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Martin v. City of Fort Wayne

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

September 21, 2016

MARQUAYLE MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FORT WAYNE, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, MarQuayle Martin, has sued the City of Fort Wayne pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that the City's vehicle impoundment policy violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizures, and violates the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The Plaintiff's Complaint is styled as a class action; he seeks to proceed on behalf of himself and other similarly-situated individuals. This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Deny Class Certification [ECF No. 9], and on the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint [ECF No. 16]. According to the Plaintiff, the amendment is necessary to redefine the class, properly allege the law applicable to the substantive claims of the class, allege that the Plaintiff seeks class certification pursuant to all the required elements of Rule 23(a), as well as the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3), and to delete any reference to qualifying the class under Rule 23(b)(2). The Defendant counters that, even if the Complaint is amended, the Defendant's arguments in favor of denying class certification still apply. For the Plaintiff's part, he disagrees with the Defendant's characterization of the legal basis for his claim, and asks that he be allowed to proceed with discovery so he can substantiate his reasons to pursue the action as a class and establish the Rule 23 elements.

         PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         According to Rule 23(c)(1)(A), a court “must determine by order whether to certify” a case as a class action “[a]t an early practicable time” after suit is initiated. Generally, the party seeking class certification assumes the burden of demonstrating that it is appropriate, Trotter v. Klincar, 748 F.2d 1177, 1184 (7th Cir. 1984), and “[f]ailure to meet any of the Rule's requirements precludes class certification, ” Arreola v. Godinez, 546 F.3d 788, 794 (7th Cir. 2008). However, this case is still at the pleading stage, discovery has been stayed (pending a ruling on the Motion to Deny Class Certification), and the Plaintiff has not moved for class certification. Although a defense motion to deny class certification is not the typical manner in which a court is presented with the issue of class certification, the Court is not precluded from considering the question of class certification at this stage. Pursuant to Rule 23(c)(1)(A), “a court may deny class certification even before the plaintiff files a motion requesting certification” and that a court “need not delay a ruling on certification if it thinks that additional discovery would not be useful in resolving the class determination.” Kasalo v. Harris & Harris, Ltd., 656 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2011).

         It would be an exceptional case that warranted striking class allegations before discovery had even begun, as Rule 23 is not “a mere pleading standard.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 350 (2011). A court making a class determination must engage in a “rigorous analysis” of the Rule 23(a) factors. Id. (quoting Gen. Elec. Tele. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982)); Szabo v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc., 249 F.3d 672, 676 (7th Cir. 2001) (explaining that Rule 12(b)(6) standard is not applicable to a decision to certify a class because a “judge should make whatever factual and legal inquiries are necessary under Rule 23” before deciding whether to allow a case to proceed as a class action). “Most often it will not be ‘practicable' for the court” to decide at the pleading stage “to reject a plaintiff's attempt to represent a class.” Hioll v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 946 F.Supp.2d 817, 829 (N.D. Ill. 2013); see also 1 Joseph M. McLaughlin, McLaughlin on Class Actions § 3:4 (12th ed.) (“[M]otions to strike should not be the norm, but are appropriate when the unsuitability of class treatment is evident on the face of the complaint and incontrovertible facts.”). Indeed, a court may abuse its discretion if it does not allow for appropriate discovery before deciding whether to certify a class. Damasco v. Clearwire Corp., 662 F.3d 891, 897 (7th Cir. 2011), overruled on other grounds by Chapman v. First Index, Inc., 796 F.3d 783 (7th Cir. 2015).

         In ruling on the Defendant's Motion to Deny Class Certification, this Court will consider whether the Complaint states facts that plausibly suggest that the Plaintiff's claims are amenable to class certification. That is, has the Plaintiff alleged enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence supporting the Plaintiff's class allegations. See, e.g., Carlson v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 13 C 2635, 2014 WL 5334038, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 20, 2014) (melding Rule 8 pleading requirements with Rule 23 requirements to require the plaintiff to establish that he has “satisfied the pleading requirements of rule 8 and 23 based on the information available to him at that time”); Blihovde v. St. Croix Cnty., 219 F.R.D. 607, 614 (W.D. Wis. 2013) (stating that, prior to discovery, when a “defendant[] challenge[s] class certification on the basis of the allegations in the complaint only, the proper standard is the same as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim”). Before undertaking this inquiry, the Court must determine which version of the Plaintiff's complaint to consider, the original Complaint or the First Amended Complaint that the Plaintiff has sought leave to file.

