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Houchin v. Heaten

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

December 22, 2016

PAUL HEATEN, et al., Defendants.


          JON E. DEGUILIO Judge United States District Court

         Leroy Houchin, II, a pro se prisoner, is suing Detective Paul Heaten in his individual capacity for monetary damages. Houchin alleges that Detective Heaten violated his Fourth Amendment rights by conducting a warrantless search of his residence on June 12, 2014. Detective Heaten filed a summary judgment motion arguing that the undisputed facts show that the search was not illegal and that he is entitled to qualified immunity. Detective Heaten also seeks to strike a number of filings Houchin submitted in response to his motion for summary judgment.

         I. Motions to Strike

         Detective Heaten filed three motions (DE 56, 63, 67) to strike various documents filed by Houchin in response to his motion for summary judgment. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(2) provides that “[a] party may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” The 2010 Comments to that rule explain that “[t]here is no need to make a separate motion to strike.” Therefore the motions will be denied and construed as a Rule 56(c)(2) objection. The defendant argues that the documents are “immaterial, ” “unauthorized, ” “unsworn and inadmissible.” (DE 63 at 2; DE 67 at 1.) However, the defendant does not argue that these documents “cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence” - only that they have not now been presented in such a form. Pursuant to Rule 56(e), the court has numerous options “[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact . . ..” Motions to strike are usually only granted in circumstances where the contested evidence causes prejudice to the moving party. Kuntzman v. Wal-Mart, 673 F.Supp.2d 690, 695 (N.D. Ind. 2009). That is not the case here.

         When ruling on the motion for summary judgment, the court is capable of sifting through the evidence, arguments and purported disputes under the applicable federal rules and case law, giving each purported dispute the credit to which it is due. Therefore, there is no need to strike any statements or filings made by Houchin in response to the motion for summary judgment.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), 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.” The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying” the evidence which “demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “Substantive law determines which facts are material; that is, which facts might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or show “that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). To establish a genuine issue of fact, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, not “simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” First Nat'l Bank of Cicero v. Lewco Secs. Corp., 860 F.2d 1407, 1411 (7th Cir. 1988) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Massey v. Johnson, 457 F.3d 711, 716 (7th Cir. 2006) (holding that a failure to prove one essential element necessarily renders all other facts immaterial).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The court will not “make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts; these are jobs for a factfinder.” Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003). Summary judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits or a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Instead, the court's sole task in ruling on a motion for summary judgment is “to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Payne, 337 F.3d at 770. If a reasonable fact finder could find in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment may not be granted. Id.

         A. Facts

         The events leading up to the search of Houchin's home are largely undisputed. Detectives Paul Heaten and R.J. Nethaway from the Kosciusko Sheriff's Department were investigating the dealing and use of illegal drugs at Houchin's residence. (Ex. A, Heaten Decl. ¶¶ 3-5; Ex. B, Nethaway Decl. ¶¶ 3-5.) When they arrived at Houchin's residence on June 12, 2014, they observed Jennifer Moore exiting the residence. (Ex. A ¶ 7.) Detective Heaten discovered that Moore had 8 morphine pills in her possession. (Id.) Detective Heaten placed Moore in handcuffs because he believed that she had just purchased the morphine tablets from Houchin. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Detective Heaten stayed with Moore while Nethaway approached Houchin's residence. (Ex. B ¶¶ 8-9.)

         Nethaway knocked on Houchin's door and Houchin opened the door. (Ex. B ¶ 9; DE 59 at 1.) Nethaway asked if he could come in the home and speak with Houchin. (Ex. B ¶ 9.) Houchin agreed. (DE 59 at 1.) Nethaway then asked if he could search Houchin's home, but Houchin refused. (Ex. B. ¶ 13; DE 59 at 1.) Nethaway told another officer to let Detective Heaten know that they may need to obtain a search warrant. (Ex. B ¶ 13.) Approximately nineteen (19) minutes after Nethaway entered Houchin's residence, Detective Heaten went into Houchin's residence. (Ex. A ¶¶ 9-10; Ex. B ¶ 16.) As Detective Heaten stood in the living room area, Nethaway told him that Houchin refused permission to search his residence. (Ex. A ¶ 11.) What follows is largely disputed.

         According to Detective Heaten, while talking with Houchin in the living room, he observed a prescription pill bottle that contained morphine pills in a nearby bedroom, the door of which was open. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Detective Heaten walked a few feet over to the prescription bottle and saw that the label indicated that the morphine was prescribed to Houchin. (Id.) Detective Heaten told Houchin that he had just found the same morphine pills in Moore's possession outside of the residence. (Id.) Houchin admitted selling morphine pills. (Ex. A ¶ 15; Ex. B ¶ 18.) Detective Heaten then asked Houchin if he had anything illegal in the residence, and Houchin located a plate of marijuana under the couch in the living room. (Ex. A ¶ 16; Ex. B ¶ 19.) The detectives say that Houchin admitted he had traded pills with another person and that he was supposed to receive marijuana for the morphine pills. (Ex. A ¶ 17; Ex. B. ¶ 17.) Detective Heaten informed Houchin that they were taking him to jail for dealing a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and conspiracy to deal a controlled substance. (Ex. A ¶ 19; Ex. B ¶ 20.) Detectives Heaten and Nethaway then accompanied Houchin to his bedroom so that Houchin could put on his shoes before being taken to jail. (Ex. A ¶ 20; Ex. B ¶ 21.) While in the bedroom, the detectives claim to have heard a clicking sound coming from the bedroom closet and asked Houchin if any one else was in the residence. (Ex. A ¶ 21; Ex. B ¶ 22.) They were concerned someone may have been hiding in the closet, so they drew their firearms and Detective Heaten opened the closet door only to find a small marijuana growing operation. Detective Heaten believes the clicking he heard was likely the timer for the marijuana grow light. (Ex. A ¶ 22; Ex. B ¶ 23.)

         Houchin claims a far different scenario took place in his home. Houchin states Detective Heaten did not see the pill bottle in his bedroom while they were talking in the living room. He explains that the pill bottle was on a night stand behind the bedroom door and was not in Detective Heaten's view from the living room. (DE 61 at 1.) Instead, Houchin asserts that, when Nethaway told Detective Heaten that they could not search the house without a search warrant Detective Heaten simply shrugged his shoulders, disregarded that directive, and walked into Houchin's bedroom where he found Houchin's pill bottles. (DE 52 at 1; DE 59 at 1; DE 61 at 1; DE 62 at 1.) Houchin says that after Detective Heaten finished searching the prescription pill bottles, Detective Heaten then “went straight to my closet and opened the door and also went through my dresser drawers.” (DE 52 at 1.) After he finished searching Houchin's bedroom and located the marijuana plants and prescription pills, Detective Heaten returned to the living room and began questioning Houchin about selling drugs. (Id.)

         Ultimately, Houchin was charged with two drug related felonies under Cause No. 43C01-1406-FB-424 in Kosciusko County. (Ex. A ¶¶ 27-28; Ex. E.) Houchin entered into a plea ...

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