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ScHlueter v. Matney

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

May 15, 2018

TYSON MATNEY, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Nicholas Schlueter, an inmate currently incarcerated at the Bartholomew County Jail and representing himself, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Tyson Matney, Chad Moore, and Toby Combest violated his civil rights when they arrested him after purchasing methamphetamine from him during two controlled buys involving a confidential informant. This matter comes before the court on two motions for summary judgment: a joint motion by Defendants Moore and Combest (ECF No. 36) and an individual motion by Defendant Matney (ECF No. 40). During a telephone hearing on February 6, 2018, the court granted Schlueter an additional thirty days to respond to the defendants' motions for summary judgment and explained that, in the absence of a response, the court would decide the motions on the record as it now stands. ECF No. 49. Since that hearing, the court has received no response from Schlueter and will therefore proceed to decide these summary judgment motions. Also before the court is a joint motion by all defendants seeking an extension of time to conduct additional discovery in the event the court denies the motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 50. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motions for summary judgment will both be granted, and their joint motion for an extension of time will be denied as moot.


         Schlueter's claim arises out of a January 2016 investigation of his suspected methamphetamine dealing by a joint narcotics task force consisting of personnel from the Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department and the Columbus Police Department. Matney Br., ECF No. 43 at 2 (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 1).[1] Matney, a detective with the Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department, used an undercover identity during purchases from Schlueter that occurred on January 6, 2016, and January 11, 2016. Id. (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 2). Moore, a detective with the Columbus Police Department, provided logistical and operational support for the task force during the purchases. Moore & Combest Br., ECF No. 37 at 2 (“M&C Br.”) (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 4). Combest, also a Columbus detective, worked with Matney and others, including a confidential informant, to set up the purchases. Id. at 2-3 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 5); see also ECF No. 41-2 ¶ 4. In addition to the confidential informant, the task force employed investigative measures including an audio recording device, electronic monitoring equipment, pre-marked cash, and undercover identities. Matney Br. at 2 (citing ECF No. 41-2 at 1; ECF No. 41-3 ¶¶ 15-20; ECF No. 41-4 ¶¶ 8-14).

         The January 6, 2011, methamphetamine purchase occurred in the parking lot of a McDonald's in Edinburgh, Indiana. ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 7. Matney met with the confidential informant and performed a strip search to confirm that the informant did not possess any methamphetamine, and they then drove together in an undercover vehicle to the location set for the purchase. ECF No. 36-2 ¶¶ 2-5. After they arrived at the purchase location, where the task force was in place, Schlueter entered the rear of the undercover vehicle and gave the informant a bag containing a clear, crystal-like substance in exchange for $675 in pre-marked cash. ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 7. A field test indicated that the crystal-like substance was methamphetamine, and a subsequent test by the Indiana State Police Laboratory confirmed that result. C&M Br at 3 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶¶ 10, 12). At 10:41 p.m. on January 6, the methamphetamine was placed into a drop box locker at the Columbus Police Department. Id. (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶¶ 11).

         For the January 11, 2016, purchase, Matney and the informant again drove together to the designated location. Matney Br. at 3 (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 3). After they arrived, Matney performed a search to confirm that the informant did not possess any methamphetamine. Matney Br. at 3 (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 4). The informant then got out of their vehicle, entered Schlueter's vehicle, and returned with two small bags containing a substance suspected to be methamphetamine. Id. (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 4); C&M Br. at 3 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 19). Schlueter had sold the bags of the crystal-like substance to the informant for $1, 140 in pre-marked cash at approximately 10:45 p.m. C&M Br. at 3 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶¶ 15-18). Matney took possession of the suspected methamphetamine from the informant and performed a field test, which confirmed that the substance was likely methamphetamine. Matney Br. at 3 (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 5).

         After performing the field test, Matney gave the two bags to Moore. M&C Br. at 4 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 20). At 12:30 a.m. on January 12, 2015, Moore placed the two bags of suspected methamphetamine into a sealed evidence bag, which he in turn placed in a locked drop box at the Columbus Police Department evidence room. Id. (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 20). On the evidence bag, Moore wrote his officer number, the case number, the date, the time, the phrase “Drop Box” in the “Chain of Custody” section to indicate where he put the bag, and a note describing the bag's contents as “[p]lastic bags containing a white crystal substance.” Id. (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶¶ 21-22); ECF No. 36-7.

         Separately, Moore helped to complete a “Columbus Police Property Record and Receipt” form, which included a “Record of Custody” section. Id. at 4-5 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶ 23). When completing the form, however, Moore made a mistake-what he calls a “scrivener's error”-and inadvertently omitted a “1” when writing the “12” in the date portion of the Record of Custody section; as a result, the date reads “1-2-16, ” rather than “1-12-16, ” as he intended. Id. at 5 (citing ECF No. 36-1 ¶¶ 23-25); ECF No. 36-8. Instead of referring to both bags, the “Details” section of the form also lists only one item, a “plastic bag” (singular) “containing a white crystal substance.” ECF No. 36-8. The Columbus Police Department's property officer signed the Record and Receipt form at 3:45 p.m. on January 13, 2018. ECF No. 36-8. The Indiana State Police laboratory later confirmed that the substance in both bags was methamphetamine. M&C Br. at 5 (citing ECF No. 36-11).

         Matney signed a probable cause affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for Schlueter on September 22, 2016. Matney Br. at 4 (citing ECF No. 41-1 ¶ 8; ECF No. 41-2). The affidavit recounted both the January 6, 2016 and the January 11, 2016 purchases from Schlueter. Id. (citing ECF No. 41-2). An arrest warrant issued, resulting in Schlueter's arrest on October 6, 2016, by a Bartholomew County Sheriff's deputy, who transported Schlueter to the county jail. ECF No. 41-3 ¶¶ 30-31. Schlueter was charged with two counts of dealing methamphetamine, one count each for the January 6 and January 11 sales. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. In early March 2017, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the January 11, 2016 sale based on the discrepancies in the Record and Receipt form. Matney Br. at 4 (citing ECF No. 41-7). Shortly thereafter, the court dismissed without prejudice the charge related to the January 11 sale. ECF No. 41-6. Matney filed this action soon after. At the time the defendants filed their summary judgment motions, the charge against Schlueter for the January 6 sale remained pending and was set for trial in March 2018. Matney Br. at 4 (citing ECF No. 41-6).


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). All reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the nonmoving party. Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). Summary judgment is properly entered against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Parent v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 694 F.3d 919, 922 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation mark omitted) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). When evaluating whether claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 survive summary judgment, the court must determine “(1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) whether this conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Colbert v. City of Chicago, 851 F.3d 649, 656 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Armato v. Grounds, 766 F.3d 713, 719-20 (7th Cir. 2014)).


         Schlueter's complaint asserts claims for illegal search and seizure, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and violations of his due process rights. Matney contends that the defendants are all entitled to summary judgment on these claims. All three defendants also argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity, and Moore and Combest raise additional miscellaneous arguments. The court will therefore begin its analysis by addressing whether the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Schlueter's claims before proceeding to the other arguments if necessary.

         I. Illegal ...

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