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Chapman v. State

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

May 8, 2014

RENEE CHAPMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, GOVERNOR MICHAEL R. PENCE, in his official capacity, INDIANA STATE POLICE DEPARTMENT, and STATE TROOPER DANIEL BURCH, in his individual capacity Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

PHILIP P. SIMON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Renee Chapman claims that she is the victim of a variety of state law torts and also has had a number of her constitutionally protected rights violated by the acts of Indiana State Trooper Daniel Burch. Her First Amended Complaint alleges a series of claims not only against Burch, but also the State of Indiana, Governor Michael R. Pence, and the Indiana State Police Department. [DE 23.] Defendants seek dismissal of Pence and dismissal of Counts I-VI.[1] [DE 26.] For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 7, 2012, Chapman was traveling home after spending time with family and friends, when Burch began to follow Chapman's vehicle. [DE 23 at ¶6.] Shortly before Chapman arrived home, Burch activated his emergency lights. [Id.] Chapman continued driving and pulled up to her house before gathering her driver's license and insurance/registration information, unaware of why she was being pulled over. [Id. at ¶7.] Chapman next alleges that Burch approached Chapman's vehicle, opened the driver's door, pulled her from the vehicle, threw her to the ground, handcuffed her, pulled her back up, and placed her under arrest. [Id. at ¶8.]

Chapman filed a complaint in St. Joseph County Superior Court. [DE 1.] Defendants then removed the case to federal court. [DE 2.] On the same day that they filed their Partial Answer to Chapman's Complaint, Defendants also filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss. [DE 7, 8.] In lieu of filing a response brief, Chapman opted to amend her complaint. [DE 22.] In light of the filing of the Amended Complaint, I denied Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss, without prejudice, as moot. [DE 24.] A few days later, Defendants filed their Partial Answer to Chapman's Amended Complaint, as well as a Partial Motion to Dismiss Chapman's Amended Complaint, which I will now consider. [DE 25, 26.]

DISCUSSION

In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); accord Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombley, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). I must accept all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the complainant's favor, but I don't need to accept threadbare legal conclusions supported by purely conclusory statements. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The first step in my analysis is to identify and disregard all allegations in the First Amended Complaint that are not entitled to the presumption of truth, especially including any legal conclusions. Id. at 680. Then I must look at the remaining allegations to determine whether they plausibly - and not merely possibly or conceivably - suggest an entitlement to relief. Id. at 681. This task invariably requires me to draw on my judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679.

I. Chapman's Claim against Governor Pence

Chapman filed her First Amended Complaint naming Governor Pence in his official capacity and indicating that Pence "is a Defendant in this action only insofar as declaratory relief is sought by Chapman and is not a Defendant in any other capacity or claim." [DE 23 at ¶3.][2] Because those references to Pence in paragraph 3 are the last mention of the Governor in the pleading, even the notion that Chapman has brought a "claim" for declaratory relief against Pence is overly generous. The First Amended Complaint is completely lacking in any factual allegations or a legal theory supporting any claim for relief against Pence, and he will be dismissed for that reason.

Governor Pence primarily argues he is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Notwithstanding the parties' arguments about the scope of Eleventh Amendment immunity, the claim against Governor Pence fails on more obvious grounds, namely that it has been insufficiently pled. Chapman appears to be asking for a declaration that Pence's conduct was unconstitutional. [DE 23 at 7.] But there is nothing in Chapman's First Amended Complaint that describes what conduct by Pence was supposedly unconstitutional. More to the point, Chapman does not present any facts which indicate that any of Burch's alleged misconduct was the result of any action attributable or traceable to Pence. Without any such facts, Chapman's complaint is insufficient to satisfy Iqbal's requirement that the claim be "plausible." Since Chapman presents only threadbare legal conclusions unsupported by anything more than purely conclusory statements in her claim against Governor Pence, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Chapman's claim for declaratory relief against Pence will be GRANTED.

II. Counts I, II, and III

I turn next to Defendants' argument that Counts I-III are not sufficiently pled. As an initial observation, Defendants present their Motion to Dismiss under the impression that Counts I-III are pled "against Trooper Burch in his individual capacity." [DE 27 at 4.] Interestingly enough, the headings for Counts I-III in Chapman's First Amended Complaint each read respectively as: "Battery Against Defendants, " "Assault Against Defendants, " and "False Imprisonment Against Defendants;" which leave the reader with the impression that either: (1) the Defendants are the victims of the alleged battery, assault, and false imprisonment, or (2) that the Counts apply to all named Defendants. [DE 23 at 3-4.] Regardless of Chapman's headings for these counts, only Burch is specifically identified in the text of each of them. [ Id. ] In light of this, and since in her response Chapman does not push back against Defendants' reasonable interpretation of Counts I-III, I will treat Counts I, II, and III as applying only to Burch.

Defendants' primary argument for dismissal of Counts I-III revolves around Chapman's repeated allegation that Burch's actions "were malicious, willful, and wanton." Specifically, Defendants argue that Chapman does not include a reasonable factual basis supporting such allegations, as required by Ind. Code § 34-13-3-5(c). [DE 27 at 4-5.] Defendants also argue that Chapman's First Amended Complaint fails to meet the minimal pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, which calls for a "short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." [Id. at 5.]

It is clear to me that Chapman has sufficiently pled her claims for battery, assault, and false imprisonment. Chapman's complaint contains factual allegations that Burch, "proceeded to yank Ms. Chapman out of the vehicle and throw her onto the ground after which he handcuffed Ms. Chapman, pulled her back up placing her up against the vehicle, and ultimately placed her under arrest." [DE 23 at ¶8.] Chapman adopts and incorporates these allegations in Counts I-III, as encouraged by Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(b). Following Iqbal, I am to accept these factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the complainant's favor. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Since Counts I-III are not threadbare ...


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