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Stewart v. Hensler

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 22, 2018

TYQUAN STEWART (bey), Plaintiff,
v.
G. HENSLER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a motion to dismiss and a supporting memorandum filed by Defendant Fort Wayne Police Department (“FWPD”) and the City of Fort Wayne (“City”) (together, “Defendants”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asking that the Court dismiss pro se Plaintiff Tyquan Stewart's (“Stewart”) claims against the FWPD and Officer “T. Strausborger Nicklow.” (DE 58). Stewart timely filed a response brief (DE 63) in opposition to the motion, and Defendants timely filed a reply (DE 67); the motion is now ripe for adjudication.[1] For the following reasons, Defendants' motion will be GRANTED.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, or any portion of a complaint, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain 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) (internal quotations omitted); see also Ray v. City of Chi., 629 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted) (“While the federal pleading standard is quite forgiving . . . the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”). A plaintiff is required to include allegations in the complaint that “plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a ‘speculative level'” and “if they do not, the plaintiff pleads [himself] out of court.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569 n.14 (2007)).

         When a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must liberally construe his pleading. See Anderson v. Hardman, 241 F.3d 544, 545 (7th Cir. 2001). Pro se submissions are held “to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Stewart's Claims Against the FWPD

         Defendants first move to dismiss all of Stewart's claims against the FWPD, asserting that it is not a suable entity. Defendants' arguments are grounded in the law.

         “Municipalities are subject to suit for constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Martin v. Teusch, No. 1:09-CV-321 JVB, 2010 WL 1474525, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Apr. 9, 2010) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). However, “local government liability under § 1983 ‘is dependent on an analysis of state law.'” Sow v. Fortville Police Dep't, 636 F.3d 293, 300 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting McMillian v. Monroe Cty., 520 U.S. 781, 786 (1997)). “Under Indiana law, a ‘[m]unicipal corporation' is a ‘unit, . . . or other separate local governmental entity that may sue and be sued.'” Id. (alterations in original) (quoting Ind. Code § 36-1-2-10). A “unit” means a “county, municipality, or township.” Id. (quoting Ind. Code § 36-1-2-23). A “municipality” is a “city or town.” Id. (quoting Ind. Code § 36-1-2-11).

         Thus, under these Indiana statutes, a municipal police department has no separate legal existence apart from the city with which it is affiliated. See Martin v. Fort Wayne Police Dep't, No. 1:11-CV-346-JFB-RBC, 2014 WL 854093 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 5, 2014); Martin v. Fort Wayne Police Dep't, No. 1:09-CV-48-TLS, 2010 WL 4876728, at * (N.D. Ind. Nov. 23, 2010). That is, the Indiana statutory scheme does not grant municipal police departments the capacity to sue or be sued.” Sow, 636 F.3d at 300 (citation omitted). Accordingly, “a city's police department is not a suable entity apart from the municipality.” Teusch, 2010 WL 1474525, at *2; see also West v. Waymire, 114 F.3d 464, 646-47 (7th Cir. 1997) (articulating that Indiana municipal police departments lack the capacity to be sued); McAllister v. Town of Burns Harbor, 693 F.Supp.2d 815, 822 n.2 (N.D. Ind. 2010) (same); Vela v. Indianapolis Police Dept., No. 1:06-cv-1481-SEB-JMS, 2008 WL 191977, at *4 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 22, 2008) (collecting cases); Culbreath v. Florea, No. 3:06-CV-0749 WL, 2007 WL 433075, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Feb. 5, 2007) (“[U]nder Indiana law, a ‘police department' has no separate corporate existence and is therefore not a suable entity.” (citation omitted)).

         Therefore, because the FWPD is not a suable entity, Stewart's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against the FWPD. Consequently, all of Stewart's claims against the FWPD will be dismissed.

         B. Stewart's Claims Against Officer “T. Strausborger Nicklow”

         Defendants also seek to dismiss all of Stewart's claims against Officer “T. Strausborger Nicklow, ” stating that the City does not, and never has, employed a FWPD officer by the name of “T. Strausborger Nicklow” as alleged in Stewart's complaint. As such, Defendants contend that Stewart's claims against Officer “T. Strausborger Nicklow” fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Defendants explain that they disclosed to Stewart in their initial disclosures in November 2017 that Officer T. Strausborger and Officer George Nicklow are two separate officers who may have been involved in the incident giving rise to Stewart's complaint. (DE 38 at 4). Nevertheless, Stewart has not sought to correct his pleading error. Defendants further emphasize that the deadline for Stewart to amend his pleadings passed several months ago, on December 27, 2017 (DE 24; DE 31), and that Stewart has amended or attempted to amend his complaint at least five times. (DE 1; DE 4; DE 8; DE 12; DE 30; DE 39; DE 54). Defendants further point out that on March 1, 2018, when the ...


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