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Burton v. City of Franklin

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

March 27, 2018

BRYAN BURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FRANKLIN, TIMOTHY O'SULLIVAN, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Chief of Police, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants City of Franklin's (“Franklin”) and Timothy O'Sullivan's (“O'Sullivan”) (collectively, “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss. (Filing No. 11.) Following Plaintiff Bryan Burton's (“Burton”) termination, stemming from disciplinary action by the Franklin Police Merit Commission (the “Commission”) for Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, Burton filed this action asserting violation of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Defendants move to dismiss Burton's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing Burton has inadequately pled a cognizable Monell claim against Franklin and he cannot establish liability against O'Sullivan. For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Burton served as a merit officer for the Franklin Police Department (“Franklin PD”) for 16 years, and he was 42 years old at the time of his termination. (Filing No. 1 at 2.) On October 23, 2016, Franklin PD officers responded to a 9-1-1 call reporting a domestic disturbance at Burton's residence. Id. Because Burton was an officer within their department, Franklin PD officers requested assistance from the Johnson County Sheriff's Department so that the investigation could be conducted without a conflict of interest. Id. Ultimately, both Burton and his wife, Jordan Burton, were arrested and booked into the Johnson County Jail for alleged domestic violence. Id. at 3. Subsequently, the Johnson County Prosecutor, and two special prosecutors, found that probable cause did not exist for the arrest of either Burton or his wife. All three prosecutors declined to file charges. Id.

         On October 24, 2016, the day after Burton's arrest, Franklin Chief of Police O'Sullivan brought a disciplinary charge against Burton to the Commission for Conduct Unbecoming an Officer. Id. Burton alleges that O'Sullivan asked the Commission to terminate his employment at Franklin PD. The Commission terminated Burton's employment in May 2017. Id. Burton alleges that “O'Sullivan's termination of Burton was part of a systematic effort to drive out older, experienced officers who possessed independent judgment and to replace them with a younger force.” (Filing No. 1 at 4.) In furtherance of that effort, Burton alleges that he was satisfactorily performing his duties as a police officer and O'Sullivan had hired several officers in their twenties who had prior criminal records and allowed several younger officers to remain employed when they faced allegations of criminal conduct that did not result in criminal charges. Id. at 3.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         When reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court takes all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski v. Cnty. of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). However, the allegations must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” and the “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Stated differently, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Burton alleges that his termination was part of a systematic effort to drive out older, experienced officers and to replace them with a younger force. (Filing No. 19 at 2.) Franklin moves to dismiss the Complaint, asserting that Burton fails to state a claim for Monell liability and his claims against O'Sullivan in his individual and official capacity are insufficient. (Filing No. 12 at 3, 7.) The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. Monell Claim

         Section 1983 provides a claim against a person acting under color of law who deprives another of a federal right. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A municipality is subject to § 1983 liability if one of its policies caused the plaintiff's harm. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); 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 claim.” White v. City of Chicago, 829 F.3d 837, 844 (7th Cir. 2016).

         Courts have identified three ways in which a municipality can be liable to a plaintiff for a civil rights violation resulting from government policy:

(1)an express policy that, when enforced, causes a constitutional deprivation; (2) a widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well-settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law; or (3) an allegation that the constitutional injury was caused by a person with final policymaking authority.

Abbott, 205 F.3d at 981. Franklin contends that Burton's Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to support a valid Monell claim under any of the three enumerated ways in which a municipality can be liable to a plaintiff. (Filing No. 12 at 3.) Burton concedes that there was no express policy which caused a constitutional deprivation, thus the Court must consider whether the Complaint alleges facts that support a widespread practice constituting a custom, or if ...


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