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Novak v. Thrasher

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

September 30, 2016

GEORGE NOVAK, Plaintiff,
VICKY THRASHER, in her individual and official capacities, and CITY OF VALPARAISO, INDIANA, Defendants.



         Plaintiff George Novak sued the City of Valparaiso and Vicky Thrasher, a city code enforcement officer, alleging due process violations, failure to train or supervise creating liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and an unlawful taking. This matter is before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Mr. Novak. See Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009).

         In 2010, the City of Valparaiso filed a complaint against Jean Wallen in state court to condemn an allegedly unsafe property she owned on Lincolnway in Valparaiso, based on at least seven violations of City of Valparaiso Ordinance No. 17-2008. The city added Mr. Novak, then a tenant at the Lincolnway residence, as a defendant. Ms. Wallen was dismissed from the action after Mr. Novak purchased the property in July 2012.

         Mr. Novak appeared in state court to contest a motion for default judgment on the ordinance violation, arguing the property wasn't unsafe and shouldn't be demolished. The state court entered a default judgment against Mr. Novak that ordered Mr. Novak to take certain actions to bring the property into compliance with Ordinance No. 17-2008. In August 2014, the state court granted a motion for contempt and to enforce fines against Mr. Novak in the amount of $26, 500 due to his non-compliance with its default judgment. The city requested a sheriff's sale to liquidate the contempt fines. Mr. Novak brought this action in federal court challenging the legality of the actions of the city and Ms. Thrasher.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), a complaint “must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008). A complaint may survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) if it contains sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Detailed facts and evidence aren't necessary, but “bare legal conclusions” need not be accepted as true and a “formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547.

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Novak sued the City of Valparaiso and Ms. Thrasher in her individual and official capacities. His complaint alleges that, in violation of his due process rights, (1) the defendants pursued a faulty state court default judgment; (2) the defendants pursued a state court contempt order and sanctions based on that judgment; and (3) the defendants pursued a state court order for a sheriff's sale of his property to satisfy those sanctions. He also alleges that (4) the city failed to train, educate, and supervise Ms. Thrasher, causing unconstitutional conduct; and (5) the defendants' efforts to enforce the state court action through a sheriff's sale constituted an unlawful taking. The defendants move to dismiss all of Mr. Novak's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         A. Counts I, II, and III - Due Process Claims

         Counts I, II, and III of Mr. Novak's complaint assert due process violations resulting from the defendants' pursuit of a default judgment and subsequent actions to enforce that judgment. Those three counts must be dismissed.

         Mr. Novak claims that the defendants violated his due process rights by seeking a default judgment without proving the allegations contained in their complaint by a preponderance of the evidence. The defendants' efforts to enforce that default judgement through a contempt order, sanctions, and sheriff's sale are based on the improper default judgment and so they too violate due process.

         A default judgment and its subsequent enforcement don't present due process problems provided the defendant receives notice and the opportunity to be heard. See Trade Well Int'l v. United Cent. Bank, 825 F.3d 854, 859-860 (7th Cir. 2016). Mr. Novak doesn't allege that notice was inadequate or that he wasn't given the opportunity to be heard. Rather, Mr. Novak's due process claims are based on the mistaken belief that the defendants were required to prove that he violated the ordinance before the court could enter a default judgment. He alleges that a default judgment for violating Ordinance No. 17-2008 isn't available under Indiana state law because state law required that the defendants prove a violation of the ordinance by a ...

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