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Lennon v. City of Carmel

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

October 6, 2016

Lawrence B. Lennon, Robert Sanford, Cory R. Burns, Patricia A. Thomas, Jason C. Brown, Amanda D. Alford, Ashley L. Williamson, Erin E. Murray, Liza J. Barton, Michael S. Fuller, Linda H. Hughes, Jacob B. Swain, Robert H. Hawk, Kenneth I. McClung, Robert G. Spaller, Jacob O. Whitham, Nicole K. Hunt, and J. Deron Gabriel, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
City of Carmel, Indiana; Rick Sharp, Eric Seidensticker, Carol Schleif, Sue Finkam, Luci Snyder, Ron Carter, Kevin Rider, the Honorable James Brainard, Timothy Green, and Douglas C. Haney, in their individual capacities; Carmel City Court; The Honorable Brian G. Poindexter, in his official capacity as Presiding City Court Judge; and Kent W. Abernathy, in his official capacity as Superintendent of Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         In their third attempt at pleading their case, Plaintiffs assert that their civil rights were violated when they received traffic tickets for violating Carmel, Indiana City Ordinance § 8-2, which incorporated state law traffic violations by reference. It is important to note the context in which this case arose. Jason Maraman, who is not a party to this lawsuit, received a § 8-2 citation for speeding from the Carmel Police Department. When the Carmel City Court entered judgment against him, he requested a trial de novo and filed a motion to dismiss with the trial court. The trial court denied his motion to dismiss and, proceeding pro se, he appealed that decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals. See Maraman v. City of Carmel, 47 N.E.3d 1218 (Ind.Ct.App. 2015). Specifically, Mr. Maraman challenged the valid ity of § 8-2 based on Indiana's “Home Rule” laws. Id. at 1221-22 (citing Ind. Code § 36-1-3-8(a)(8) (stating that municipalities do not have the “power to prescribe a penalty for conduct constituting a crime or infraction under statute”)). The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Maraman, found that § 8-2 was invalid and reversed the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss, but did not make a determination regarding the constitutionality of § 8-2. Id. at 1224. The Court of Appeals issued its decision on December 11, 2015, and the Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer on April 12, 2016.

         In stark contrast to Mr. Maraman, none of the Plaintiffs here sought dismissal of their § 8-2 citations or challenged the end-result of their adjudications, by appeal or otherwise, at the state court level. Nevertheless, in an apparent attempt to piggyback onto Mr. Maraman's success, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit a few weeks after the Indiana Court of Appeals' decision, on December 30, 2015.

         Presently pending before the Court are: (1) a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Carmel City Court, the Honorable Brian Poindexter, and Kent Abernathy, Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (“BMV”) (collectively, “the Driving Record Defendants”), [Filing No. 56]; (2) a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants City of Carmel, Indiana, Rick Sharp, Eric Seidensticker, Carol Schleif, Sue Finkam, Luci Snyder, Ron Carter, Kevin Rider, the Honorable James Brainard, Timothy Green, and Douglas Haney (collectively, “the Carmel Defendants”), [Filing No. 58]; (3) a Motion to Strike Carmel Defendants' Exhibits 1-19 and § II of Their Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion to Convert Carmel Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Into Summary Judgment Motion filed by Plaintiffs, [Filing No. 61]; (4) a Motion for Leave to File Surreply Brief in Opposition to Driving Record Defendants' Motion to Dismiss filed by Plaintiffs, [Filing No. 68]; and (5) a Motion to Impose Sanctions filed by the Carmel Defendants, [Filing No. 72].[1]

         The pending motions all relate to the sufficiency of the Third Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) - the operative complaint in this matter. [Filing No. 45.] Even the Carmel Defendants' Motion to Impose Sanctions turns on that issue. The Court will first consider the pending Motion to Strike, [Filing No. 61], because it relates to the information the Court will consider in analyzing the Motions to Dismiss.

         I. The Motion to Strike

         In their Motion to Strike, Plaintiffs request that the Court strike exhibits 1 through 19 submitted by the Carmel Defendants in support of their Motion to Dismiss, and the discussion related to those documents in their response brief. [Filing No. 61 at 1.] In the alternative, Plaintiffs request that the Carmel Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be converted into a Motion for Summary Judgment. [Filing No. 61 at 1.] The documents Plaintiffs seek to strike are the state court records relating to each Plaintiff's traffic citation, including the tickets themselves, [see, e.g., Filing 60-1 at 2], the state court dockets related to the disposition of the tickets, [see, e.g., Filing No. 60-1 at 3], and, for some Plaintiffs, deferral agreements, [see, e.g., Filing No. 60-5 at 3-6]. In the Motion to Strike, Plaintiffs argue that although they agree there is a public records exception to the rule that extraneous material should not be considered in connection with a motion to dismiss, this situation is different because the Carmel Defendants are “asking the Court to use documents which are the subject of dispute as a basis for determining the merits of the suit.” [Filing No. 61 at 4.] Plaintiffs go on to discuss the substance of the documents, and argue that they contain hearsay and are “subject to interpretation.” [Filing No. 61 at 4-5.]

