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Hostetler v. City of Southport

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

March 27, 2018

SHARA B. HOSTETLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SOUTHPORT, THOMAS L. VAUGHN, and JASON SWANSON, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court.

         This 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 (“Swanson”) (collectively, “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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The 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 electoral defeat.

         Shara 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.

         Swanson 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.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal 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 omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Southport 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.

         A. Federal Claims

         Defendants 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.

         1. Monell / Official Capacity Claims

         To 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, ...


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