tattoos, we would undermine the CPD's ability to maintain the public's trust and respect, which would negatively impact the CPD's ability to ensure safety and order," Judge Charles Kocoras wrote in his opinion.

The officers appealed, and in the meantime they filed a grievance against the department through their union. They said the city failed to confer with the union before imposing the tattoo rule.

The officers won an arbitration over the dispute, and the city capitulated to their demand. The appeals court concluded the issue was moot, and remanded the case with orders to vacate.

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