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T.C. v. Town of Westville

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

July 10, 2017

T.C., B.C., b/n/f JACINDA CHERRY, Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF WESTVILLE, INDIANA; WESTVILLE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS; WESTVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT; and STEVE AMES, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES T. MOODY JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment on all claims against them. (DE # 44.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         On May 8, 2012, Officer Steve Ames received a phone call at the Westville, Indiana, police department from the mother of a minor referred to herein as “A.A.” (Ames Dep. 14:6-21; DE # 45-1 at 13.) A.A.'s mother told Officer Ames “that her daughter has been continuously bullied at the school” by another minor, the plaintiff in this case referred to herein as “T.C.”[2] (Ames Dep. 17:25-18:3, DE # 45-1 at 16.) Officer Ames then spoke with A.A., herself. (Ames Dep. 20:7-8; DE # 45-1 at 18.) A.A. told Officer Ames that she had been repeatedly struck with a ruler on her neck and arm by T.C. and another minor. (Ames Dep. 20:10-18; DE # 45-1 at 18.) Officer Ames observed red marks on A.A. but did not believe they could be photographed. (Ames Dep. at 20:23 - 21:1; DE # 45-1 at 19.) Officer Ames felt A.A. appeared credible. (Ames Dep. 66:7-8; DE # 45-1 at 57-58.) Officer Ames was familiar with T.C. (Ames Dep. 34:25 - 35:1; DE # 45-1 at 31.)

         Officer Ames proceeded to T.C.'s home and knocked on the door, which was answered by T.C.'s brother, referred to herein as “B.C.” (Ames Dep. 32:3-7; DE # 45-1 at 28.) Officer Ames asked B.C. if his parents were home, and B.C. said no. (Ames Dep. 32:13-15; DE # 45-1 at 29.) Officer Ames then asked B.C. to have his brother come forward; B.C. did so and T.C. emerged and stood in the living room. (Ames Dep. 32:17-25, DE # 45-1 at 29.) Officer Ames described his own position at this point as “outside” the doorway, “on the top step.” (Ames Dep. 33:7-9; DE # 45-1 at 29.) Officer Ames told him to put his shoes on and that he was going to take him down to the police station; T.C. put his shoes on and walked outside. (Ames Dep. 35:6-14; DE # 45 1 at 31.) Officer Ames placed T.C. in handcuffs, “[f]or safety purposes, ” since he had taken weapons like knives and air soft pistols from him in the past. (Ames Dep. 11-19; DE # 45-1 at 33.) Officer Ames took T.C. to the police station, where he sat in a room and waited until his mother arrived, about five to ten minutes later. (T.C. Dep. 40:6-20; DE # 45-3 at 41.) After thirty to forty-five minutes, T.C. and his mother went home. (T.C. Dep. 45:1-9; DE # 45-3 at 46.) It is undisputed that Officer Ames did not have a warrant to arrest T.C.

         T.C. and B.C. filed the present lawsuit against Officer Ames, as well as the Town of Westville, the Westville Board of Commissioners, and the Westville Police Department. (DE # 1.) The suit alleged a number of state and federal claims including battery, municipal liability, and false arrest in violation of Indiana law and the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id.) Defendants moved for summary judgment, articulating defenses to all of the claims raised (DE # 44), but plaintiff responded by arguing the validity of his false arrest claims against Officer Ames, only (DE # 49). The court deems all of plaintiff's other claims abandoned. Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 597-98 (7th Cir. 2003) (claim not addressed in response to summary judgment motion is deemed abandoned).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must identify specific facts establishing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Palmer, 327 F.3d at 595. In doing so, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings alone, but must present fresh proof in support of its position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Donovan v. City of Milwaukee, 17 F.3d 944, 947 (7th Cir. 1994). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, then there is no “genuine” dispute. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         The court's role in deciding a summary judgment motion is not to evaluate the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994). In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences and resolve all doubts in favor of that party. NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995).

         III. DISCUSSION

         At the outset, the court notes that Officer Ames has raised the defense of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields officers from a suit for damages if a reasonable officer could have believed his action to be lawful, in light of clearly established law and the information the arresting officers possessed. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). The Indiana Supreme Court has held that the qualified immunity applicable to federal claims applies equally to claims against government officials under state law. Cantrell v. Morris, 849 N.E.2d 488, 494 (Ind. 2006).

         The court conducts a two-step inquiry when evaluating a qualified immunity claim: “First the court must determine whether the disputed conduct, as alleged, violates a constitutional right; second, the court must determine whether that right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the alleged conduct.” Wernsing v. Thompson, 423 F.3d 732, 742 (7th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the court first must determine whether Officer Ames violated any of plaintiff's constitutional rights during their interaction.

         Plaintiff's first argument is that the warrantless arrest in this case was improper because Officer Ames lacked probable cause. Probable cause to arrest exists if the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the arrest would warrant a reasonable person in believing that the arrestee had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. Abbott v. Sangamon County, Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 714 (7th Cir. 2013); see also Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 370 (2003). It is a practical, commonsense standard that requires only the type of fair probability on which reasonable people act. Gutierrez v. Kermon, 722 F.3d 1003, 1008 (7th Cir. 2013); see also Florida v. Harris, 133 S.Ct. 1050, 1055 (2013). The standard for probable cause under Indiana law is the same as the federal standard. Earles v. Perkins, 788 N.E.2d 1260, 1265 (Ind.Ct.App. 2003).

         The existence of probable cause depends on the elements of the predicate criminal offense as defined by state law. Abbott, 705 F.3d at 715. The relevant state law in this case is the State of Indiana's battery statute, which states that any person who “knowingly or intentionally touches another person in a rude, insolent, or angry manner” and causes “bodily injury” commits a Class A misdemeanor. Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1(c-d).[3] ...


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