         In response, the Carmel Defendants argue that the exhibits are public judicial records, and are permitted in connection with a motion to dismiss brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). [Filing No. 70 at 1-2.] They also assert that the Court can take judicial notice of public records in deciding a motion to dismiss brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [Filing No. 70 at 3.]

         On reply, Plaintiffs argue that the exhibits “add no new dispositive information that is not the subject of reasonable dispute, or alternatively, that is not already contained in the Complaint.” [Filing No. 71 at 1.] They contend that the Carmel Defendants “do not limit the use of the extrinsic evidence's disputed facts to their 12(b)(1) arguments….” [Filing No. 71 at 2.]

         When presented with a factual challenge to a court's subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), the court may consider evidence beyond the pleadings in order to make the necessary factual determinations to resolve its own jurisdiction. Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 444 (7th Cir. 2009). The Carmel Defendants argue in their Motion to Dismiss, among other things, that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this matter based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and so their claims should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). [See Filing No. 59 at 12-16.] As discussed more fully below, the exhibits reflect whether each particular Plaintiff had a judgment entered against them, which is integral to the Court's analysis of whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine may preclude it from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, because the exhibits directly relate to the portion of the Carmel Defendants' Motion to Dismiss brought under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), they are properly considered by the Court.

         Additionally, the Court can consider the exhibits in connection with the portion of the Carmel Defendants' Motion to Dismiss that is brought under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The exhibits are part of the state court proceedings involving Plaintiffs, and so are public records of which the Court may take judicial notice. See White v. Keely, 814 F.3d 883, 886 n.2 (7th Cir. 2016) (“We may take judicial notice of public records, including public court documents, in ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)”);Olson v. Champaign County, Ill., 784 F.3d 1093, 1097 n.1 (7th Cir. 2015) (same principle).

         The Court finds Plaintiffs' position regarding the exhibits somewhat ironic. On the one hand, the tickets, how they came about, and how they were resolved is the primary basis for Plaintiffs' case. On the other hand, Plaintiffs do not want the Court to consider the actual tickets and the records of the state court proceedings because they fear the Carmel Defendants are misrepresenting their meaning. Plaintiffs cannot have it both ways. The exhibits are properly considered because they are integral to the Carmel Defendants' dismissal arguments under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), and because they are public records and so may be considered in connection with the Carmel Defendants' dismissal arguments under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Because the Court can properly consider the exhibits, converting the Carmel Defendants' Motion to Dismiss into a Motion for Summary Judgment is not warranted. Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Carmel Defendants' Exhibits 1-19 and § II of Their Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion to Convert Carmel Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Into Summary Judgment Motion filed by Plaintiffs, [Filing No. 61], is DENIED.

         II. The Motions to Dismiss

         The Driving Record Defendants and the Carmel Defendants have moved separately to dismiss this matter, both arguing that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction and that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [See Filing No. 57; Filing No. 59.]

         A. Standard of Review

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows a party to dismiss a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The burden is on the plaintiff to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that subject-matter jurisdiction exists for his or her claims. See Lee v. City of Chicago, 330 F.3d 456, 468 (7th Cir. 2003).

         A 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In reviewing the sufficiency of the complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal, Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court will not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). Th is plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “Specific facts are not necessary, the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         B. Allegations of the Complaint

         At the outset, the Court notes that Plaintiffs have changed their allegations over time, dodging and weaving between arguments asserted by Defendants in previous motions to dismiss, and even statements from the Court. Indeed, Plaintiffs filed the initial Complaint in this matter on December 30, 2015, an Amended Complaint on February 1, 2016, a Motion for Emergency Injunctive Relief on February 25, 2016 (which was later terminated as moot), a Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint on March 8, 2016 (which they later withdrew), a Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Complaint on March 21, 2016, a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of several defendants on March 24, 2016, a Third Amended Complaint on March 31, 2016, and a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of one defendant on April 7, 2016. There are eighty filings thus far in this nine month old case, and yet very little substantive activity has occurred.

         Evaluation of the pending motions has been challenging, due to the ever-changing nature of Plaintiffs' allegations. That being said, the pending Motions to Dismiss require the Court to evaluate the sufficiency of the allegations contained in the Complaint - not the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' latest interpretation of the allegations contained in the Complaint, as they may argue in their various briefs. The Court evaluates the pending motions with that principle in mind.

         Plaintiffs are all motorists who were driving in and around Carmel, Indiana when they were “stopped and prevented from free travel of roads in Carmel by members of the Carmel Police Department.” [Filing No. 45 at 6.] All Plaintiffs were given citations under Carmel City Ordinance § 8-2, which provides “[u]nless otherwise provided herein, the provisions set forth in I.C. §§ 9-21-1-1 through 9-21-20-3 (Traffic Regulations) are adopted by reference and made a part of this chapter with the same force and effect as though set forth here verbatim.” [Filing No. 45 at 8.] Plaintiffs allege that § 8-2 “effectively duplicat[ed] state law and re-codif[ied] those state statutes as being part of the Carmel City Ordinance.” [Filing No. 45 at 8.] Plaintiffs claim that the City of Carmel “universally employed § 8-2 to operate outside Indiana's long established traffic law framework so it could maximize city revenue, ” and that it “had a policy of trying to turn every traffic stop made by the Carmel police into a § 8-2 ordinance violation stop, no matter the traffic situation and without regard to whether there was an existing Carmel ordinance to support the citation.” [Filing No. 45 at 12.]

