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Hostetler v. City of Southport

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

March 27, 2018

CITY OF SOUTHPORT, acting by and through its police department, THOMAS L. VAUGHN, individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police, and JASON SWANSON, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Partial Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Filing No. 12) filed by Defendants City of Southport (“Southport”), Southport Chief of Police Thomas L. Vaughn (“Vaughn”), and Jason Swanson (“Swanson”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Following the search of his friend and co-parent's home, Plaintiff Marc D. Hostetler (“Marc”), filed this action asserting a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) due to false arrest and illegal search, as well as state law claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, trespass, negligence, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 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 Marc as the non-moving party. This case and its companion case, Shara 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 Hostetler's (“Shara”) home, and Marc's arrest. Shara and Marc are co-parents and live separately. At the time the search warrant was executed, Marc was present at Shara's house caring for their son. (Filing No. 1-1 at 5.) Also at the time of the search, Shara was running for Clerk-Treasurer of Southport, Indiana, in a very tight race against an opponent, Diane Bosingham, who employed Chief Vaughn's wife, Jane Vaughn, as the Chief Deputy Clerk of Southport. Id. Chief Vaughn was supportive of Diane Bosingham, who was running for re-election against Shara. Id.

         Marc alleges the following: Chief Vaughn offered to hire Swanson as a police officer with the Southport Police Department (“SPD”) if Swanson could find a way to arrest Marc. Id. at 2. Chief Vaughn informed Swanson that Marc was impersonating a police officer and carrying a gun. Id. at 4. Swanson presented Chief Vaughn's information as an “anonymous tip” to obtain a warrant to search Shara's home at 7820 Partridge Road in Southport, Indiana. Id. However, in the probable cause affidavit to the court, Swanson mispresented this address as Marc's house. Id. 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), and other items were seized during the search. Several days later, Swanson threatened to arrest Shara and remove her children from her custody for child endangerment because she kept a handgun in her house. Swanson told her she could avoid arrest by stating that the handgun belonged to Marc. Shara maintained that the handgun belonged to her. Id. at 5. Swanson arrested Marc for the impersonation of a police officer and possession of a firearm by a serious and violent felon, based on the gun seized from Shara. Id. at 5 ¶ 21.

         Swanson subsequently executed another search warrant, based upon the evidence seized from Shara's home, this time on Marc's residence at 2807 Punto Alto Circle, Indianapolis, Indiana. Id. at 6. The search yielded some old uniforms and police memorabilia that apparently Marc did not return from previous law enforcement employers SPD, Marion County Sheriff's Department, Homecroft Police Department, United States Army Military Police, Perry Township Constable's Office, Marian College Police, and the Indiana War Memorial Police. Id. at 6. Based on evidence seized in the second search Marc was additionally charged with theft and other charges. Id. at 6 ¶26. All charges were later dismissed. Id. Shara was not charged with any crime. Following Marc's arrest, Chief Vaughn hired Swanson as a full-time employee of SPD. Id. at 7. Ultimately, following the negative publicity associated with the search of Shara's residence and the arrest of Marc, Shara lost the election for Clerk-Treasurer by 17 votes. Id. at 6. Marc lost employment, perspective pending employment, financial costs of incarceration and attorney fees, court appearances, emotional and mental distress, time away from his son, additional child care costs, defamation of character, and loss and damage to property. Id. at 6-7.


         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).


         Southport moved for partial judgment on the pleadings asserting that Marc's claims failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and as to the state law claims the officers are entitled to immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act (“ITCA”). (Filing No. 13 at 3-4.) Marc withdrew his state law claims against Southport for malicious prosecution, trespass, negligence, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Therefore, Marc seeks only to maintain his state law claim for false arrest against Southport. (Filing No. 23 at 6.) (“Plaintiff does not object to the Motion as to the state-law claims other than his claim for false arrest, which claim is not a part of Defendants' Motion.”) The claims that remain are claims under § 1983 for the illegal search and false arrest (including claims against Chief Vaughn in his official and individual capacity), a Monell claim for municipality liability, and the false arrest state law claim. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. Federal Claims

         Defendants concede that they are not seeking partial judgment on the pleadings on Marc's Fourth Amendment unconstitutional search and false arrest claim. (Filing No. 13 at 1.) Defendants assert that Marc 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

         In order to find a municipality liable under § 1983, the plaintiff must prove that a municipal policy or custom caused their injury. Abbott v. Vill. of Winthrop Harbor,205 F.3d 976, 981 (7th Cir. 2000). An underlying constitutional claim “is a necessary element of a Monell ...

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