Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Stewart v. City of Muncie

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

December 4, 2018

STEPHEN D STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MUNCIE, and DENNIS TYLER, Mayor, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants City of Muncie's (“Muncie”) and Dennis Tyler's (“Mayor Tyler”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) (Filing No. 13). After resigning his position as Chief of Police for the city of Muncie, Indiana, Plaintiff Stephen D. Stewart (“Stewart”) filed this action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims that the City of Muncie and its mayor violated his right to due process, breached the collective bargaining agreement between Muncie and the police union, violated Indiana's Wage Payment Statute, and constructively discharged him. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as unpaid wages. Defendants filed a Motion, asserting among other things that Stewart failed to plead certain elements of his § 1983 claim and that the breach of contract claims should be resolved in an arbitration proceeding. For reasons explained below, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required when reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of Stewart as the non-moving party. See Emergency Servs. Billing Corp. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 668 F.3d 459, 464 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Stewart began working for the Muncie Police Department in 1985. (Filing No. 1 at 2.) He held numerous positions in the Police Department, and in 2012 Mayor Tyler appointed him Chief of Police. Id. The highest rank he had held prior to being appointed Chief was Sergeant. Id. In addition to becoming Chief of Police, in 2013 Stewart began serving as the Chairman of the local Democrat Central Committee at the request of Mayor Tyler and others. Id.

         In late 2015 or early 2016, Defendants learned that a long-time Muncie city employee might be cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) in its investigation of corruption within the City of Muncie. Id. at 3-4. Shortly after the employee was terminated in February or early March 2016, Mayor Tyler told Stewart that he thought the employee had committed crimes. Id. at 4. He did not identify any specific crimes. Id.

         Stewart told Mayor Tyler that if he had any evidence of the employee committing crimes, Mayor Tyler needed to bring it to him. Id. Mayor Tyler then told Stewart over the telephone that the former employee's computer contained evidence of criminal activity. Id. Stewart instructed the Deputy Chief of Police to impound the computer and place it in the property room. Id. Shortly thereafter, Sarah Beach (“Beach”), a member of Mayor Tyler's staff, came to Stewart's office with a large stack of emails obtained from the former employee's computer. Id. Beach told Stewart the emails contained evidence of possible crimes but did not identify what crimes specifically. Id. Stewart told Beach he would look into the emails. Id.

         Stewart was concerned regarding the ethics of Mayor Tyler's request to investigate the former employee based on unsubstantiated accusations. After speaking with another law enforcement official, Stewart decided it would be unethical and inappropriate to investigate the former employee merely because that employee may be a cooperating witness in an FBI investigation. Id. at 5. Stewart received a telephone call from an FBI agent requesting the emails the Mayor's office had given him. Id. He turned over those emails to the FBI and informed the agent that the former employee's computer had been secured and placed in the police department's property room. Id. Stewart then notified Mayor Tyler that he had turned over the emails to the FBI. Id.

         Mayor Tyler immediately asked when the FBI was going to retrieve the computer from the evidence room. Id. Additionally, Stewart learned that a Muncie police officer had been instructed to make an exact copy of the computer's hard drive so that the city of Muncie and its employees would still have access to the information on it after the FBI confiscated it. Id.

         In the late spring or early summer of 2016, Mayor Tyler requested that Stewart attend a meeting with him and two other police officers. Id. During that meeting, Mayor Tyler explained to Stewart that he thought it necessary that the police department investigate the former employee because the employee was cooperating with the FBI and the FBI would not disclose anything about the investigation to the city of Muncie. Id. at 6. Mayor Tyler requested Stewart carry out the investigation. Id. Stewart was again uncomfortable due to the ethical implications of the Mayor's request. Stewart arranged a meeting with the FBI agent who had come to collect the former employee's emails. At that meeting, which occurred approximately a week after his meeting with Mayor Tyler, Stewart asked the FBI agent if the FBI would like any assistance at all, to which the FBI agent replied, “Thanks for the offer, but no thanks.” Id.

         Throughout the summer of 2016, Mayor Tyler continued to pressure Stewart to investigate the former employee. Id. Stewart understood from this pressure that refusal was grounds for his termination or removal as Chief of Police. Id. Each time the subject came up, Stewart informed Mayor Tyler that he was not going to investigate the former employee because any investigation would interfere with the ongoing FBI investigation. Id. Mayor Tyler also asked Stewart to conduct investigations of other employees with the sole purpose of getting to the former employee without directly investigating the former employee. Id. at 6-7.

