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Mardis v. Town of Bargersville

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

September 28, 2016

KEVIN MARDIS, Plaintiff,
TOWN OF BARGERSVILLE, OFFICER JEREMY ROLL, in his individual capacity; OFFICER NICK SNOW, in his individual capacity, and OFFICER ZACH ELLIOT, in his individual capacity, Defendants.



         In the early evening hours of August 25, 2013, Plaintiff, Kevin Mardis, was arrested by Officer Zach Elliot and Officer Nick Snow for battery on a police officer. After the prosecutor declined to file formal charges, Plaintiff brought the present action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) against Officer Elliot, Officer Snow, and Officer Jeremy Roll, who was also at the scene, alleging various violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff also brings state law claims for trespass, battery, and false imprisonment against Officer Elliot, Officer Snow, Officer Roll, and the Town of Bargersville. Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Factual Background

         As this is a motion for summary judgment brought by the Defendants, the court must take the facts and all reasonable inferences that arise therefrom in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff.

         On August 25, 2013, at approximately 1:00 p.m., Plaintiff, his then girlfriend (now wife), Amanda Oakes Mardis, and Amanda's young son, L.L., went to a cookout at a friend's home for about four or five hours. (Filing No. 32-1, Deposition of Kevin Mardis (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 9; Filing No. 32-2, Deposition of Amanda Mardis (“Mardis Dep.”) at 7-8). While there, Plaintiff had approximately six to eight beers. (Plaintiff Dep. at 7-9).

         On the way home from the cookout, L.L. told Amanda he wanted to go to his grandfather's (David Barrickman) house. (Id. at 8; Filing No. 32-3, Deposition of L.L. (“L.L. Dep.”) at 6). Amanda said no, Plaintiff said yes, and an argument ensued. (Mardis Dep. at 8-9; L.L. Dep. at 6-7). Unbeknownst to Amanda and Plaintiff, L.L. called his great-grandfather, John Barrickman, “[b]ecause they [Amanda and Plaintiff] were arguing and fighting and [he] wasn't used to that, so [he] wanted to leave.” (Id. at 7). John apparently heard the commotion over the phone and called 911. (Id.; Mardis Dep. at 12; Plaintiff Dep. at 11). He reported that Plaintiff was trying to put Amanda in the dryer and that Plaintiff was drunk and fighting. (Filing No. 24-1, Affidavit of Judd Green, Ex. A - radio traffic).

         Twenty minutes after the three arrived home, Amanda received a call from 911 asking her “if everything was okay, that they had had a call of a domestic dispute.” (Mardis Dep. at 13-14). During the call, Officer Elliot entered the driveway in his police vehicle. (Id. at 14). Amanda knew Officer Elliot personally, and told him “everything was fine, there was no issue.” (Id.). Around this time, Officer Snow and Officer Roll arrived. (Filing No. 32-8, Deposition of Zachary Elliot (“Elliot Dep.”) at 14). The Officers described Amanda as very upset. (Id. at 14; Filing No. 32-10, Deposition of Nicholas Snow (“Snow Dep.”) at 16; Filing No. 32-9, Deposition of Jeremy Roll (“Roll Dep.”) at 24).

         Officer Elliot asked where Plaintiff was; Amanda indicated that he was inside the house on the couch and to “come in.” (Snow Dep. at 16; see also Elliot Dep. at 14 (“As [Amanda] walks in, I follow her, and she points to the male on the couch.”). According to the Complaint, all three Officers followed Amanda inside the house “without invitation or cause to do so.” (Filing No. 1, Complaint ¶ 18[1]). Officer Elliot testified that Plaintiff was “argumentative, he's loud, he's yelling profanities at me, he's asking me why I'm in his house.” (Elliot Dep. at 16; see also Snow Dep. at 17 (testifying Plaintiff was uncooperative and had his “fists balled up”)). Plaintiff did not admit to being argumentative, but he testified to saying, “if there's nothing you guys are arresting me for, I didn't do anything wrong, you need to get off my property and there's no reason to talk to me.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 16). He “was, you know, getting frustrated.” (Id.).

