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Ledford v. Rutledge

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

September 4, 2018

CARL LEE LEDFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
DUSTIN RUTLEDGE, et al, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, JUDGE

         Carl Lee Ledford, a pro se litigant, submitted a Complaint [ECF No. 1] against Defendants Dustin Rutledge, Rogelio Escutia, Andrew D. Hahn, Bradley Balasa, A. Shefferly, R. Nystuen, Shane LaMartz, E.M., and the Sheriff of Knox County, and also filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 2] on October 18, 2017, which the Court granted [ECF No. 3] on October 25, 2017. Subsequently, the Court considered three Motions to Dismiss [ECF Nos. 34, 36, 41] filed by some, but not all, of the Defendants. On March 28, 2018, the Court dismissed [ECF No. 60] most of the Plaintiff's claims without prejudice and with leave to amend his Complaint. Defendant E.M. filed an Answer [ECF No. 61] to the Plaintiff's original Complaint on April 9, 2018, and Defendant LaMartz filed an Answer [ECF No. 68] on May 9, 2018, to the Plaintiff's original Complaint.

         The Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 70] on June 27, 2018, restating his claims and adding numerous Defendants based on their employment relationships with the named individual Defendants. Along with his Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff manually filed a USB drive containing videos in support of his claims; however, the Plaintiff did not serve a copy of these videos on any of the Defendants. Defendants E.M.; Nystuen; Shefferly; Hahn; Escutia; Lamartz; Rutledge; the counties of Largo, [1] Marion, LaPorte, Elkhart, Allen, and Starke; Indiana State, Wabash, and Michigan City Police Departments; and LaPorte County Sheriff's Department filed Notices [ECF Nos. 72, 74, 76] that they had not been served with any copies of the videos. On July 9, 2018, the Magistrate Judge ordered [ECF No. 86] the Plaintiff to, among other things, file an Amended Certificate of Service indicating service of the entire Amended Complaint, including the videos contained on the USB drive, to the originally named Defendants. The Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion to Serve Attachments using CM/ECF [ECF No. 87], requesting that the Court make copies of the videos contained on the USB and serve them on the Defendants via the Court's CM/ECF system as he is indigent and cannot afford to make the copies himself. The Court took this Motion under advisement [ECF No. 95] until it had performed further screening of the Plaintiff's Complaint as well as addressed the Motions to Dismiss[2] [ECF Nos. 90, 92] filed subsequent to the Plaintiff's Motion to Serve.

         The Court will now consider (1) the pending Motions to Dismiss; (2) whether the Plaintiff has corrected the deficiencies identified by the Court in its March 28, 2018, Opinion and Order; and (3) whether the Plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted against the added Defendants.

         THE PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         In his Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. More specifically, he claims violations of his:

Human Right to Free Travel, and the Plaintiff's U.S. right to be free from harassment, and racially-based profiling, deliberate-intimidation, premeditated-stalking, illegal use of excessive force, assault, sexual assault, false-ticketing, citing, false arrest and extortion, and violation of the Plaintiff's U.S. Constitutionally Protected Rights to Due Process, and Plaintiff's U.S. Rights to Adequate Counsel, and to include Abuse of Process violations, and Malicious Prosecution, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

(Amend. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 70.) He also asserts that the Defendants acted in a concerted manner and conspired to violate his rights. He alleges that he has been unjustly detained on numerous occasions as a result of racial profiling. According to the Plaintiff, these detentions have ultimately resulted in over $15, 000.00 in fines, costs, and fees, and he suffers severe emotional stress from the harassment. (Id. at ¶ 3.)

         As a basis for his allegations, the Plaintiff details multiple traffic stops:

         (1) August 1, 2016, by Defendants Shefferly and Nystuen, which resulted in the Plaintiff's arrest, although the case was ultimately dismissed. Defendants Shefferly and Nystuen are employed by the City of Fort Wayne, located within Allen County;

         (2) September 14, 2016, by Defendant Balasa, which resulted in a warning. Defendant Balasa is employed by the City of Nappanee, located within Elkhart County;

         (3) October 16, 2016, by Defendant Hahn, which resulted in a warning. Defendant Hahn is employed by LaPorte County;

         (4) November 8, 2016, by Defendant Escutia, which resulted in a warning. Defendant Escutia is employed by the State of Indiana and performed the relevant traffic stop in Michigan City, located within LaPorte County;

         (5) December 14, 2016, by Defendant LaMartz, which resulted in a citation that was ultimately dismissed. Defendant LaMartz is employed by the State of Indiana and performed the relevant traffic stop in Indianapolis, located in Marion County;

         (6) December 29, 2016, by Defendant Rutledge, which resulted in a finding of guilty after a bench trial in state court. Defendant Rutledge is employed by the State of Indiana and performed the relevant traffic stop in the Township of Lagro, located within Wabash County; and

         (7) May 16, 2016, by Defendant E.M., which resulted in a warning. Defendant E.M. is employed by the City of Fort Wayne, located within Allen County.

         The Plaintiff requests $500, 000 in damages as well as injunctive relief.

