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Fife v. Buncich

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

August 31, 2016

MEGAN FIFE, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN BUNCICH, individually and in his capacity of the Sheriff of Lake County Indiana, et al., Defendants.

          AMENDED OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MARTIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Sheriff Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 31], filed by Defendants Lake County Indiana Sheriff's Department and Sheriff John Buncich, individually and in his capacity as Sheriff of Lake County, Indiana, (collectively the “Sheriff Defendants”) on February 2, 2016. Plaintiff filed her response on March 3, 2016, and the Sheriff Defendants filed their reply on March 10, 2016. The Sheriff Defendants request that the Court enter judgment in their favor on all Plaintiff's claims.

         I. Procedural Background

         On July 12, 2013, Plaintiff Megan Fife filed a Complaint, alleging that the Defendants were liable to her under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 for violating her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. The Sheriff Defendants filed their Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint on October 10, 2013.

         Upon consent of the parties, this case was reassigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case under 28 U.S.C. section 636(c).

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate that motions for summary judgment be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 further requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[S]ummary judgment is appropriate - in fact, is mandated - where there are no disputed issues of material fact and the movant must prevail as a matter of law. In other words, the record must reveal that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.” Dempsey v. Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 16 F.3d 832, 836 (7th Cir. 1994) (citations and quotations omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue of fact, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” but must “come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009); NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995). A court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         III. Facts[1]

         On July 13, 2011, officers from the Lake County Sheriff's Department responded to a call about a hit-and-run in Crown Point, Indiana. The victim of the hit-and-run notified the officers that Dustin Musgrave, driving a red Ford F-150 truck, had driven through the victim's fence and had hit the victim with the truck. The victim also told the officers that Dustin's brother, Damon Musgrave, had accompanied Dustin in a green Jeep Cherokee.

         The Musgrave brothers lived close to the victim's home, so the officers went to their residence (the “Musgrave Residence”), where the saw a green Jeep Cherokee parked in the driveway. Sergeant Oscar Martinez and Officer Don Hamm knocked on the front door of the Musgrave Residence. Sergeant Martinez notified Leslie Musgrave, the owner of the home, that they were looking for Dustin and Damon in connection with a hit-and-run that had injured someone. Leslie refused to let the officers in the home.

         The officers then set up a perimeter around the Musgrave Residence. Officer Douglas Parker walked into the backyard with a canine. While in the backyard, Officer Parker saw a basement window open for a few seconds and then close. The window opened a second time, and Officer Parker saw Plaintiff looking out the window. Plaintiff then crawled out of the house through the window, stood up in the backyard, and looked around. Officer Parker shouted to Plaintiff, identifying himself as a police officer. According to the Sheriff Defendants, Officer Parker then warned that if Plaintiff did not get on the ground, the dog would be released. According to Plaintiff, Officer Parker gave no such warning.

         Plaintiff turned around to face the window. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff crouched down as though to crawl back into the window or whether she remained standing. Officer Parker stated in a deposition that he believed Plaintiff was preparing to crawl back into the house. Dep. of Officer Parker, p. 36, l. 1-5. Officer Parker then released his canine. The canine apprehended Plaintiff and she was handcuffed by another officer and placed under arrest.

         At the time of this incident, Chapter 16.07.00 of the Lake County Sheriff's Department Rules and Regulations contained a policy about using canines for suspect apprehension. The policy states that a canine handler should ensure that they are apprehending the correct suspect and that, where possible, the handler should warn the suspect before releasing the canine. Together, Officer Parker and his canine completed a five-week canine training program in 2008, which included training on suspect apprehension.

         IV. Analysis

         The Complaint included claims against the Sheriff Defendants under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, which provides civil cause of action by a plaintiff who has been injured by state action that deprives the plaintiff of some constitutional right. The Sheriff Defendants have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's 1983 claims, each of which will be discussed in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Official-Capacity Claims

         The Sheriff Defendants argue that the Court should enter summary judgment in Sheriff Buncich's favor on all official-capacity claims. They assert that Plaintiff cannot maintain claims against Sheriff Buncich in his official capacity while simultaneously pursuing claims against the entity he represents - the Sheriff's Department. Plaintiff's response brief was silent on this issue.

         Courts construe a suit against a municipal official as a suit against the municipality itself. Yeksigian v. Nappi, 900 F.2d 101, 103 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166-167, n. 14 (1985)). Local “government liability under § 1983 is ‘dependant on an analysis of state law.'” Sow v. Fortville Police Dept., 636 F.3d 293, 300 (2011) (quoting McMillian v. Monroe Cnty., 520 U.S. 781, 786 (1997)). Under Indiana law, municipal police departments are not capable of suing or being sued on their own behalf. Ind. Code §§ 36-1-2-10, 36-1-2-11, 36-1-2-23; see also Sow, 636 F.3d at 300 (holding that “the Indiana statutory scheme does not grant municipal police departments the capacity to sue or be sued”). However, when ...


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