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Ledford v. E.M.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 11, 2019




         This case represents one of the last gasps of Plaintiff's attempt to cast his repeated, if often minor, violations of Indiana law as a broad conspiracy to violate his civil rights. With respect to these Defendants, all that is left is a Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant E.M. (“Officer Melia”) and a corresponding Monell claim against Defendant City of Fort Wayne (the “City”). This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 126), filed on March 7, 2019, and Plaintiff's Motion for Entry of Default; for Summary Disposition and/or Request for Trial by Jury (the “Motion”) (ECF No. 133), filed on April 4, 2019. For the following reasons, the Court determines that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


         Plaintiff's claim arises out of a traffic stop that occurred on May 16, 2016.[1] At 9:21 p.m., Officer Melia was travelling southbound on South Clinton Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana behind a black Chevy sedan (the “Chevy”). While travelling behind the Chevy, Officer Melia observed a burning object, likely a cigarette, thrown out of the driver's side of the Chevy and land on the street. Based on his training and experience, Officer Melia knew that throwing a burning object from a moving vehicle is a violation of I.C. § 35-45-3-3. Accordingly, after witnessing a violation of Indiana law, Officer Melia initiated a traffic stop of the Chevy.

         After Officer Melia activated the lights and siren on his squad car, the Chevy turned left onto Pontiac Street and into the parking lot of a nearby fast food restaurant. Officer Melia followed and, after both vehicles stopped in the parking lot, Officer Melia approached the driver's window. There, Officer Melia began speaking with Plaintiff, while other officers arrived on the scene and stood by as back up. Officer Melia informed Plaintiff why he had initiated a traffic stop and obtained Plaintiff's identification. Officer Melia then issued a written warning to Plaintiff for littering, specifically for throwing a burning object from a moving vehicle.

         After Officer Melia gave Plaintiff the written warning, the traffic stop was complete. The entire traffic stop took approximately thirteen minutes from start to finish. Officer Melia had no further interactions with Plaintiff.


         As noted above, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (ECF No. 127) were filed on March 7, 2019. In compliance with Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 56-1(f), Defendants mailed the motion, memorandum, and a Notice of Summary Judgment Motion to Plaintiff at 201 Westwind Drive, Apt. 4, Michigan City, IN 46360. While this was the address initially on file for the Plaintiff, a Notice of Change of Address (ECF No. 123) was filed by Plaintiff on December 12, 2018, changing Plaintiff's address to 203 Westwind Dr., Apt. D, Michigan City, IN 46360. Defendants, then, had mailed the summary judgment filings to the wrong address. Unsurprisingly, Defendants' mail was returned as undeliverable. (ECF No. 131).

         Defendants ultimately realized their mistake and advised the Court on March 25, 2019, that they would re-send the summary judgment filings to the correct address. (ECF No. 132). Those filings, too, were returned as undeliverable. (ECF No. 135).

         In the interim, Plaintiff filed the Motion. As part of the Motion, Plaintiff submitted four different exhibits consisting of incoming letters and mailing envelopes bearing the 203 Westwind Dr., Apt. D, address. (ECF No. 133 at 12-15). At the bottom of each exhibit is a handwritten note stating that the exhibit is “evidence that Plaintiff has been receiving his mail at this address.” (Id.). The Court is left to conclude, then, that Defendants have properly sought to serve Plaintiff at the address: (1) on file with the Court; and (2) where Plaintiff himself states he receives his mail. Plaintiff has submitted no filings related to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows 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). The non-moving party must marshal and present the Court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in their favor. Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). A court must deny a motion for summary judgment when the nonmoving party presents admissible evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Luster v. Ill. Dep't of Corrs., 652 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment “is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. The court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994).

         Facts that are outcome determinative under the applicable law are material for summary judgment purposes. Smith ex rel. Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 427 (7th Cir. 1997). Although a bare contention that an issue of material fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, view all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491-92 (7th Cir. 2000), and avoid “the temptation to decide which party's version of the facts is more likely true, ” Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003). Additionally, a court is not ...

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