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Alicea v. Thomas

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

January 12, 2015

MITCHELL ALICEA, Plaintiff,
v.
AUBREY THOMAS, et. al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Mitchell Alicea's Motion to Reconsider [ECF No. 101] filed on September 30, 2014. The Defendants, Aubrey Thomas and Alejandro Alvarez, filed their Response [ECF No. 102] on October 14, 2014. The deadline for filing a reply has passed, and no reply brief has been filed.

On September 2, 2014, the Court entered an Opinion and Order [ECF No. 99] granting the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 91] and judgment was entered that same day. The Plaintiff has filed the instant motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and asks the Court to reverse its previous ruling, deny the Defendants' motion for summary judgment, and reinstate the indemnification claim against the City of Hammond.

BACKGROUND

On the morning of March 29, 2011, the Plaintiff was in the process of burglarizing a home in Hammond, Indiana, when the police car pulled up. Seeing the police, the Plaintiff ran out of the house and fled on foot, ultimately finding an empty above-ground swimming pool in a backyard. Determining this would be a good place to hide, the Plaintiff jumped over the approximately five-foot-high wall and sat down. Meanwhile, Sergeant Thomas, a codefendant in this case, arrived and ordered his police canine to begin tracking the Plaintiff. The police dog and Thomas discovered the Plaintiff hiding in the pool and the dog, after being lifted over the pool wall, apprehended the Plaintiff by biting and holding his right arm. Thomas then climbed over the wall and ordered the dog to release. At this point, other officers, including codefendant Officer Alvarez, arrived on scene and arrested the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff was then taken to the hospital to be treated for the injuries he suffered during the arrest. For a more detailed statement of facts, the Court incorporates by reference its Opinion and Order [ECF No. 99] granting the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

The Plaintiff brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Police Sergeant Aubrey Thomas, Police Officer Alejandro Alvarez, and the City of Hammond, alleging that Defendants Thomas and Alvarez used excessive and unreasonable force during the Plaintiff's arrest and that Defendant City of Hammond was liable to indemnify Defendants Thomas and Alvarez as to any judgment. The Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 91] and a Memorandum in Support [ECF No. 92] on October 21, 2013. The Plaintiff filed a Response [ECF No. 94] on November 15, 2013, and the Defendants filed a Reply [ECF No. 96] on November 27, 2013. On September 2, 2014, the Court entered an Opinion and Order [ECF No. 99] granting the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and ordered that judgment be entered in favor of Defendants Thomas and Alvarez. The Court dismissed without prejudice Defendant City of Hammond, finding that the indemnification claim against the city was not ripe for adjudication.

The Plaintiff asserts in his instant motion that the Court failed to consider the Seventh Circuit's recent opinion in Miller v. Gonzalez, 761 F.3d 822 (7th Cir. 2014), decided after briefing but before the Court's decision granting summary judgment for the Defendants. The Plaintiff argues that the Miller case materially affects the Court's analysis of excessive force in cases with a fleeing suspect and that it requires the Court to reverse itself, deny the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and reinstate the indemnification claim against the City of Hammond.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 59(e) permits "a court to alter or amend a judgment only if the petitioner can demonstrate a manifest error of law or present newly discovered evidence, " but Rule 59(e) does not permit the presentation of new "evidence that could have been presented before judgment was entered." Obriecht v. Raemisch, 517 F.3d 489, 493 (7th Cir. 2008). The Seventh Circuit has discussed the role of the motion to reconsider:

A motion for reconsideration performs a valuable function where the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension. A further basis for a motion to reconsider would be a controlling or significant change in the law or facts since the submission of the issue to the Court.

Bank of Waunakee v. Rochester Cheese Sales, Inc., 906 F.2d 1185, 1191 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). In essence, a motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e) "calls into question the correctness of the judgment." Kladis v. Brezek, 823 F.2d 1014, 1017 (7th Cir. 1987). A rule 59(e) motion may not be used simply to re-litigate issues that have already been decided or to advance arguments or theories that could and should have been made before the district court rendered a judgment. Sigsworth v. City of Aurora, Ill., 487 F.3d 506, 512 (7th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted); Moro v. Shell Oil Co., 91 F.3d 872 (7th Cir. 1996).

DISCUSSION

A. Officer Thomas

In the instant Motion to Reconsider, the Plaintiff argues that the Court's Opinion and Order granting summary judgment to the Defendants relied heavily on the Seventh Circuit's decision in Johnson v. Scott, 576 F.3d 658 (7th Cir. 2009), a case the Plaintiff tried to distinguish from his case at the summary judgment stage. The Plaintiff contends that the more recent Miller v. Gonzalez decision, 761 F.3d 822 (7th Cir. 2014), "cautioned against placing significant precedential weight on the fact-intensive Johnson decision" and that Miller provides the proper legal standard governing summary judgment in excessive force cases such as this. (Mot. to Recons. 2-3, ECF No. 101.) From the Plaintiff's perspective, the Miller decision is fundamentally similar to this case, and requires the Court to reverse its decision and find that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. The Defendants argue that the Plaintiff's reliance on Miller is misplaced, and that the Plaintiff is simply trying to relitigate issues already determined using a distinguishable case.

In Miller, police officers Gonzalez and Stange investigated a stabbing in which Gonzalez searched the surrounding neighborhood for the suspect while Stange interviewed a witness to the stabbing in the witness's house.[1] Miller, 761 F.3d at 824. Based on that interview and Stange's communication about the direction the suspect ran, Gonzalez approached a gas station about two blocks away where he saw Miller exit his car drinking a beer. Id. In answer to Gonzalez's inquiry, Miller denied seeing anyone running in the area, but Miller, knowing he was on probation, was driving without a license, and was seen exiting his car with a beer, became nervous and fidgety as Gonzalez continued to question him. Id.

Ultimately, Miller took off running with Gonzalez in pursuit. Gonzalez's sergeant, who was at the gas station, radioed Stange to inform him that Gonzalez was pursuing a suspect and that they were headed his direction. Id. Stange exited the house and saw Gonzalez chasing Miller straight toward him. Id. When Stange identified himself as a police officer, Miller darted left and jumped a chest-high chain link fence into a small yard, only to discover that he was trapped. Id. The roughly six feet by ten feet yard was enclosed on the east and south sides by the chest-high chain link fence, on the west side by the side of a garage, and on the north side by a tall wooden fence. Id. The garage and wooden fence blocked the west and north ends of the yard respectively, and Gonzalez was approaching from the south. Id. at 825. Stange jumped the fence after Miller, drew his gun, and ordered Miller to the ground. Miller proceeded to lay down on his stomach and placed his arms spread-eagle out to his sides. Id. Under Miller's version of the facts, nearby lighting illuminated the area and Gonzalez could see and thus know that Miller had been subdued by ...


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