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Tutlewski v. Palleson

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

December 19, 2018




         Plaintiffs William and Sharon Tutlewski (“plaintiffs”) bring multiple claims against Officers Erik Palleson and Larry Powell of the Chesterton Police Department (“defendants”). (DE # 1 at 1-3.) The matter is now before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss. (DE # 7.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 21, 2016, plaintiffs were driving northbound on South Calumet Road when they were pulled over by Officer Palleson for alleged moving violations. (DE # 1 at 3.) Officer Powell was a back-up officer for this traffic stop. (Id.) According to plaintiffs, defendants “used unreasonable, unnecessary, and excessive force in [their] interactions with [defendants].” (Id.) Plaintiffs also state that a third officer was present at the location of the traffic stop, although this officer did nothing to prevent the alleged “violence.” (Id. at 4.) As a result of the confrontation, William Tutlewski claims he suffered injuries including a rotator cuff tear. (Id.) Sharon Tutlewski claims she suffered injuries including “orthopedic injuries.” (Id.)

         Based on this incident, plaintiffs filed a complaint in this court on May 17, 2018. (DE # 1.) The complaint contains four claims (two against each defendant) for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 4-9.)

         On July 9, 2018, defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (DE # 7.) Plaintiffs responded to the motion (DE # 10), and defendants filed a reply brief (DE # 13). The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for ruling.


         Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A judge reviewing a complaint under a Rule 12(b)(6) standard must construe it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in the non-movant's favor. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007); Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 595 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). Under the liberal notice-pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To satisfy Rule 8(a), “the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         “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.” Ray v. City of Chicago, 629 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 2011); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. A plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). To meet this standard, a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond providing “labels and conclusions” and “be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994) among other authorities).


         A. Motion to Dismiss

          Defendants move to dismiss all claims in the complaint on the grounds that plaintiffs have not properly stated a claim for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. (DE # 8 at 3.) The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right “to be secure in their person . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures.” An officer's use of force may or may not violate the Fourth Amendment. “[T]he question is whether the officer[‘s] actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989); see also Fitzgerald v. Santoro, 707 F.3d 725 (7th Cir. 2013) (“The appropriate question in such a case is whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable in light of the totality of the circumstances.”).

         In the case at hand, defendants argue that the complaint lacks sufficient facts pertaining to the alleged instances of excessive force. Beyond the general allegations that this incident occurred at a traffic stop and that plaintiffs were injured, the complaint does not contain any contextual facts or circumstances which would allow the court to begin to assess the officers' objective reasonableness. (See DE # 1.) Specifically, plaintiffs do not describe the actual actions taken by each officer with respect to each plaintiff. Did the officers grab plaintiffs? Push plaintiffs? Did they use a weapon of any kind? Plaintiffs have provided no allegations to answer these questions, and there are no allegations whatsoever regarding the type or degree of force involved.

         Instead, each of plaintiffs' four claims contains only a set of boilerplate allegations. (See DE # 1 at 4-10.) Moreover, all four claims are identical aside from the names of the parties. (Id.) ...

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