         Officer Roll asked Amanda to step outside to talk. (Roll Dep. at 27; Snow Dep. at 17). Amanda began arguing with Officer Roll in the front yard because “[she] was fine, there was no reason for them to be there.” (Mardis Dep. at 17). John and David (Amanda's father) arrived in a minivan to pick up L.L. (Filing No. 32-4, Deposition of David Barrickman at 6-7; Filing No. 32-9, Roll Dep. at 25). Amanda turned her anger towards John, telling him, “[T]his was ridiculous and why did you call [911]?” (Mardis Dep. at 18; Roll Dep. at 25). At that point, Officer Snow left the house to assist Officer Roll. (Snow Dep. at 18). Amanda would not stop yelling and increased her volume of voice. (Roll Dep. at 32; Snow Dep. at 18; Plaintiff Dep. at 17; Filing No. 32-11, Affidavit of Probable Cause). Officer Roll then placed Amanda under arrest for disorderly conduct. (Roll Dep. at 32; Affidavit of Probable Cause).

         Meanwhile, Officer Elliot stepped onto the front porch to see what was going on outside. (Elliot Dep. at 17). He claims Plaintiff stepped onto the porch, directly in front of him, for about fifteen or twenty seconds. (Id. at 17, 24; see also Snow Dep. (testifying Plaintiff stepped onto the porch, “I guess to see whoever was in the vehicle”). Plaintiff claims he remained inside the house with the door cracked open because “it was going all bad out there [and] [he] didn't want to get arrested.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 17-18; Plaintiff Aff. ¶ 2). According to Plaintiff, Officer Elliot “kept saying, you know, you need to let us inside to talk to you and we need to talk.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 15). Plaintiff informed him that “there was nothing to talk about, ” he “didn't do anything wrong, ” and he “didn't know what this was even about.” (Id. at 15, 16).

         According to Officer Elliot and Officer Snow, Plaintiff turned around and “quickly [went] into . . . his residence.” (Elliot Dep. at 24; Snow Dep. at 19). Officer Elliot “instinctively” followed him into the house because he didn't “know what he was going into the house for, [didn't] know if there [was] weapons, anything else.” (Id. at 25). As he stepped onto the threshold of the door, Plaintiff tried to shut the door. (Elliot Dep. at 25; Plaintiff Dep. at 18). Plaintiff “had no idea that [Officer Elliot's] foot was in the door.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 18; Plaintiff Aff. ¶ 6). Plaintiff “appl[ied] pressure to the door, ” trapping Officer Elliot's left foot between the threshold of the door and the door frame. (Plaintiff Dep. at 18; Elliot Dep. at 25). At this juncture, Officer Snow returned to the porch to assist Officer Elliot. (Snow Dep. at 19). Once Officer Elliot freed his foot, Plaintiff tried to shut the door again, but “they kicked the door right open.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 19). The corner of the door hit Plaintiff's right eyebrow, causing it to bleed. (Id.; Elliot Dep. at 39; Snow Dep. at 20). Officer Elliot and Officer Snow placed Plaintiff under arrest for battery on a police officer, handcuffed him, and placed him in a police vehicle. (Elliot Dep. at 39-40; Snow Dep. at 20).

         Officer Elliot contacted the local EMS to provide treatment for the cut over Plaintiff's right eye. (Elliot Dep. at 39). When the ambulance arrived, Officer Elliot and Officer Snow took Plaintiff to the vehicle for treatment. (Id.; Plaintiff Dep. at 19-20). Plaintiff was uncooperative with EMS personnel. (Plaintiff Dep. at 21-22). He would not get into the ambulance, but was seated on the back of the ambulance as the EMS personnel attempted to treat the cut and assess any other injuries. (Id. at 20-21).

         As Plaintiff was being treated, Amanda, who was seated in the back of Officer Roll's vehicle a short distance away from the ambulance, managed to get one hand free of the handcuffs and was pounding on the window of the vehicle. (Roll Dep. at 46-47). Officer Roll opened the back door of his vehicle, placed Amanda back in the handcuffs and double-locked the handcuffs. (Id. at 47). At this point Plaintiff got up from his seat on the ambulance and appeared to be charging toward Officer Roll. (Id.; Snow Dep. at 22). Officer Snow took Plaintiff to the ground, and with the assistance of Officer Roll, picked him up off the ground and returned him to the ambulance. (Snow Dep. at 22-23). Plaintiff's testimony differs; according to him, as he “went to get down from the ambulance, one of them put his foot in front of my leg and the other one grabbed my cuffs and threw me over the other and I went straight on my face.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 21). Plaintiff then asked them to pick him up. (Id.).

         During this time, Amanda's father, David, took L.L. home with him. (Mardis Dep. at 23; Affidavit of Probable Cause).

         Formal charges were never filed against Plaintiff. (Plaintiff Dep. at 27). The disorderly conduct charge against Amanda was later dropped. (Mardis Dep. at 21).