         Given the liberal standard for allowing amendments to pleadings, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a), and the lack of “undue delay, bad faith . . ., [or] undue prejudice to the [Defendant], ” see Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962), the Court will grant the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend, and consider the merits of the Defendant's Motion to Deny Class Certification as it pertains to the First Amended Complaint-Class Action [ECF No. 16-1]. Although the Defendant has urged the Court to disallow the amended pleading, the Court does not think that would be an efficient course of action. Both parties have already briefed their certification arguments as if the First Amended Complaint is controlling. For example, the Defendant asserts that certification is not appropriate, even under the First Amended Complaint, because there are no relevant issues of law or fact common to the proposed class (Rule 23(a)(2)) and the Plaintiff's claims are not typical of those of the proposed class member (Rule 23(a)(3)). The Defendant also contends that the Plaintiff cannot satisfy the requirements of predominance and superiority, which are mandatory for Rule 23(b)(3) certification.[1] The Plaintiff has responded to these arguments. In total, the Court has eight briefs before it related to the two pending motions. Granting the Motion to Amend will advance the case without prejudice to either party.

         COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS

         On June 27, 2014, the Plaintiff was driving his vehicle in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when City of Fort Wayne Police Officers stopped and arrested him. A licensed driver was in the car at the time of the stop, and was willing to drive the Plaintiff's car from the scene. The Plaintiff asked that the individual be permitted to drive the car away, but the officers denied his request and arranged for the vehicle to be towed and impounded. The Plaintiff alleges that the officers had no warrant for seizure of the car, no probable cause to search or seize it, and had provided no pre-deprivation notice or hearing to justify the automatic impoundment. He further alleges that the wrongful seizure of his vehicle was the result of the Defendant's unconstitutional policies, practices, procedures, and/or customs governing the seizure and automatic impoundment of vehicles. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant has failed to adequately train and supervise its personnel to determine whether seizure and impoundment is appropriate where the owner has consented to allow a present, licensed driver to remove the vehicle from the scene. The Plaintiff brings this legal action to recover for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments on behalf of himself and a class of putative class members defined as follows:

Individuals who from August 17, 2013 until the present time, were subjected to traffic stops by City of Fort Wayne police officers, and had their vehicles immediately seized, towed and impounded without a warrant and the owners' consent, or any legal justification to do so; the vehicle seizures occurred without any pre-deprivation notice and/or hearing prior to the seizure, towing, and impoundment; and City officers failed to permit the vehicle owners to have a licensed driver present at the scene drive the vehicle from the scene.

(First Am. Compl. ¶ 1.)

         ANALYSIS

         A. Constitutional Claims

         The Plaintiff's primary grievance is that the City of Fort Wayne police officers towed the car he was driving after arresting him during a traffic stop, even though the passenger of the car could have driven it from the scene. He alleges that this was done pursuant to the Defendant's policy to automatically tow vehicles once the driver is deemed unfit without regard to whether there exists an alternative method of removal, namely, the presence of another licensed driver.

         A seizure results if “there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property.” Soldal v. Cook Cnty. Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 61 (1992) (quoting United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984)). The impoundment of an automobile is a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. A seizure conducted without a warrant is per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject to a few specifically established and well-defined exceptions. See Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 390 (1978). One such exception, the “community caretaking” function, allows police officers to impound vehicles that “imped[e] traffic or threaten[] public safety and convenience.” South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 368-69 (1976); see also United States v. Cherry, 436 F.3d 769, 774 (7th Cir. 2006) (holding that police were justified in towing the arrestee's “hazardously parked car pursuant to their standard policy, in furtherance of their ‘community caretaking' function”). Where a decision to impound is not supported by probable cause of criminal activity, it “is only valid if the arrestee is otherwise unable to provide for the speedy and efficient removal of the car from public thoroughfares or parking lots.” United States v. Duguay, 93 F.3d 346, 352-53 (7th Cir. 1996).

         The Defendant argues that because it has a Written Motor Vehicle Tow and Inventory Policy, which sets forth the circumstances under which police may tow a vehicle, the requirements of the Fourth Amendment have been met.[2] It is true that “standardized criteria or established routine must regulate ‘inventory searches.'” Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4 (1990). “Among those criteria which must be standardized are the circumstances in which a car may be impounded.” Deguay, 93 F.3d at 351. However, “[t]he existence of a police policy, city ordinance, or state law alone does not render a particular search or seizure reasonable or otherwise immune from scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment.” United States v. Cartwright, 630 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Thompson v. Vill. of Monee, 110 ...


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