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Westbrook v. Bennington

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

January 25, 2018

CURTIS L. WESTBROOK, Plaintiff,
v.
DIANE BENNINGTON, DANIAL HAHN, CITY OF MUNCIE, DELAWARE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, MATTHEW HOLLANS, MUNCIE POLICE DEPARTMENT, MUNCIE CITY COURT OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS, Defendants.

          ENTRY GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          HON. WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, JUDGE.

         For the reasons explained below, the motion to dismiss filed by defendants former Judge Dianna Bennington and the Muncie City Court (collectively, the “defendants”), Dkt. No. 89, is granted in part and denied in part. The motion is granted to the extent that Bennington is entitled to judicial immunity and all claims alleged against her are dismissed. The motion is denied as to the Muncie City Court because the defenses asserted are not applicable to this municipal defendant.

         I. Standard of Review

         The defendants seek dismissal of the claims against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain 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 a 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). In ruling on this motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the defendants' unopposed request to take judicial notice of two documents. Fed.R.Evid. 201. The first is the Chronological Case Summary associated with Muncie City Court v. Curtis Westbrook, Cause No. 18H01-1402-MI-000003 (Muncie City Court) (Dkt. No. 90-1). The second document is Order Accepting Agreed Discipline, In the Matter of the Honorable Dianna L. Bennington, Cause No. 18S00-1412-JD-733 (Ind. 2015) (Dkt. No. 90-2).

         II. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Curtis L. Westbrook alleges both federal constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims against the defendants.

         The Muncie City Court's Chronological Case Summary (“CCS”) for Muncie City Court v. Curtis Westbrook, Cause No. 18H01-1402-MI-000003, shows the case was opened on February 11, 2014, and that the Court found Westbrook guilty of contempt of Court on February 10, 2014, for distributing the letters, but that Westbrook left the courtroom before he could be detained. A bench warrant was issued for Westbrook's arrest.

         On February 11, 2014, Westbrook was present in the Muncie City Court because his son had a hearing scheduled that day. He was arrested and held in the Delaware County Jail for ten (10) days.

         Bennington failed to bring Westbrook before her to inform him of the alleged nature of the contempt or to otherwise provide him with an opportunity to explain, apologize, or give additional information about the alleged contemptuous act(s). Bennington also failed to inform Westbrook of his right to appeal a contempt sentence. Bennington failed to orally inform Westbrook of the length of his contempt sentence and did not verify that Westbrook was given a copy of a written contempt order that was inputted on the CCS on February 11, 2014.

         Westbrook alleges that the Court's official records were altered at the direction of Defendant Bennington to falsely reflect that a finding of contempt was made on February 10, 2014, and falsely claim that Westbrook left the courtroom “before he could be detained.” Bennington was the subject of an Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission Complaint and entered into a Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement. In those proceedings, Bennington stipulated “that by ordering Westbrook arrested and jailed for contempt without bringing Westbrook before [Bennington] to inform Westbrook of the alleged nature of the contempt or to give him an opportunity to explain, apologize, or given [sic] additional information about the alleged contemptuous act(s) and by not providing Westbrook with other sufficient due process prior to ordering him jailed for contempt, [Bennington] abused her contempt powers. . . .” Dkt. No. 90-2 at p. 7. The Supreme Court accepted the stipulated facts and adopted the statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline as an Order of the Indiana Supreme Court. Dkt. No. 90-2 at p. 1.

         III. Discussion

         For the reasons explained below, Bennington is entitled to judicial immunity and the Muncie City Court is not entitled to dismissal for the reasons requested by State Defendants.

         A. Bennington

         The fourth amended complaint, Dkt. No. 126, alleges that Bennington's abuse of her contempt powers resulted in violations of Westbrook's constitutional rights including his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Fourteenth Amendments. Westbrook also brings state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, false arrest and imprisonment, ...


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