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         The purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate “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). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of designated evidence which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After “a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A factual issue is material only if resolving the factual issue might change the outcome of the case under the governing law. Clifton v. Schafer, 969 F.2d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 1992). A factual issue is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence presented. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court “may not ‘assess the credibility of witnesses, choose between competing reasonable inferences, or balance the relative weight of conflicting evidence.'” Bassett v. I.C. Sys., Inc., 715 F.Supp.2d 803, 808 (N. D. Ill. 2010) (quoting Stokes v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chicago, 599 F.3d 617, 619 (7th Cir. 2010)). Instead, it must view all the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 773 (7th Cir. 2005) (reversing summary judgment for defendant in excessive force case).

         III. Federal Law Claims

         Plaintiff brings three Fourth Amendment claims against the Officers. In Count I, Plaintiff alleges the “Defendant Officers unlawfully entered Plaintiff's residence.” (Complaint ¶ 48). In Count II, Plaintiff alleges the “Defendant Officers illegally arrested Plaintiff after battering him.” (Id. ¶ 54). And in Count III, Plaintiff alleges the “Defendant Officers employed, or allowed to be employed, excessive and unreasonable force against Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 59). Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims are brought under Section 1983. That statutory section provides a private cause of action against a person who, acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of any “‘rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws'” of the United States. Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132 (1994) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). “Section 1983 is not itself a source of any substantive rights, but instead provides the means by which rights conferred elsewhere may be enforced.” Bublitz v. Cottey, 327 F.3d 485, 488 (7th Cir. 2003).

         The Fourth Amendment issues presented surround Plaintiff's arrest. The Officers argue that summary judgment is warranted because: (1) they did not violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights and, alternatively, (2) they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         A determination of qualified immunity must be made early in the litigation, as “[q]ualified immunity is ‘an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation.'” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). “Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). It “gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions. When properly applied, it protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986)). In evaluating qualified immunity, the court considers two questions: “(1) whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, make out a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.” Williams v. City of Chicago, 733 F.3d 749, 758 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232). The court has discretion to determine in which order the questions should be answered; “a negative answer to either one is enough to establish the defense of qualified immunity.” Hanes v. Zurick, 578 F.3d 491, 493 (7th Cir. 2009).

         A. Count II, False Arrest

         1. Constitutional Violation

         To be deemed reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless arrest (a type of “seizure”) made in public must be supported by probable cause. Gutierrez v. Kermon, 722 F.3d 1003, 1007 (7th Cir. 2013). Thus, the existence of probable cause is an absolute defense to a Section 1983 claim of false arrest. Id. (citing Mustafa v. City of Chicago, 442 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2006)).

         Probable cause to arrest exists when an officer reasonably believes, in light of the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the arresting officer at the time of the arrest, that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964); Gutierrez, 722 F.3d at 1008. The test is an objective one, which evaluates whether probable cause existed “‘on the facts as they would have appeared to a reasonable police officer in the position of the arresting police officer-seeing what he saw, hearing what he heard.'” Kelley v. Milar, 149 F.3d 641, 646 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Mahoney v. Kesery, 976 F.2d 1054, 1057 (7th Cir. 1992)). “[P]robable cause does not require a finding that it was more likely than not that the arrestee was engaged in criminal activity-the officer's belief that the arrestee was committing a crime need only be reasonable.” Abbott v. Sangamon Cty., Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 714 (7th Cir. 2013). “It is a practical, commonsense standard that requires only the type of fair probability on which reasonable people act.” Gutierrez, 722 F.3d at 1008. To prevail, the Officers must establish, as a matter of law, that they had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for “any crime, regardless of the officer's belief as to which crime was at issue.” See Abbott, 705 F.3d at 715. The existence of probable cause depends on the elements of the predicate criminal offense under state law. Id.

         As noted above, Officer Elliot, with the assistance of Officer Snow, arrested Plaintiff for the crime of battery on a police officer. In this Section 1983 action, the Officers also claim they had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for resisting law enforcement.

         a. Battery on a Police Officer

         At the time the events in this case transpired, the knowing and intentional touching of a police officer in a rude, insolent, or angry manner was battery on a public servant, a Class A misdemeanor.[2] Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1. Officer Elliot testified that as Plaintiff was shutting the door, he simultaneously tried to enter Plaintiff's home. Plaintiff had “no idea” Officer Elliot's foot was on the threshold of the door. (Plaintiff Aff. ¶ 6). When he was unable to close the door, he “kind of appl[ied] pressure to the door.” (Plaintiff Dep. at 18). According to Plaintiff, he “wasn't putting enough pressure to do anything.” (Id. at 19). It is not clear from the record whether ...

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