United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
SHARA B. HOSTETLER, Plaintiff,
CITY OF SOUTHPORT, THOMAS L. VAUGHN, and JASON SWANSON, Defendants.
ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL JUDGMENT
ON THE PLEADINGS
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court.
matter is before the Court on Motion for Partial Judgment on
the Pleadings. (Filing No. 19) filed by
Defendants City of Southport (“Southport”),
Southport Chief of Police Thomas L. Chief Vaughn
(“Chief Vaughn”), and Jason Swanson
“Defendants”). Following the search of Plaintiff
Shara Hostetler's (“Shara”) home, she filed
this action asserting a violation of her Fourth Amendment
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§
1983”) due to an alleged illegal search, and state law
claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, trespass,
negligence, defamation, and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. (Filing No. 1.) Defendants
request that the Court enter Judgment for the Defendants on
the entirety of claims with the exception of Shara's
Fourth Amendment unconstitutional search. For the reasons
stated below, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and
denied in part.
following material facts are not in dispute and are viewed in
a light most favorable to Shara Hostetler as the non-moving
party. This case and its companion case, Marc D.
Hostetler v. City of Southport, 1:17:1564 TWP-TAB, both
arise out events leading up to (and including) April 25,
2015, which culminated in a search of Shara's home, and
the arrest of her friend and co-parent, Marc Hostetler
(“Marc”). (Filing No. 1 at 3.) At the
time of the search, Shara was running for Clerk-Treasurer of
Southport, Indiana, in a very tight race. Chief Vaughn's
wife, Jane Vaughn, was employed as Southport's incumbent
Deputy Clerk-Treasurer and supported Shara's opponent in
the upcoming election. Id. Chief Vaughn wished to
arrest Marc in order to embarrass Shara and bring about her
alleges the following. Chief Vaughn offered to hire Swanson
as a police officer with the Southport Police Department if
Swanson could find a way to arrest Marc. Id. at 2.
Chief Vaughn informed Swanson that Marc was illegally
carrying a gun, which Swanson presented as an
“anonymous tip” to a court in order to obtain a
warrant to search Shara's house at 7820 Partridge Road,
Indianapolis, Indiana. Id. at 3. In the probable
cause affidavit to the court, Swanson mispresented the
address at 7820 Partridge Road as Marc's house. The
search warrant was executed on April 25, 2015, by Swanson and
other Southport police officers. Shara's personal handgun
(which she kept under her mattress) was seized during the
search. Several days later, Swanson threatened to arrest
Shara and remove her children from her custody for child
endangerment (due to the handgun being kept in her house),
but also told her that she could avoid arrest by stating that
the handgun belonged to Marc. Shara maintained that the
handgun belonged to her. Id.
subsequently executed another search warrant, this time on
Marc's residence. The search yielded some old uniforms
and police paraphernalia that apparently Marc did not return
from previous law enforcement employers, including the
Southport Police Department (“SPD”), Marion
County Sheriff, Marian College Police, and the Indiana War
Memorial Police. Id. at 4. Marc was arrested for
impersonating a police officer, although the charges were
later dismissed. Id. Shara was not charged with any
crime. In an effort to tarnish her image during the primary
election, Chief Vaughn, Swanson, and other SPD officers told
her neighbors and other Southport citizens that she was
harboring a fugitive and that criminal charges were pending
against her. Following Marc's arrest, Chief Vaughn hired
Swanson as a full-time employee of the SPD. Id.
Ultimately, following the negative publicity associated with
the search of Shara's residence and the arrest of Marc,
she lost the election for Clerk-Treasurer by 17 votes.
Id. at 4.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for
judgment after the parties have filed the complaint and
answer. Rule 12(c) motions are reviewed under the same
standard as a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6). Frey v.
Bank One, 91 F.3d 45, 46 (7th Cir. 1996). Like a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, the court will grant a Rule 12(c) motion
only if “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff
cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for
relief.” N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v.
City of S. Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998)
(quoting Craigs, Inc. v. General Elec. Capital
Corp., 12 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir. 1993)). The facts in
the complaint are viewed in a light most favorable to the
non-moving party; however, the court is “not obliged to
ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine
the plaintiff's claim or to assign any weight to
unsupported conclusions of law.” Id.
(quoting R.J.R. Serv., Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur.
Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir. 1989)). “As the
title of the rule implies, Rule 12(c) permits a judgment
based on the pleadings alone. . . . The pleadings include the
complaint, the answer, and any written instruments attached
as exhibits.” Id. (internal citations
moves for partial judgment on the pleadings asserting that
other than her Fourth Amendment claim, Shara's claims
fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and
the officers are entitled to immunity under the Indiana Tort
Claims Act (“ITCA”) on the state law claims.
(Filing No. 20 at 2.) I her Response, Shara withdrew
her state law claims against Southport for false arrest,
negligence, trespass, and intentional infliction of emotional
stress. (Filing No. 26 at 6-7.) The claims that
remain are her federal claims under § 1983 (including
claims against Chief Vaughn in his official and individual
capacity), a Monell claim for municipality
liability, and state law claims for malicious prosecution and
defamation against Southport. The Court will address each
argument in turn.
concede that they are not seeking partial judgment on the
pleadings on Shara's Fourth Amendment unreasonable search
claim. (Filing No. 20 at 3.) Defendants assert that
Shara has failed to allege a valid Monell claim
against Southport or Chief Vaughn in his official capacity,
and that the claims against Chief Vaughn in his individual
capacity also fail under § 1983.
Monell / Official Capacity Claims
state a Monell claim against a city for violation of
right to equal protection, a plaintiff is required to
“plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw
the reasonable inference” that the City maintained a
policy, custom, or practice of intentional discrimination
against a class of persons to which plaintiff belonged.
See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (this should be a full
cite); Monellv. Department of Social
Services,436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). In order to find a
municipality liable under § 1983, the plaintiff must
prove that a municipal policy or custom caused their injury.
Abbottv. Vill. of Winthrop Harbor, 205
F.3d 976, ...