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Brock v. Casteel

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 28, 2015

PAUL EVERETT BROCK, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK CASTEEL in his official capacity as Sheriff, Montgomery County, Indiana, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY INDIANA, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

DEBRA McVICKER LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Paul Everett Brock has brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unreasonable seizure and deprivation of liberty without due process of law. He alleges his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated as a result of his arrest under a warrant issued in error and his subsequent six-day detention. Mr. Brock has named as defendants the office of the Montgomery County Sheriff held by Sheriff Mark Casteel and the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners ("the Sheriff" and "the Board, " respectively).

Mr. Brock filed this action in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, and the defendants removed the case to this court, where it was referred to the magistrate judge upon consent of the parties. (Reference Order, Dkt. 2.) The office of the Montgomery County Prosecutor, named as a defendant in the original complaint, has already been dismissed from the suit on its motion. (Order on Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. 27.) Mr. Brock also has concededly waived any claims under Indiana tort law for failure to give the requisite tort claims notice. (Order on Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. 28 at p. 2.) The Sheriff and the Board now move for summary judgment in their favor as to all the remaining federal claims against them.

The Material Facts

The facts are recited here in the light most favorable to Mr. Brock, so long as he has presented some evidence to support them.

On Friday, September 9, 2011, Paul Everett Brock of Crawfordsville, Indiana, was arrested by an officer of the Crawfordsville Police Department, according to a warrant issued earlier that week by the Montgomery County Superior Court. (Plaintiff's Opposition Brief, Dkt. 41 at p. 1.) Mr. Brock was delivered to the Montgomery County Jail. ( Id. ) He was detained there until the following Thursday, September 15, when he was brought before a judge of the Superior Court and released. ( Id. at p. 5.)

The warrant had been issued in error. On September 2, Paul Matthew Brock of Frankfort, Indiana, had failed to appear in the Superior Court for a plea hearing on misdemeanor charges. (Chronological Case Summary, Dkt. 42-3 at p. 4.) On September 6, a warrant was issued for the arrest of "Paul Everett Brock, " specifying Paul Matthew Brock's Frankfort address but Paul Everett Brock's Social Security number and date of birth. (Warrant, Dkt. 46-3.) The record does not reveal whether the error is traceable to the law enforcement agency that originally provided the identifying information, or to the person who prepared the warrant.

On his arrival at the county jail on Friday, September 9, plaintiff Brock insisted that he was not the right man. He denied that there were any charges pending against him and that he had ever missed a court date. (Brock Affidavit, Dkt. 42-1 at ¶ 5.) He was shown the warrant, saw the incorrect information contained there, and maintained to his jailers, at least one of whom was personally known to him, that they had made a mistake. ( Id. at ¶ 4.) On Monday, September 12, Mr. Brock renewed his complaints, asking his jailers when he would be brought before a judge. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) He was told that "the court hadn't called for [him] yet." ( Id. ) This exchange was repeated on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. ( Id. ) During his detention, Mr. Brock was never informed of any procedure for lodging a formal complaint, and accordingly filed none. ( Id. at ¶ 7.)

At Mr. Brock's initial hearing on Thursday, September 15 - his first appearance before a judicial officer after nearly a week's detention - the deputy prosecutor admitted that the original information charging the failure to appear had misidentified the defendant and had subsequently been amended. (Transcript of Hearing 9/15/2011, Dkt. 42-2 at p. 4, lines 4-12.) The deputy prosecutor speculated that the warrant had been issued on the basis of the original, erroneous information. ( Id. at lines 10-12.) The judge found that he had the wrong Paul Brock before him and ordered Mr. Brock's immediate release. ( Id. at p. 6, lines 14-19.) The precise length of Mr. Brock's detention is somewhat difficult to determine, as it does not appear clearly from the record what times Mr. Brock was jailed on Friday or released on Thursday. The period may thus be reckoned at seven days, including the days of his arrest and his release; six days, excluding the day of his release; or five days, excluding both the day of his arrest and of his release. Mr. Brock's submissions to the court vacillate between six days and seven. ( Compare Complaint, Dkt. 1-1 at ¶ 6 (alleging seven days), with Plaintiff's Opposition Brief, Dkt. 41 at p. 2 (alleging six days).) For purposes of its analysis, the court will assume Mr. Brock's detention lasted six days.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is granted when the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that it is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The question is whether any reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party on the record before the court, with all reasonable inferences from the record drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Williams v. Rodriguez, 509 F.3d 392, 398 (7th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation and citation omitted); Local Rule 56-1(f)(1)(C). Where the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of persuasion, the moving party need not legally defeat or factually disprove every element of the claims against it. Rather, the moving party carries its burden by showing "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1167 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to "go beyond the pleadings" and point to evidence that would allow a reasonable trier of fact to find in his favor. Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986)).

Analysis

I. The Parties against Whom the Claims May Proceed

Before it analyzes Mr. Brock's substantive constitutional claims, the court will address whether those claims can be maintained against the particular defendants Mr. Brock has sued. Those determinations focus on the Sheriff's assertion of immunity and the Board's potential liability for the Sheriff's conduct.

A. The office of the Montgomery County Sheriff is not entitled to immunity.

The Sheriff argues that he is entitled to "quasi-judicial" absolute immunity for actions taken "pursuant to a valid court order...." (Defendants' Supporting Brief, Dkt. 36 at p. 7.) The Sheriff seems further to suggest that, by acting reasonably and "in good faith, " he is entitled to qualified immunity. ( Id. at p. 11.) Whatever their merits, [1] these arguments are inapposite here.

As the Sheriff correctly notes, Mr. Brock has sued the Sheriff not in his personal capacity, but in his official capacity only. ( Id. at p. 9.) The Supreme Court has acknowledged that this distinction "continues to confuse lawyers and confound lower courts, " Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985), but its application here produces no special difficulty. A suit against an officer in his official capacity "generally represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against [the] entity of which [the] officer is an agent." Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). A suit against a county sheriff in his official capacity is a suit against the county sheriff's office, and thus against a local government entity.[2]

The question is not, then, whether Sheriff Casteel is immune from Mr. Brock's suit, but whether, as a unit of local government, his office is. It is not. In Owen v. City of Independence, the Supreme Court held that a municipality does not enjoy any qualified immunity that may have shielded its officers personally.[3] 445 U.S. 622, 638 (1980). The Seventh Circuit has consistently applied the reasoning of Owen to hold the same for absolute immunity, whether legislative, judicial, or "quasi-judicial" in character, concluding that the considerations justifying them do not apply in the local government context. Capra v. Cook County Board of Review, 733 F.3d 705, 711 (7th Cir. 2013); Hernandez v. Sheahan, 455 F.3d 772, 776 (7th Cir. 2006); Reed v. Village of Shorewood, 704 F.2d 943, 953 (7th Cir. 1983).

As local government entities, neither Montgomery County nor the office of the Montgomery County Sheriff is immune from Mr. Brock's suit.

B. The Board is not liable for the Sheriff's acts and cannot be found liable in its own right.

In his complaint, Mr. Brock states that "the Board of Commissioners of Montgomery County... are joined in this cause of action as the governmental body for whom the Sheriff... [is an] agent." (Dkt. 1-1 at ¶ 2.) With its motion for summary judgment, the Board argues that it "does not maintain any oversight or supervision over employees of the ...


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