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Childers v. City of Portage

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 19, 2014

CITY OF PORTAGE INDIANA, et al., Defendants.


JON E. DEGUILIO, District Judge.

This case arises from an allegedly wrongful arrest of Jill Childers. She filed a complaint on March 12, 2013. The original complaint alleged claims against the State of Indiana (the "State"), Porter County (the "County") and the City of Portage (the "City"). The State filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. [DE 8.] In lieu of responding to the motion to dismiss, Ms. Childers filed an amended complaint on April 16, 2013. [DE 14.] She then filed the now operative Second Amended Complaint on April 26, 2013, to correct the caption of the complaint.[1] [DE 16.] The Second Amended Complaint alleges claims against the County, the City, the City's Chief of Police (the "Chief of Police"), the Clerk of the Porter County Circuit Court (the "Clerk"), and three John Does.[2] The State was not listed as a party in either the Amended Complaint or the Second Amended Complaint.

Now pending before the Court are four motions to dismiss: (1) the motion to dismiss the original complaint which had been filed by the State before the amendments to Ms. Childers's complaint [DE 8], (2) a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint filed by the County [DE 19], (3) a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint filed by the Clerk [DE 21], and (4) a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint filed by the State [DE 23].[3] Although represented by counsel, Ms. Childers did not originally respond to the motions to dismiss. She did eventually file a motion for leave to file a late response, over six months past the response deadline. [DE 33.] That motion was granted and Ms. Childers filed her late response, which addressed only the State's second motion to dismiss. [DE 35.] The State then filed a reply in support of its second motion to dismiss [DE 38] and Ms. Childers was granted leave to file a surreply [DE 40, 41]. Approximately one hour after filing her surreply, Ms. Childers filed an amended surreply.[4] [DE 42, 43.] Each of the motions to dismiss is now ripe for decision.

For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES AS MOOT the State's first motion to dismiss [DE 8], DENIES the State's second motion to dismiss [DE 23], GRANTS the motion to dismiss filed by the County [DE 19], and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion to dismiss filed by the Clerk [DE 21].

I. Factual Background

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on March 10, 2012, Ms. Childers was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by her boyfriend.[5] [DE 16-1 at 1.] The vehicle was stopped by Portage police after the driver exhibited signs of driving under the influence. [ Id. at 1-2.] The driver was given a breathalyzer examination and was taken to the police station for chemical testing. [ Id. at 2.] The driver was eventually released without being charged. [ Id. ] Ms. Childers, however, was taken into custody after officers were alerted that Ms. Childers had an outstanding warrant for her arrest. [ Id. ] Ms. Childers was in custody for approximately four hours. [ Id. at 2.] She alleges that while in custody she was stripped of her clothes, searched, deprived of food and water, deprived of prescription medication, denied access to medical care, humiliated, and subjected to unsanitary and unsafe conditions. [DE 16 ¶ 17; DE 16-1 at 2.] She was released from custody upon the posting of a bond. [DE 16-1 at 2.]

A few days after her arrest, Ms. Childers visited the office of the Clerk. [ Id. ] During that visit, an employee at the Clerk's office informed Ms. Childers that the warrant on which she was arrested was an error. [ Id. ] The warrant related to a 2007 debt collection case. [ Id. ] The 2007 case had previously concluded and a release of judgment had been filed. [ Id. ] The employee at the Clerk's office obtained an order returning the bond money to Ms. Childers. [ Id. ]

Based on that arrest, Ms. Childers brings this lawsuit, arguing that the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States constitution and the Bill of Rights to the Indiana state constitution. She sues a number of individuals, many of whom she alleges were involved in the creation of a computer system, which the complaint refers to as the "Government Systems." [DE 16 ¶ 11.] The computer system is alleged to have been used to support various government operations, including the tracking of active warrants. [ Id. ]

Ms. Childers alleges that certain unknown defendants (identified as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2) created the computer system [ id. ] and that another unknown defendant (identified as John Doe 3) entered into the computer system a bench warrant for Ms. Childers [ id. ¶ 12]. She further alleges that an unknown person (alleged to have been either John Doe 3, the Clerk, or an agent of the Clerk) recalled the warrant for Ms. Childers from the computer system at a later date. [ Id. ¶ 13.]

What Ms. Childers alleges happened at the time of her arrest is not totally clear. She appears to allege either that the police knew the warrant had been recalled but arrested her anyway [ id. ¶ 15] or, in the alternative, that the police arrested her on a warrant that appeared to be valid in the computer system even though the warrant had been or should have been previously recalled [ id. ¶ 16]. This use of the computer system, she argues, was negligent and deprived her of her constitutional rights. [ Id. ¶¶ 18-20.] She also alleges that all of the defendants continue to use the computer system, despite knowing that the system is faulty. [ Id. ¶ 21.]

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint when it fails to set forth a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must decide whether the complaint satisfies the "notice-pleading" standard. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 934 (7th Cir. 2012). The notice-pleading standard requires that a complaint provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " sufficient to provide "fair notice" of the claim and its basis. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 718 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In determining the sufficiency of a claim, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, and draws all inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted).

The Supreme Court has adopted a two-pronged approach when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). First, pleadings consisting of no more than mere conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id . This includes legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, as well as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Second, if well-pleaded factual allegations are present in the complaint, courts should "assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679.

"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint "must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, by providing allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Maddox, 655 F.3d at 718 (internal citations omitted). A plaintiff's claim, however, need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp., 665 F.3d at 934 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "[A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Id. In order to satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's complaint must "supply enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will yield evidence supporting the plaintiff's allegations." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its ...

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