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Higdon v. City of Geneva

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

March 28, 2019




         The Plaintiff, Calvin Dewayne Higdon, sued the City of Geneva, Indiana, the Geneva Police Department, and Geneva Police Officer Ronald R. Rasawehr for events that occurred at his home on June 6, 2014.

         The Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 31], asserting that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the undisputed evidence establishes that the individual officer has qualified immunity from the Plaintiff's claims that he violated the Plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, that the Town of Geneva (including the Geneva Police Department) cannot be liable as a matter of law pursuant to Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and that no civil cause of action exists under 18 U.S.C. § 242. In the Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 34], the Plaintiff acknowledges the merits of the Defendants' arguments in favor of summary judgment related to his claims under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment and pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 242. He further acknowledges that there is no evidence that his injury was the result of an official policy or custom, as required for municipal liability.

         Accordingly, the only claims that remain in dispute are those against the individual officer for violations of his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.[1] See Goodpaster v. City of Indianapolis, 736 F.3d 1060, 1075 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that the plaintiffs had waived claims where they did not respond to defendant's arguments and “did not provide the district court with any basis to decide” them).


         In connection with the pending Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendant has moved to strike [ECF No. 36] statements that are contained in the Affidavit of Dewayne Higdon, and written statements that the Plaintiff attributes to a third party, Margaret LaPeer. The Defendant argues that the statements do not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(4), as they contain inadmissible hearsay and irrelevant information, and they lack foundation. Because the Court can distinguish which statements may properly be considered when deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court will not rule on the Motion to Strike [ECF No. 36] as a separate motion. The Court has noted the Defendant's objections and will consider the objections to the extent they arise in the Court's summary judgment analysis.


         On June 6, 2014, at around 10:00 p.m., Deputy Marshal Ronald Rasawehr (Officer Rasawehr) of the Town of Geneva Police Department responded to an unwanted party call at a residence located in Geneva. When Officer Rasawehr arrived, the Plaintiff, Dewayne Higdon, requested that Officer Rasawehr remove Margaret LaPeer from his residence. The Plaintiff advised that he wanted to put her items outside, and was concerned that LaPeer was attempting to take property that belonged to the Plaintiff. Officer Rasawehr entered the home to locate LaPeer. As she packed items from the bedroom, Officer Rasawehr directed the Plaintiff to stay outside the bedroom. The Plaintiff continued to claim that LaPeer was taking items that belonged to him. Officer Rasawehr ignored the Plaintiff's request that the Plaintiff be allowed to pack LaPeer's belongings.

         When LaPeer had gathered nearly all of her items from the house, she asked to talk to Officer Rasawehr privately. LaPeer and Officer Rasawehr went outside, and the Plaintiff shut the door, believing that LaPeer had all her personal property packed up and that Officer Rasawehr's assistance in removing LaPeer was complete. LaPeer then told Officer Rasawehr that the Plaintiff had marijuana inside one of his pill bottles that was located next to his computer screen, along with other paraphernalia that he used to smoke it. Officer Rasawehr clarified with LaPeer that if he walked by the computer right then, that is where the marijuana would be located. Officer Rasawehr followed LaPeer back inside the residence. While she gathered more belongings from the bedroom, Officer Rasawehr went to the kitchen where the computer was located. According to the Plaintiff, he used a flashlight to look around the dark kitchen, including behind the Plaintiff's computer and the freezer. Officer Rasawehr discovered a pill bottle that contained marijuana, as well as other paraphernalia.

         Officer Rasawehr arrested the Plaintiff for possession of paraphernalia and brought him to jail, where he was detained for about an hour before he posted bond. On June 9, 2014, the Plaintiff was charged with Possession of Marijuana and Possession of Paraphernalia stemming from his June 6, 2014, arrest and Officer Rasawehr's probable cause affidavit. The case was dismissed on May 4, 2015.


         This Court will only grant summary judgment if all the admissible submissions indicate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         When public officers violate the constitutional rights of citizens, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides the vehicle for a legal claim. Officer Rasawehr has asserted that he is entitled to qualified immunity, which is a doctrine that protects government officials “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982) (citations omitted). Qualified immunity is intended to strike a balance between “protect[ing] a government official's ability to function without the threat of distraction and liability” and “afford[ing] members of the public the ability to vindicate constitutional violations by government officials who abuse their offices.” Gibbs v. Lomas, 755 F.3d 529, 537 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Because the Defendant has raised qualified immunity as a defense to the Plaintiff's constitutional claims, it is the Plaintiff's burden to defeat it. Archer v. Chisholm, 870 F.3d 603, 613 (7th Cir. 2017); Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 639 (7th Cir. 2008). The Plaintiff satisfies this burden if he shows (1) that the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, make out a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) that constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation, such that it would have been clear to a reasonable actor that his conduct was unlawful. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009); Williams v. City of Chi., 733 F.3d 749, 758 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). “If either inquiry ...

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