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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Online Battle Fought in|Real Life Is Trial-Worthy

(CN) - An Illinois man can sue his online adversary who allegedly took their role-playing game on Battlecam.com too far with a series of prank calls for pizza deliveries, male prostitutes and police intervention, a federal judge ruled.

Steven Rusinowski met Robert DiDomenico in late 2010 on Battlecam.com, "a web site in which users role-play with one another in threatening, intimidating, or combative scenarios," according to the court. Battlecam.com is owned by billionaire Alki David, who pays users to film themselves committing pranks for money.

The court notes that 28-year-old Steven is a student at Elmhurst College who lives with his father, Joseph Rusinowski, in the village of Hillside outside Chicago.

DiDomenico allegedly began harassing Steven by sending pizzas and taxis to the Rusinowski home. Men also arrived at Steven's door to have sex with him.

In late 2010 and early 2011, the Hillside police received a number of anonymous tips that Joseph had two guns and had threatened to kill himself. On each occasion, the police concluded that the tip was a false alarm. Steven filed a police report regarding DiDomenico's behavior in January 2011.

On March 4, 2011, DiDomenico allegedly called the Hillside police again, claiming that Steven was "on his WebCam, threatening to kill himself or other or rape someone, while drinking and waving guns around."

When the police, led by Chief Joseph Lukaszek, responded to the call, they allegedly threw Steven to the ground, injuring his hand, and placed him in the squad car. Steven and the police disagree as to whether he was under arrest. Upon searching the house, the police found two unloaded guns, ammunition and two beer bottles on Steven's desk, but Steven had a permit for the weapons and claimed that he never threatened anyone.

After Steven spent several hours at the station, Chief Lukaszek petitioned to have the detainee involuntarily committed. Dr. David Andreski signed off on that petition at Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare, "without examining Steven as required by statute." The transfer form indicates that Steven was "unstable."

Steven was committed against his will to J.J. Madden Health Center for five days, where he "was given the wrong medication for his anxiety disorder, and so could not sit still or calm down for five days," and his injured hand became infected. The medical staff found that Steven had "no suicidal or homicidal tendencies."

The following week DiDomenico posted a video on Battlecam.com titled "[DiDomenico] Thinks It's Funny Calling the Cops on Beer Guy & [Steven] Part 2," in which he allegedly "taunts Steven and laughs about calling the police as a 'concerned citizen.'" (Brackets in court document.)

Steven and Joseph Rusinowski's second amended complaint is currently pending against DiDomenico, Chief Lukaszek, the village of Hillside, Elmhurst and Dr. Andreski for infliction of emotional distress, unlawful search, excessive force, false imprisonment and medical negligence.

The defendants moved to dismiss, but U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber found that DiDomenico's behavior was sufficiently outrageous to uphold a claim of emotional distress.

"Given the extent of DiDomenico's alleged efforts and the serious consequences that could (and did) result, this court concludes that plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged extreme and outrageous conduct," he wrote (parentheses in original).

The court also found that it "cannot conclude that the face of the complaint establishes probable cause," and declined to dismiss the claims against Lukaszek and Hillside.

"To the extent that the Hillside defendants ask this court to credit the police report and reject plaintiffs' contrary allegations, this court cannot do so at this state of litigation," Leinenweber added.

Lukaszek cannot claim qualified immunity because "the discrepancy between the facts that the Hillside defendants rely upon and the allegations in the complaint similarly precludes a finding that a reasonable officer would have found Lukaszek's conduct lawful," the 31-page decision states.

Leinenweber did dismiss Rusinowski's claims for medical negligence, finding that the required physician's certificate of merit was "too bare-bones and equivocal" to meet the court's standards.

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