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Cantero v. State

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

November 14, 2018

ELIAS LUVA CANTERO, JR, Plaintiff
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, CHARLENE BURKETT, DAVE LEONARD, SGT. LEE, LT. E. PICKENS, and OFFICER K. KEARBY, Defendants

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge.

         Elias Luva Cantero, Jr., a former prisoner, brought suit in state court against the State of Indiana, a state ombudsman, and a number of state prison officials alleging constitutional violations, federal statutory claims, and state tort claims. The defendants removed the case to federal court and moved for judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, the court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. Background[1]

         Mr. Luva Cantero, a Mexican national and Spanish speaker with a limited proficiency in English, was imprisoned at the Indiana Department of Corrections' Westville Correctional Facility. He claims he was scheduled to be released from prison in December 2015, but his release was delayed by a year due to a disciplinary proceeding at Westville Correctional Facility. Mr. Luva Cantero alleges he was accused of a disciplinary offense, received no interpreter or documentation of the accusations in Spanish, despite his requests and Department of Corrections' policy. He claims that because the disciplinary hearing was conducted in English, he was effectively denied a hearing. Mr. Luva Cantero says he was found to have committed the disciplinary offense despite being innocent, and as punishment, his prisoner classification level was reduced, he lost one year of earned prison credit time, and he was sentenced to one year of solitary confinement. Mr. Luva Cantero claims he sought relief through the Indiana Department of Administration Ombudsman Bureau, but the Director, Charlene Burkett, allegedly rejected his appeal solely because he didn't submit his complaint in English. Mr. Luva Cantero filed suit, bringing Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims against the individual defendants; Title VI claims against Indiana and the individual defendants; § 1981 claims against the individual defendants; and false imprisonment, criminal confinement, abuse of process, and negligence claims against the individual defendants and Indiana, under a respondeat superior theory of liability.

         II. Standard of Review

         A party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “To survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a complaint must state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Milwaukee Police Ass'n v. Flynn, 863 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Wagner v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 840 F.3d 355, 357-358 (7th Cir. 2016)). The court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell v. City of Chicago, 835 F.3d 736, 738 (7th Cir. 2016). A Rule 12(c) motion can be granted “when it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts to support a claim for relief and the moving party demonstrates that there are no material issues of fact to be resolved.” Moss v. Martin, 473 F.3d 694, 698 (7th Cir. 2007).

         III. Discussion

         The defendants base their motion for judgment on the pleadings on three arguments:[2] (1) judgment on the pleadings on all claims against Indiana is appropriate because the Eleventh Amendment provides the state immunity against this suit in federal court; (2) judgment on the pleadings on all claims against Ms. Burkett is warranted because she isn't alleged to have participated in any constitutional violation and is afforded statutory immunity; and (3) the state tort claims against all defendants fail pursuant to the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

         A. Indiana's Eleventh Amendment Immunity Defense

         Mr. Luva Cantero named Indiana as a defendant for his Title VI claim and alleges it is liable under a respondeat superior theory for the state law torts claims. Indiana argues that it is entitled to judgment on the pleadings on all claims brought against Indiana because the Eleventh Amendment provides immunity from suits against a state in federal court.

         “[T]he Eleventh Amendment guarantees that ‘an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.' ” Bd. Of Regents of Univ. Of Wisconsin Sys. v. Phoenix Int'l Software, Inc., 653 F.3d 448, 457 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-663 (1974)). Eleventh Amendment immunity isn't absolute; Congress can abrogate immunity in certain circumstances and “a state may voluntarily waive its sovereign immunity by consenting to federal jurisdiction explicitly or by invoking that jurisdiction through its behavior.” Id. at 457-458. While the parties don't address waiver, it is dispositive.

         Mr. Luva Cantero filed this case in LaPorte Superior Court. The defendants, including Indiana, voluntarily removed the case to federal court. “[A] state cannot use the Eleventh Amendment as a get-out-of-court-free card when it voluntarily submits to a federal tribunal for a judicial determination of its rights.” Id. at 459 (citing Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 535 U.S. 613, 619 (2002)). Indiana waived its right to invoke Eleventh Amendment immunity when it voluntarily consented to federal court jurisdiction by joining in the removal of this case to federal court. Id. at 461. See also Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 535 U.S. at 624.[3]

         B. Claims against Ombudsman Burkett

         The defendants argue that Ms. Burkett is entitled to judgment on the pleadings because Indiana state law provides her with immunity for her good faith performance of her official duties. See Ind. Code § 4-13-1.2-9 (“[t]he ombudsman is not civilly liable for the good faith performance of official duties”). The defendants assert that the complaint doesn't allege that Ms. Burkett acted in bad faith because, according to the defendants, it only alleges that she chose not to investigate Mr. Luva Cantero's complaint. The defendants note that Ind. ...


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