         Defendants Shefferly, Nystuen, E.M., City of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Police Department, Chief of Fort Wayne Police Department (“Fort Wayne Defendants”), and Defendant Balasa filed Motions to Dismiss [ECF Nos. 90, 92]. Defendant Balasa argues that the Plaintiff fails to state any claim against him and that he should be dismissed from this action. The Fort Wayne Defendants concede that the Plaintiff has stated a claim under the Fourth Amendment against Defendants Shefferly, Nystuen, E.M., and the City of Fort Wayne, but they argue that the Plaintiff fails to state any other claims against these Defendants. The Fort Wayne Defendants also argue that the Fort Wayne Police Department and its Chief are not suable entities and should be dismissed from this action.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To state a claim under the federal notice pleading standards, a complaint must set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Factual allegations are accepted as true and need only give “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” EEOC v. Concentra Health Serv., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776-77 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). However, a plaintiff's allegations must show that his entitlement to relief is plausible, rather than merely speculative. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008). Although pro se complaints are to be liberally construed and are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers, Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013), the factual allegations in the complaint must nevertheless be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Factual allegations are accepted as true at the pleading stage, but “allegations in the form of legal conclusions are insufficient . . . .” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         A. Deficiencies in Original Complaint

         The claims that the Court addressed in its March 28, 2018, Opinion and Order were for liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on violation of the Plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendment rights, as well as malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy brought against the named Defendants (Balasa, Hahn, Escutia, E.M., LaMartz, Rutledge, and the Sheriff).[3] The Court first disposed of the Plaintiff's Ninth Amendment claims, noting that the Ninth Amendment does not protect any specific right. The Court also found that the Plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts to plausibly suggest that any of the Defendants were liable for violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or conspiracy. However, the Court found that the Plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded facts to support his claim for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights as against Defendants E.M. and LaMartz. The Court dismissed the claims for which the Plaintiff had not pleaded sufficient facts, without prejudice.

         1. Fourth Amendment

         The Fourth Amendment protects only against actions by federal actors, and the Plaintiff has brought claims only against state actors; however, the protections of the Fourth Amendment have been made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. See Zoretic v. Darge, 832 F.3d 639, 643 (7th Cir. 2016). To state a claim under § 1983, the Plaintiff must allege that “the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law and this conduct deprived [him] of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Townsend v. Vallas, 256 F.3d 661, 669 (7th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted). Under the Fourth Amendment, the Plaintiff must allege that he was subjected to a search or seizure without probable cause. The Court determined in its previous Opinion and Order that the Plaintiff had stated a claim for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights as against Defendants LaMartz and E.M. and will not revisit these claims here.

         a. Defendant Rutledge

         According to the Plaintiff, Defendant Rutledge detained the Plaintiff for speeding around midnight while the Plaintiff was driving a black car with chrome wheels. The Plaintiff told Rutledge that he had been scared because it was late and dark and Rutledge was following him abnormally closely with abnormally bright lights. Rutledge issued the Plaintiff a citation, and the Plaintiff appeared at a bench trial in the Wabash Superior Court to contest this citation. The Plaintiff argues that Rutledge trailed and harassed him and that Rutledge gave false testimony at trial, resulting in a finding of guilty, despite the state court judge's compliment regarding the quality of the Plaintiff's pro se defense. The Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed his conviction.

         Defendant Rutledge argued in his Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's original Complaint that the Plaintiff's claims were barred under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Court disagreed, finding that the Plaintiff's claim did not directly attack the state court's judgment; however the Court found that the Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim was barred by the related doctrine of collateral estoppel. In his Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges more facts regarding the traffic stop by Rutledge and subsequent proceedings, but this time he also directly attacks the state-court judgment, alleging that he was innocent of the charge against him. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents district courts from adjudicating “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). To the extent that the Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim attacks the state court judgment, it is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. To the extent that the Plaintiff's claim attacks the constitutionality of the traffic stop, it is barred by collateral estoppel. Therefore, the Plaintiff has failed to correct the deficiencies in his Complaint as to his Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Rutledge.

         b. Defendants Escutia, Hahn, and Balasa

         In its previous Opinion and Order, the Court dismissed all claims against Defendant Escutia because the only reference to Defendant Escutia in the Plaintiff's original Complaint was a notation in the margin, referencing a citation number and a date along with the comment “warning & searched.” (Compl. 2-3.) In his Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff asserts that on November 8, 2016, Defendant Escutia detained him and accused him of having fictitious plates on his vehicle and of not wearing a seatbelt. Ultimately, he issued the Plaintiff only a warning. The Plaintiff asserts that he had not committed any traffic violations at the time of the traffic stop.

         The Court dismissed all claims against Defendants Hahn and Balasa for the same reason it dismissed all claims against Defendant Escutia. In his Amended Complaint, the Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Hahn detained the Plaintiff on October 16, 2016, for speeding, ultimately issuing only a warning citation to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Balasa detained the Plaintiff on September 14, 2016, and issued a warning for speeding. The Plaintiff asserts that he had not committed any traffic violations at the time of either of the traffic stops.

         Although sparse, the Court finds that the Plaintiff has alleged enough facts to meet the pleading standard on his Fourth Amendment claim against Defendants Escutia, Hahn, and Balasa.

         c. Defendants Shefferly and Nystuen

         The Court did not review the Fourth Amendment claims against Defendants Shefferly and Nystuen in its March 28, 2018, Opinion and Order because neither Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss or joined in another Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. For the sake of completeness, the Court briefly discusses the Plaintiff's claims against these two Defendants. The Plaintiff alleges that on August 1, 2016, Defendant Shefferly, accompanied by Defendant Nystuen, detained the Plaintiff for failing to wear his seatbelt, although the Plaintiff asserts that he was, in fact, wearing his seatbelt and had not committed any other traffic violations. The Plaintiff also asserts that he was unlawfully ...


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