         The Court finds that the clearest way to evaluate Plaintiffs' allegations is to break those allegations up into three time frames:[2]

• Pre-Judgment/Pre-Adjudication Claims, relating to events arising from the traffic stop itself or the issuing of a ticket - these include allegations that:
o Plaintiffs were given false or limited information regarding their traffic infractions, [Filing No. 45 at 3; Filing No. 45 at 16; Filing No. 45 at 18];
o The Carmel Police Department wrongfully ticketed motorists on Interstate 465, [Filing No. 45 at 14];
o The City of Carmel had a policy of improperly ticketing motorists for non-moving violations, such as failure to wear a seatbelt or having an invalid license plate, [Filing No. 45 at 14];
• Judgment/Adjudication Claims, such as those arising from the actual entry of a judgment or entry into a deferral agreement - these include allegations that:
o Plaintiffs entered into misleading deferral agreements, and paid more than they would have if judgment had been entered against them, [Filing No. 45 at 3; Filing No. 45 at 16];
o Plaintiffs were illegally prosecuted and did not receive due process during their trials, [Filing No. 45 at 3];
o Plaintiffs were deprived of the right to be judged by a tribunal untainted by a financial interest, [Filing No. 45 at 3-4];
o The fines under § 8-2 were higher than the fines under corresponding state law, [Filing No. 45 at 15];
o Defendants knew that Plaintiffs' costs to challenge the tickets exceeded the costs of paying the tickets, [Filing No. 45 at 16]; and
• Abstract Claims, related to the forwarding of abstracts to the BMV - these include allegations that:
o Inaccurate information regarding Plaintiffs' traffic violations was provided to the BMV, [Filing No. 45 at 3; Filing No. 45 at 7];
o Plaintiffs' civil rights were violated because the abstracts forwarded to the BMV did not reflect the actual judgments against them, [Filing No. 45 at 20].

         For each of those time frames, two different groups of Plaintiffs assert claims:

• Those who received an adjudication related to the ticket (the “Adjudication Plaintiffs”), including:
o Those who admitted to the offense, paid the fine, and did not appeal (the “Admission Plaintiffs”) - this category includes Plaintiffs Liza Barton, Jason Brown, Cory Burns, Deron Gabriel, Linda Hughes, Robert Sanford, Nicole Hunt (for one of her two offenses), and Erin Murray[3];
o Those who did not appear at a hearing so had a default judgment entered against them, and did not appeal (the “Default Plaintiffs”) - this category includes Plaintiffs Nicole Hunt (for her other offense), Kenneth McClung, and Jacob Swain;
o Those who had a bench trial, were convicted of the offense, and did not appeal (the “Bench Trial Plaintiffs”) - this category includes Plaintiffs Robert Spaller, Patricia Thomas, Jacob Whitham, and Ashley Williamson; and
• Those who entered into deferral agreements, paid a fine, and did not challenge the validity of those agreements at the state court level (the “Deferral Plaintiffs”) - this category includes Plaintiffs Amanda Alford, Michael Fuller, Robert Hawk, and Lawrence Lennon.

[Filing No. 60-1 through Filing No. 60-19.]

         Plaintiffs assert the following claims on behalf of themselves, and a class “which shall be established and identified during the discovery process”: (1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants except Carmel City Court; (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking only injunctive relief, against Carmel City Court; (3) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking only injunctive relief, against Kent Abernathy, the Commissioner of the BMV; (4) state law unjust enrichment against the City of Carmel; and (5) state law money had and received against the City of Carmel. [Filing No. 45 at 29-35.] Plaintiffs also list several “anticipated future causes of action.”[4] [Filing No. 45 at 36-40.]

         C. Discussion

         1. Standing

         Article III of the Constitution grants federal courts jurisdiction over “cases and controversies[, ]” and the standing doctrine is the tool used to identify which cases and controversies the federal judicial process can appropriately resolve. Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 154-55 (1990); see also Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471-76 (1982). Standing is “the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). “[T]he ‘irreducible constitutional minimum' of standing consists of three elements. The plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. The plaintiff, as the party invoking federal jurisdiction, bears the burden of establishing these elements.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citations omitted).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure command that courts dismiss any suit over which they lack subject matter jurisdiction - whether acting on the motion of a party or sua sponte. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Accordingly, “not only may the federal courts police subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte, they must.” Wernsing v. Thompson, 423 F.3d 732, 743 (7th Cir. 2005) (quotations and citations omitted); see alsoSpaine v. Community Contacts, Inc., ...


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