         In early September 2016, Stewart met with the Mayor and another man named Phil Nichols (“Nichols”)-whose occupation the complaint does not disclose-at the Democrat Central Committee headquarters. Id. at 7. At that meeting, Nichols yelled and screamed at Stewart, telling him that Stewart would conduct the investigation of the former employee as requested. Id. Later that day, Stewart attended another meeting at which Nichols, attorneys, and two other Muncie police officers were present. Id. Nichols asked Stewart if he was going to conduct the requested investigation or not. Id. Stewart reiterated that he would not conduct the investigation and the reasons for his refusal. Id. Nichols told him there would be another meeting in the morning and Stewart would not like the outcome of that meeting. Id.

         On September 2, 2016, Stewart resigned as Chairman of the local Democrat Central Committee. Id. Following his resignation from that position, Mayor Tyler requested another meeting with him, during which he again asked Stewart to investigate the former city employee. Id. In mid-September, Stewart and the local prosecutor met with Mayor Tyler and explained to him why the police department would not investigate the former employee. Id. at 8. Over the next seven weeks, Mayor Tyler continued to periodically request that Stewart conduct an investigation, and Stewart refused each time. Id.

         On October 30, 2016, Stewart discovered that Mayor Tyler had asked someone to make false allegations against him. Id. Stewart resigned as Chief of Police the following day, at which point he returned to his status of merit officer with the rank of Sergeant. Id. Upon receiving Stewart's letter of resignation, Mayor Tyler called Stewart to a meeting in his office. Id. At the meeting, which Stewart's personal attorney attended, Stewart broached the issue of Mayor Tyler asking an individual to make false allegations about him. Id. Mayor Tyler told Stewart he did not like the proposed letter of resignation and that Stewart would “pay for this.” Id. at 9. Stewart submitted his letter of retirement from the Muncie Police Department on November 1, 2016. Id.

         Shortly after his resignation, the Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Police completed Stewart's final Personnel Information Form. Id. According to the Administrative Assistant's records, under the collective bargaining agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police (“FOP”) and Muncie, Stewart was to be paid out for a total of five hundred and twenty (520) days as follows: forty-five (45) severance days, two hundred and thirty (230) sick days, and two hundred and forty-five (245) vacation days. Id. Stewart's benefits would have started on Nov. 1, 2016 and ended on Oct. 26, 2018, according to the Administrative Assistant. Id. On November 22, 2016, Stewart submitted an Application for Participation in the State of Indiana's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (“DROP”). Id.

         After the Administrative Assistant completed his Personnel Information Form and he made his DROP elections, Stewart was informed that Beach would recalculate his benefits. Id. at 10. Beach determined that Stewart should be paid for a total of two hundred and seventeen (217) days: thirty (30) severance days, one hundred and seventy-two (172) sick days, and fifteen (15) vacation days. Id. This would result in his benefits ending on August 30, 2017, rather than October 26, 2018. The recalculation resulted in a financial loss to Stewart of over $65, 802.51 for 303 days of paid time he was denied, $65, 000.00 for the longer DROP period he was denied, and $34, 000.00 for the DROP program he would be ineligible for. Id. Stewart challenged this recalculation, but his grievances were denied. Id. at 11.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment after the parties have filed a complaint and an answer. Rule 12(c) motions are analyzed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp., 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007); Frey v. Bank One, 91 F.3d 45, 46 (7th Cir. 1996). The complaint must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, mere “labels, ” “conclusions, ” or “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Id. Stated differently, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court will grant a Rule 12(c) motion only if “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief.” N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S. Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Craigs, Inc. v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 12 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir. 1993)). The factual allegations in the complaint are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party; however, the court is “not obliged to ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff's claim or to assign any weight to unsupported conclusions of law.” Id. (quoting R.J.R. Serv., Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir. 1989)). “As the title of the rule implies, Rule 12(c) permits a judgment based on the pleadings alone. . . . The pleadings include the complaint, the answer, and any written instruments attached as exhibits.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Stewart brings six claims against Defendants: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state law claims for (2) breach of contract, (3) breach of contract - third party beneficiary, (4) promissory estoppel, (5) violation of Indiana's Wage Payment Statute, Ind. Code § 22-2-5-1, and (6) constructive discharge. (Filing No. 1.)

         A. Count 1 - Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Violation

         Stewart alleges Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by disseminating false and defamatory statements about him after he resigned from the police force.

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that he had a cognizable liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) that he was deprived of that liberty interest; and (3) that the deprivation was without due process. Mann v. Vogel, 707 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2013). In analyzing due process claims, the court's inquiry involves two steps: “[T]he first asks whether there exists a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the State; the second examines whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient.” Dupuy v. Samuels, 397 F.3d 493, 503 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Citing to paragraph 63 and paragraphs 86-88 of his Complaint, Stewart identifies a liberty interest the Defendants have interfered with: they made false public claims to the media that Stewart committed crimes of dishonesty and moral turpitude that will damage his standing and associations in the community and impose a stigma that interferes with his ability to obtain other employment in the field of law enforcement. (Filing No. 20 at 3.) Stewart alleges he was denied procedural due process because Defendants did not ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.