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Taylor v. City of Michigan City

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

December 11, 2018

LARRY TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF MICHIGAN CITY, et al., Defendants.



         Police officers arrested Plaintiff Larry Taylor in May 2016 after misidentifying him as a drug dealer whom they had been investigating. Taylor spent over two weeks in jail until the officers realized their mistake. He then filed this action in state court against The City of Michigan City, the Michigan City Police Department, Sergeant Ken Drake, and Detective Michael Oberle, alleging various claims arising from this incident. Defendants removed the case to this Court, and have filed for summary judgment. [DE 26] For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


         On summary judgment, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that there “is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A “material” fact is one identified by the substantive law as affecting the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A “genuine issue” exists with respect to any material fact when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Where a factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial, and summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Servs. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, this Court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688, 697 (7th Cir. 2008); King v. Preferred Tech. Grp., 166 F.3d 887, 890 (7th Cir. 1999).


         On March 28, 2016, police officers staged a drug buy using a confidential informant as the buyer. The informant met an unknown suspect at a gas station and purchased cocaine from him. The officers videotaped the buy and showed a short portion of the buy and a still shot of the suspect's face to their commanding officer, Drake. Drake identified the suspect as Taylor, having previously encountered Taylor while working as a police officer. Oberle, the lead investigator on the case, then performed a criminal history check and an inquiry with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (“BMV”) to confirm Drake's identification. Oberle included these steps in his incident report, as well as the confidential informant's description of the suspect.

         Several weeks later, on or about May 9, 2016, a probable cause affidavit for Taylor's arrest was filed in open court, and officers arrested him as part of a larger operation within a few days.[1] Taylor then remained in custody at the LaPorte County (Indiana) Jail for approximately eighteen days. During Taylor's detention, Drake and Oberle received information that led them to discover that they had misidentified Taylor as the suspect, and the prosecutor dismissed the state's case against Taylor on May 31, 2016, citing mistaken identity.


         While not strictly delineated in his complaint, Taylor's lawsuit includes the following claims: (1) Indiana state law claims for both false arrest and false imprisonment against all Defendants; (2) a federal claim for false arrest pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Drake and Oberle;[2] (3) a § 1983 claim against the City and the Department[3]; (4) general negligence and negligent failure to train and supervise; and (5) defamation. The parties' briefs make no reference to Taylor's negligence-based claims and so the Court will not address them here. The Court will, however, dismiss Taylor's defamation claim pursuant to his concession that the record does not permit him to pursue this cause of action. [DE 30 at 20] Before proceeding, the Court also notes that Taylor's false arrest and false imprisonment claims are governed by his Fourth Amendment rights, as opposed to those rights enumerated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which Taylor refers to in his complaint. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994) (holding that false arrest and false imprisonment claims fall under a plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights; such claims do not implicate a violation of due process).

         1. False Arrest and False Imprisonment

          Taylor's state claims for false arrest and false imprisonment and his federal false arrest claim all hinge on whether the officers had probable cause to arrest him. For the reasons discussed below, the Court cannot conclude that they did, and for similar reasons, Oberle will not be held immune from Taylor's federal claim by way of qualified immunity. Drake, on the other hand, cannot be held liable under Taylor's § 1983 claim for false arrest, as he was not faced with the same circumstances and knowledge as was Oberle.

         a. No. Probable Cause to Support Arrest

         Taylor's state claims for false arrest and imprisonment arise under Indiana common law, and his federal claims against Drake and Oberle arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a cause of action against any person who, while acting under color of state law, deprives an individual “of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Fleming v. Livingston Cnty., Ill., 674 F.3d 874, 878 (7th Cir. 2012). No. one contests whether Drake and Oberle acted under color of state law, rather the contested issue is whether the officers deprived Taylor of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable seizures.

         An arrest and subsequent imprisonment (both, forms of seizure) are reasonable if based on probable cause that the individual has committed an offense. So to succeed on these claims under either Indiana or federal law, Taylor must show a question of fact with respect to whether the officers had probable cause for his arrest. See Bentz v. City of Kendallville, 577 F.3d 776, 780 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[A] plaintiff may establish both a § 1983 claim and an Indiana false imprisonment claim where his freedom of movement was limited or restrained in some way without probable cause.”); Williams v. Rodriguez, 509 F.3d 392, 398 (7th Cir. 2007) (“In order for [plaintiff] to prevail on his § 1983 false arrest claim, he must show that probable cause for his arrest was lacking.”); McConnell v. McKillip, 573 ...

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