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Smith v. Lake County

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

February 13, 2017

JAIME SMITH, as next friend of J.S. and K.S., minor children and next kin of GREGORY THOMAS SMITH, Plaintiff,
LAKE COUNTY, et al., Defendants. LAKE COUNTY, INDIANA, Counter Claimant,
JAIME SMITH, Counter Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court for resolution of three pending motions to dismiss. Defendant Lake County Sheriff John Buncich filed a motion to dismiss (DE 37), to which Plaintiff Jaime Smith filed a response in opposition (DE 45) and Buncich filed a reply (DE 46). Smith later filed her own motion to dismiss Defendant Lake County's counter-complaint (DE 60), to which Defendant Lake County filed a response in opposition (DE 71) and Smith filed a reply (DE 74). Finally, Defendants Town of Merrillville and Merrillville police officer Aaron Ridgway also filed a motion to dismiss (DE 87), to which Smith filed a response indicating that she had no objection to the motion (DE 88). For the reasons set forth in this Opinion and Order, the motion to dismiss filed by Buncich is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part, and MOOT in part. The motion is MOOT as to any and all claims asserted against Defendant Buncich in his individual capacity; the motion is DENIED as to Plaintiff's claims against Buncich in his official capacity (i.e., the Plaintiff's claim under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York); the motion is DENIED as to the Plaintiff's claim against Buncich based on a state law theory of respondeat superior; and the motion is GRANTED as to the Plaintiff's claim for indemnification. The motion to dismiss filed by Town of Merrillville and Officer Ridgway is GRANTED and those two Defendants are dismissed as parties to this case. The Plaintiff's motion to dismiss Defendant Lake County's counterclaim is DENIED.


         The underlying facts of this case are taken from the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint filed on April 19, 2016 (DE 33). Plaintiff Jaime Smith brought this lawsuit in her capacity as Administratrix of the Estate of Gregory Smith, and as the mother of Mr. Smith's minor children, J.S. and K.S. Smith asserts various causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims. She names the following entities and individuals as defendants: Lake County, Indiana; Lake County Sheriff John Buncich; Lake County Officers Fotia and Zimora; Lake County Corrections Officers Peters, Savadra, Machinkowski, Buck, Hagen, Fotinos, Omamull, and Laurent; the Town of Merrillville, Indiana; and Merrillville Police Officer Aaron Ridgway.[1]

         Smith states and alleges that on March 25, 2015, Gregory Smith was arrested in Hobart, Indiana, by officers of the Hobart Police Department for driving 35 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone. Mr. Smith was transferred to the custody of the Crown Point Police Department and taken to the Lake County Jail. While being held at Lake County Jail, Mr. Smith allegedly became emotionally distraught and began suffering from a mental episode. At one point Mr. Smith banged his hands and head on the glass window in his holding cell. Plaintiff alleges that the individual Defendants-Officers Machinkowski, Peters, Savadra, and Buck-all witnessed Mr. Smith suffering a mental episode. Plaintiff alleges that these four officers removed Mr. Smith from his holding cell and physically assaulted him, beating him with their fists and using a taser on him. Plaintiff alleges that the four officers were joined by jail corrections officers Hagen and Laurent, who also allegedly assaulted Mr. Smith. Tragically, Mr. Smith went into cardiac arrest and died in the jail. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Smith's death was the result of excessive force used against him by the individual Defendants, and also alleges that the Lake County Sheriff's Department is liable for having a custom or practice of failing to provide adequately for the mental health needs of inmates and detainees. Based on these facts and allegations, Plaintiff brought the following claims:

1) Excessive force claims against all the individual officers named above (Amended Complaint, p. 14 (Count I));
2) Failure to intervene claims against all the individual officers named above and Merrillville Police Officer Ridgway (Id., p. 16 (Count II));
3) Claims against the Lake County Sheriff's Department and Lake County pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for having an institutional custom, pattern or procedure that resulted in the deprivation of the constitutional rights of inmates and detainees in need of mental health treatment (Id., p. 18 (Count III));
4) (Id., p. 22 (Count IV));
5) An Indiana state law claim for “wrongful death battery” against all the individual Defendant officers in contradiction of Indiana Code § 34-23-1-1 (Id., p. 23 (Count VII[2])); and
6) Indiana state law claims for indemnification against the Lake County Sheriff (Id., p. 22 (Count V)), Lake County (Id., p. 23 (Count VI)), and Town of Merrillville (Id., p. 24 (Count VIII)).


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint that fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008). The complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court explained that the complaint must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Stated differently, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


         I. Motion to dismiss by Town of Merrillville and Officer Ridgway.

         Defendants Town of Merrillville and Merrillville police officer Aaron Ridgway argued in their motion to dismiss that the Plaintiff's claims against them must be dismissed since Ridgway was not present on the date of Mr. Smith's arrest or death (having been mistakenly identified as appearing in a photograph taken at the jail on the day of the tragic incident). Plaintiff's concomitant claim against the Town itself thereby falls by the wayside since it was a claim for indemnification from the Town for the alleged acts of its employee, Ridgway. Motion to Dismiss (DE 87), pp. 1-3. Smith expressly concedes the motion, stating in her response that she “has no objection to Defendants Ridgway's and Town of Merrillville's Motion to Dismiss.” Plaintiff's Response to Ridgway Motion, p. 1. Accordingly, the motion is granted and any and all claims asserted against the Town of Merrillville or Merrillville police officer Aaron Ridgway are dismissed.

         II. Motion to dismiss by Sheriff Buncich.

         The Court's ruling on Buncich's motion involves only the claims asserted against him and does not affect any of the Plaintiff's claims against any other Defendants. Buncich asks the Court to “dismiss all claims that have been ambiguously alleged against . . . Buncich in his individual capacity[, ] . . . dismiss all Count III Monell claims alleged against . . . Buncich” and to dismiss “Plaintiff's state law respondeat superior claim alleged in Count IV[.]” Motion to Dismiss, p. 1. Also, while he does not address it in his motion, Buncich makes clear in his brief that he is seeking dismissal of Smith's indemnification claim also, contending that it “is not ripe[]” and therefore “it must fail for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Defendant's Memorandum in Support (DE 38), p. 2. In other words, Buncich seeks dismissal of all the claims asserted against hm, whether in his individual or official capacity.

         A. Individual capacity claims.

         Buncich argued in his memorandum that all individual claims asserted against him, if there were any, should be dismissed because he had no personal involvement with or knowledge of the incident involving Mr. Smith, precluding any individual capacity claim. Memorandum in Support, pp. 1-2. Plaintiff concedes this point and states in her response that she “has not alleged an individual capacity claim against the Sheriff.” Plaintiff's Response, p. 8. She further clarifies that she “brings an official capacity claim against the Sheriff and individual capacity claims against the individual officers.” Id., p. 9. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss as to the issue of any individual claims against Buncich is MOOT.

         B. Monell claim.

         Buncich argues that Smith's Monell claim must be dismissed because it “is based on generalized allegations of unrelated past misconduct by various members and divisions of the Lake County Sheriff's Department. Allegations that past generalized bad behavior led to future generalized bad behavior fail the rigorous standards of culpability and causation required for municipal liability. . . . Plaintiff's Count III Monell claim is based upon scattered allegations, spanning the past ten (10) years . . . .” Defendant's Memorandum, p. 2 (citations omitted). Buncich insists that Smith's “Amended Complaint is devoid of any specific policy or custom that led to [the alleged] underlying constitutional violation[]” and further insists that all Plaintiff bases her Monell claim ...

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