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Albrechtsen v. Parsons

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

May 7, 2018

Mark A. Albrechtsen, Plaintiff,
v.
Sean Parsons, Brandon Laughlin, and Christopher Walters, in their individual capacities as United States employees of Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Mark Albrechtsen was driving in Indianapolis early in the morning on March 2, 2017, when he encountered three vehicles bearing United States Government license plates. The vehicles were driven by Defendants, who are all employees at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in the Police Services Division. One of the Defendants pulled Mr. Albrechtsen over and asked him to move out of the way. Mr. Albrechtsen then drove away. Mr. Albrechtsen, proceeding pro se, asserts claims against Defendants for violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. Presently pending and ripe for the Court's consideration is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss. [Filing No. 32.]

         I.

         Standard of Review

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim that does not state a right to relief. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide the defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (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). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] 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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). 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). This plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         II.

         Background

         The following are the factual allegations in the Complaint, which the Court must accept as true at this time:

         On March 2, 2017 at approximately 7:20 a.m., Mr. Albrechtsen was driving northbound on Harding Street in Indianapolis, Indiana and approached three vehicles bearing United States Government license plates - two Ford SUVs and one Dodge van. [Filing No. 15 at 4.] The three vehicles were in the left turn lane, but eventually sought to turn right. [Filing No. 15 at 4.] Defendant Sean Parsons, a Police Captain in the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center's Police Service Division (“VA Police Services Division”), “acted professionally, using his turn signal and seeking permission from those who have right away [sic] to allow [him] to merge into the correct lane.” [Filing No. 15 at 4.] Defendant Brandon Laughlin, a Lieutenant with the VA Police Services Division, was driving the second vehicle and “bulldozed his way into the right lane by following the first vehicle.” [Filing No. 15 at 4.] Defendant Christopher Walters, an Officer with the VA Police Services Division, was driving the third vehicle and “used his red/blue emergency lights to also bulldoze his way into the lane, forcing a civilian vehicle to veer off onto the road's shoulder and honk their horn to avoid a collision.” [Filing No. 15 at 4.]

         Mr. Albrechtsen, “[f]rustrated with this clear abuse of power, …pulled next to [Officer] Walters' vehicle and used colorful, fully protected speech to express his resentment with [Officer] Walters' abuse of power.” [Filing No. 15 at 5.] Subsequently, Lieutenant Laughlin and Officer Walters activated their emergency lights while Captain Parsons “continued onward with the flow of traffic.” [Filing No. 15 at 5.] Because there was a gap between Captain Parsons' vehicle and the vehicles of Lieutenant Laughlin and Officer Walters, Mr. Albrechtsen drove in front of Lieutenant Laughlin's vehicle to continue on his way. [Filing No. 15 at 5.] As he did so, Lieutenant Laughlin and Officer Walters “retaliated against [Mr. Albrechtsen's] protected speech by following and pulling [him] over.” [Filing No. 15 at 5.] Mr. Albrechtsen pulled over “[o]ut of fear of further retaliation and/or physical force.” [Filing No. 15 at 5.]

         Once Mr. Albrechtsen had pulled over, Lieutenant Laughlin pulled next to him with his window down. [Filing No. 15 at 5.] Mr. Albrechtsen told Lieutenant Laughlin that he had a First Amendment right to “express his resentment with [Officer] Walters' actions, ” and Lieutenant Laughlin told Mr. Albrechtsen to “move out of the way.” [Filing No. 15 at 5.] When it became clear to Mr. Albrechtsen that Lieutenant Laughlin “had no intention to execute a legitimate traffic stop, ” Mr. Albrechtsen continued behind Lieutenant Laughlin's vehicle as he pulled away. [Filing No. 15 at 5.] Officer Walters continued to follow Mr. Albrechtsen with his emergency lights still activated, attempting to pull Mr. Albrechtsen over. [Filing No. 15 at 5-6.] Mr. Albrechtsen refused to pull over. [Filing No. 15 at 6.] After the vehicles continued on Harding Street, Officer Walters turned his emergency lights off. [Filing No. 15 at 6.] Captain Parsons eventually took a different route than Lieutenant Laughlin and Officer Walters, which “reinforced [Mr. Albrechtsen's] early suspicions that Defendants did not need to play follow-the-leader to get to their destination.” [Filing No. 15 at 6.]

         Mr. Albrechtsen initiated this lawsuit on May 19, 2017, [Filing No. 1], and filed the operative Amended Complaint on September 27, 2017, [Filing No. 15]. Mr. Albrechtsen asserts claims for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). [Filing No. 15 at 6-9.] He seeks a declaratory judgment that “Defendants' conduct…violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights of free speech and to be free from unreasonable seizure under the U.S. Constitution”; compensatory damages of $50, 000; punitive damages; attorneys' fees and costs; and injunctive relief including an order prohibiting Defendants from unlawfully interfering with his rights and the rights of others to be free from unreasonable seizures, requiring Defendants to rescind any and all of their policies, practices, procedures, and/or customs allowing agents to engage in unlawful seizures, requiring Defendants to institute and enforce appropriate and lawful policies, procedures, and supervision concerning seizures, and requiring Defendants to receive training concerning “this Court's orders in this matter.” [Filing No. 15 at 9-11.]

         III.

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