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Stewart v. Allen County Fort Wayne Police Department

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

August 14, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Tyquan Tarrell Stewart's Second Amended Complaint [ECF No. 8] and Motion to Proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 9], filed June 29, 2017, against Defendants Fort Wayne Police Department, Officer G. Hensler, an unknown officer, Allen County Court Magistrate Judges Jason C. Custer and David M. Zent, and the State of Indiana.

         This case was reassigned to Chief Judge Theresa L. Springmann for all further proceedings pursuant to General Order 2017-4 [ECF No. 6], effective May 1, 2017. The Plaintiff[1] submitted a Complaint [ECF No. 1] against the Defendants Allen County Police Department, and Officers G. Hensler, T. Hughes, Nicklow, and T. Strausborger on September 26, 2016, and also filed his first Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 3] on September 28, 2017. The Plaintiff on his own motion filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 4] on November 11, 2016, and filed a letter [ECF No. 5] asking the Court to rule on this matter on April 21, 2017. The Court granted the Plaintiff leave to amend, and evaluated his Amended Complaint accordingly. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).

         The Plaintiff's Amended Complaint stated that the defendants, violated his civil rights on the basis of his race, sex, and religion. The Court construed the Plaintiff's claims as a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, which are enforceable through a civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. When public officers violate the constitutional rights of citizens, § 1983 provides the vehicle for a legal claim. Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir. 2006). Section 1983 imposes liability on any “person” who, while acting under color of state law, deprives an individual of federally protected rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). Section 1983 authorizes claimants to sue persons in their individual capacities who are alleged to have violated such rights. Lewis v. Downey, 581 F.3d 467, 472-73 (7th Cir. 2009). Section 1983 also authorizes claimants to sue persons in their official capacities. See Estate of Sims ex rel. Sims v. Cnty. of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 514-15 (7th Cir. 2007). Personal involvement is an element of every claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 651 (7th Cir. 2001).

         In his First Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that Officer Hensler “testified” about the events that occurred on September 26, 2016. (First Am. Compl. 2.) Taken as true for the purposes of that Opinion and Order, Concentra Health Serv., Inc., 496 F.3d at 776-77, the Court noted it is not clear what proceeding the Plaintiff was referring to that resulted in Officer Hensler testifying. But the introduction of that testimony as a factual allegation established that the Plaintiff's claims likely involved an underlying criminal proceeding.

         The Court stated that if the Plaintiff was arrested following the breathalyzer test, this action would be construed as a false-arrest claim under the Fourth Amendment and § 1983. “A finding of probable cause absolutely bars a claim for false arrest under § 1983.” Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764-65 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Smith v. City of Chi., 913 F.2d 469, 473 (7th Cir. 1990)). “Probable cause to arrest existed if, at the time the decision was made, ‘the facts and circumstances within [the officers'] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the [individual] had committed or was committing an offense.'” Reynolds, 488 F.3d at 765 (quoting Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964) (brackets and quotations in original)). “The reasonableness of the seizure turns on what the officer knew, not whether he knew the truth or whether he should have known more.” Reynolds, 488 F.3d at 765 (citing Gramenos v. Jewel Cos., 797 F.2d 432, 439 (7th Cir. 1986)).

         The Court dismissed the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint without prejudice and denied the Plaintiff's First Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. The Court also dismssed the Plaintiff's initial Complaint [ECF No. 1] as moot. The Court granted the Plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint, accompanied by a new Petition to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs or the filing fee. The Plaintiff has timely done so, and the Court now evaluates the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint here.


         Ordinarily, a plaintiff must pay a statutory filing fee to bring an action in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However, the federal in forma pauperis (IFP) statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, provides indigent litigants an opportunity for meaningful access to the federal courts despite their inability to pay the costs and fees associated with that access. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989). To authorize a litigant to proceed IFP, a court must make two determinations: first, whether the litigant is unable to pay the costs of commencing the action, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1); and second, whether the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Under the first inquiry, an indigent party may commence an action in federal court, without prepayment of costs and fees, upon submission of an affidavit asserting an inability “to pay such fees or give security therefor.” Id. § 1915(a). Here, the Plaintiff's Motion establishes that he is unable to prepay the filing fee.

         But the inquiry does not end there. District courts have the power under § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints even before service of the complaint on the defendants, and must dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim. Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999). Courts apply the same standard under § 1915(e)(2)(B) as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1018, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013).

         To state a claim under the federal notice pleading standards, a complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Factual allegations are accepted as true and need only give “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” EEOC v. Concentra Health Serv., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776-77 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). However, a plaintiff's allegations must show that his entitlement to relief is plausible, rather than merely speculative. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The Plaintiff alleges that “in the month of June, 2016, ”[2] he was traveling in a car with his sister and brother, when they were pulled over for “allegedly making an illegal left turn in the far left lane.” (Second Am. Compl. 3, ECF No. 8) According to the Plaintiff, he asked what he was being pulled over for. (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges that he then asked for the officer's badge numbers and names. (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges that in response, he was ordered out of the vehicle. The Plaintiff then alleges the officers “performed an illegal search on me . . . without probable cause, ” specifically, a breathalyzer test. (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges he “passed with zero's, ” but that the officers chuckled saying “it must be broke.” (Id.) In response, the Plaintiff alleges he told the officers he was a Moorish American. (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges that during the course of this conversation, one of the officers called him “a devil.” (Id.)

         The Plaintiff alleges that because of this exchange, he “raised [his] hands in the air and looked towards the east and told Allah [he] was tired of being mistreated.” (Id.) The Plaintiff alleges that, in ...

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