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Collins v. Goff

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

January 9, 2019




         Pro se plaintiff Robert A. Collins filed a complaint against thirteen defendants, including three state court judges, one state court prosecutor, two private attorneys, three private landowners, the president of Vandermark, Inc. (a building company), and Wabash, Indiana's mayor, building commissioner, and police department, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As best the Court can discern from the allegations of the complaint, Collins contends that the defendants conspired to deprive him of various state rights during a civil case (85C01-1404-PL-265 Vandermark, Inc. v. Jane Ann Miller & Robert Collins) and criminal case (85D01-1606-CM-622 Robert Collins v. State of Indiana). Collins may also be contending that a conspiracy took place among the defendants leading up to the filing of the two state cases; however, such allegations are even less clear. Collins seeks to have the state cases removed to this Court [DE 4]. Because those state cases have been resolved, the Court DENIES AS MOOT the requested removal [DE 4].

         Collins' pro se filings have resulted in a flurry of motions by defendants. These include motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failing to state a claim [DEs 20, 24, 35, 38, 45], as well as a motion for a more definite statement premised on the complaint's alleged failure to intelligibly identify the basis for jurisdiction and sufficiently apprise the defendants of their purported wrongdoing [DE 28]. For the reasons explained below, the Court agrees that the complaint suffers from jurisdictional and factual deficiencies and will allow this pro se plaintiff leave to amend his complaint pursuant to the guidance provided herein.


         Liberally construing Collins' complaint in his favor and relying on the pleadings/judgments from the state cases explicitly incorporated into Collins' complaint, it appears that back in 2014, Vandermark, Inc. filed a breach of contract action against Jane Miller and Robert Collins. Vandermark was represented by its President, Attorney Joseph Eddingfield, and the case was initially assigned to Judge McCallen, but then reassigned to Judge Antrim. Vandermark alleged that Jane Miller entered into a contract for household improvements to a home jointly occupied by Miller and Collins. The work was completed but final payment was not rendered. On May 18, 2018, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Collins from the action and on June 15, 2018, judgment was rendered against Miller for the amounts owed under the contract.

         While that civil lawsuit was pending against Collins, a neighborly spat over property rights occurred on or about May 24, 2016, between Collins and Clayton and Penny Biddle. The Wabash Police Department responded to the incident and criminal charges were filed by Prosecutor Bryan Michaud against Collins for criminal mischief. Judge Goff was assigned to the criminal case. Collins seemingly alleges that the Biddles and nearby landowners Jordan Tandy and Jeffrey Dean falsified allegations against Collins to deprive him of access to his property and have him face the threat of imprisonment (as the docket reflects that Collins remained at liberty on his own recognizance). Ultimately, the prosecution voluntarily dismissed the charges on July 3, 2017.

         Although the state cases have been resolved, it appears that Collins' complaint contends that Wabash's mayor, Scott Long, and building commissioner, John Stephens, could have amicably resolved the disputes involving Collins' property; but instead, conspired with the other defendants to deprive him of his property through means of intimidation, harassment, and excessive force.

         Collins feels that he was treated unfairly and denied certain rights during the course of litigating the two state lawsuits because he was born in Kentucky, chose to proceed pro se, and is not a member of any attorney bar association. Collins' jurisdictional statement further asserts that this Court has jurisdiction to decide his claims which arose from his state civil and criminal proceedings, though he explicitly lists only state rights as being violated by the defendants.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) authorizes dismissal of claims over which the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. In analyzing a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Long v. Shorebank Dev. Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th Cir. 1999). Further, “[t]he district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Id. (citations omitted). The burden of establishing proper federal subject matter jurisdiction rests on the party asserting it. Muscarello v. Ogle Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 610 F.3d 416, 425 (7th Cir. 2010).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That statement must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, a plaintiff's claim need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether a plaintiff's claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Although pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, the factual allegations “must nevertheless be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Ledford v. Rutledge, No. 1:17-CV-438-TLS, 2018 WL 4216820, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 4, 2018) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). 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).


         A. Section 1983 Liability

         Establishing section 1983 liability requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or federal law at the hand of someone acting with authority under state law. Hanania v. Loren-Maltese, 212 F.3d 353, 356 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Fries v. Helsper, 146 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 930 (1998)). A private individual has acted under color of law if there was a concerted effort between the individual and a state actor. Id. Establishing section 1983 liability through a conspiracy theory requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that (1) the private individual and a state official reached an understanding to deprive the plaintiff of his constitutional rights (that is, the state actor must share the private actor's unconstitutional goal) and (2) the private individual was a willful participant in joint activity with the state or its agents. Id.; see also Wilson v. Warren County, Illinois, 830 F.3d 464, 468 (7th Cir. 2016). The facts of a complaint must suggest a “meeting of the minds” between the alleged conspirators. Wilson, 830 F.3d at 468. As for public defendants, a plaintiff must show that the ...

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