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Fier v. Town of North Judson

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

March 8, 2019

DONNA FIER, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF NORTH JUDSON, INDIANA, and NORTH JUDSON POLICE OFFICER RICO SIMPSON, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Plaintiff Donna Fier initiated this action in state court in May 2018. [DE 3] Defendants removed the matter to this Court about one month later [DE 1], and then filed a motion to dismiss Fier's lawsuit. [DE 4] Fier filed an amended complaint in August 2018, which is now the operative pleading. [DE 9][1] Shortly thereafter, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [DE 11] For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion to dismiss.[2]

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Fier's complaint contains few factual allegations. On or about July 22, 2016, she alleges that Officer Simpson wrongfully arrested her for violating a protective order. According to Fier, she was not subject to any protective order at the time of her arrest. She maintains that, during her arrest and transportation, Officer Simpson “handcuffed and restrained” her “by the use of excessive force.” [DE 9 ¶ 10] She further alleges that the police department, as a department of the Town of North Judson, failed to train and supervise its personnel in the applicable provisions of state law and the proper use of arrest powers. Instead, the Town tolerated and ratified the abuse of those powers by failing to properly discipline its officers, failing to take adequate precautions in hiring and retaining police personnel, and failing to maintain an appropriate system for handling public complaints about police misconduct. Lastly, Fier alleges that the Town negligently hired, supervised, and retained Simpson, knowing that he was not properly trained or otherwise fit for service.

         STANDARD

         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).

         DISCUSSION

         Fier's amended complaint articulates four cognizable causes of action: federal claims for (1) false arrest and (2) excessive force against Simpson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) a § 1983 claim against the Town for failure to train and supervise its police officers, including Simpson; and (4) an Indiana state law claim of negligent hiring against the Town. Regarding the false arrest claim, Defendants insist that Simpson should enjoy qualified immunity because he had probable cause to arrest Fier. They also attack all of Fier's remaining claims for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. While the Court cannot accept Defendants' qualified immunity argument at this early stage, it will still dismiss Fier's allegations of excessive force, failure to train, and negligent hiring because her amended complaint does not sufficiently allege plausible grounds for relief as to those claims.

         1. False Arrest - Probable Cause and Qualified Immunity

         The parties spend substantial effort contesting whether Simpson had probable cause to arrest Fier in July 2016, and if so, whether that entitles him to qualified immunity from Fier's false arrest allegations. Defendants' argument, however, relies entirely upon a police report detailing Fier's arrest, authored by Simpson. [DE 12-2] The police report-a narrative- indicates that Simpson met with Fier in response to reports that she had been battered by her boyfriend. According to the report, Fier told Simpson that she contacted her ex-husband to tell him about the incident. Simpson then asked dispatch to check whether any outstanding protective orders prohibited Fier from contacting her ex-husband, based on his independent knowledge of a recent order pertaining to the two. Dispatch responded that Fier was indeed subject to such an order, but this information turned out to be inaccurate and the mistake was not realized until after Fier's arrest. At the time of the arrest, Simpson only knew what dispatch told him. Thus, Defendants maintain Simpson had probable cause to arrest Fier based on his knowledge, albeit mistaken, that Fier had violated an active restraining order. See Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979) (A police officer has probable cause for an arrest if, at the time of the arrest, the “facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge … are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.”); Gonzalez v. City of Elgin, 578 F.3d 526, 537 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Fier's complaint makes no mention of and does not include or attach this police report, however. “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) can be based only on the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice.” Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012). It follows that documents attached by a defendant to a motion to dismiss can only be considered if they fall into one of these categories. Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993). But the police report here does not so qualify. Although Fier's arrest is obviously central to her false arrest claim against Simpson, the police report itself is not. In other words, “[p]laintiff may cry false arrest even if the arrest report does not exist.” Michon v. Ugarte, Case No. 16 C 6104, 2017 WL 622236, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 15, 2017); see also Dempsey v. Nathan, 2014 WL 4914466, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2014) (declining to consider police report as part of the pleadings where plaintiff's complaint for false arrest and other claims made no reference to the report itself); cf. Wright v. Associated Ins. Co., 29 F.3d 1244, 1248 (7th Cir. 1994) (finding an employment agreement central to plaintiff's claims because the agreement ‘grant[ed] him a property interest in his employment, ” without which he could not sue). Therefore, the Court will not consider the police report as a document central to the complaint.

         The Court similarly declines Defendants' request that it take judicial notice of the police report. [DE 12 at 5, n.3] Courts in this Circuit have held that “a police report is not a proper subject for judicial notice.” Michon, 2017 WL 622236, at *3 (collecting cases for this proposition and noting that the vast majority of courts likewise do not consider police reports appropriate for judicial notice). As observed by Michon, Rule 201(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence only allows a Court to take judicial notice of a fact that “can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned, ” but police reports are not sources of indisputable accuracy. 2017 WL 622236, at *3 (citations omitted).

         Without Simpson's police report, Defendants cannot argue that he had probable cause to arrest Fier and should enjoy qualified immunity as a consequence.[3] Furthermore, Defendants do not challenge whether Fier's amended complaint contains sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for false arrest. Therefore, Fier's false arrest claim will move on.[4]

         2. ...


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