United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
Michael Wright, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended
complaint to provide additional facts because his original
complaint did not state a claim. A filing by an unrepresented
party “is to be liberally construed, and a pro se
complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Nevertheless,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review the merits
of a prisoner complaint and dismiss it if the action is
frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief.
alleges that on May 24, 2018, he was arrested and his
wife's car was searched. He is suing because he believes
the arrest and search violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Wright alleges he was standing outside of his wife's car
when Corporal Young initiated a traffic stop because the
license plate on the car was improperly mounted. Wright does
not dispute the plate violated Indiana Code 9-18.1-4- 4(b)(1)
which requires a license plate to be “securely
fastened, in a horizontal and upright position . . ..”
Pursuant to Indiana Code 34-28-5-4(f)(3), the fine for this
offense ranges from $35.50 to $500 depending on various
circumstances. In Atwater v. City of Lago
Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 323 (2001), the United States
Supreme Court found that the Fourth Amendment does not forbid
a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense such as a
traffic violation for which the fine ranged from $25 to $50.
Therefore Wright does not state a claim for being unlawfully
alleges Cpl. Young used excessive force to effectuate the
arrest for a minor nonviolent crime when he pointed his gun
at him while he was compliant and non-threatening.
The question whether the seizure was unreasonable under the
Fourth Amendment depends on whether it was objectively
reasonable, judged from the perspective of a reasonable
officer on the scene. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396, 109
S.Ct. 1865. The proper application of this test requires an
analysis of the facts and circumstances of the case,
“including  the severity of the crime at issue, 
whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety
of the officers or others, and  whether he is actively
resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
flight.” Id. Plaintiffs need not show physical
injury in order to sustain an excessive force claim.
Baird v. Renbarger, 576 F.3d 340, 344 (7th Cir.
2009). Thus, “pointing a gun at a compliant adult in a
non-threatening situation, as in this case, can also
constitute excessive force.” Baird v.
Renbarger, 576 F.3d 340, 346 (7th Cir. 2009). Therefore
Wright may proceed on this claim of excessive force against
alleges that after he was handcuffed and placed in the police
car, Cpl. Young returned to his wife's car and observed
illegal drugs on the passenger seat in plain view. A
warrantless seizure is justified under the plain view
doctrine when: (1) a law enforcement officer is lawfully
present; (2) and item is in the plain view of the officer;
and (3) the incriminating nature of the item is immediately
apparent.” United States v. Berkowitz, 927
F.2d 1376, 1388 (7th Cir. 1991). Thus is the case here.
argues the illegal drugs would not have been in plain view if
Corporal Uhles had not unlawfully ordered his wife out of the
car. However, Wright's wife owned the car and was also
subject to being arrested for the improperly displayed
license plate. Therefore it was not unlawful to have ordered
her out of the car.
discovery of illegal drugs in the car was another reason for
arresting Wright and continuing the search of the vehicle.
“[A]n automobile search incident to a recent
occupant's arrest is constitutional (1) if the arrestee
is within reaching distance of the vehicle during the search,
or (2) if the police have reason to believe that the vehicle
contains evidence relevant to the crime of arrest.”
Davis v. United States , 564 U.S. 229, 234 (2011)
(quotation marks omitted). Here, though Wright was not within
reaching distance of the vehicle, it was reasonable for Cpl.
Young to believe the vehicle contained other evidence
relevant to the illegal drug offense. So searching the
vehicle did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Wright speculates the warrant authorizing the search of a
safe attached to his wife's car was invalid because the
drugs were his and the car was not. This argument is
meritless. His drugs were found in a car owned by his wife.
Wright's relationship with his wife and her car make it
reasonable to believe he might have stored other items in the
car besides the illegal drugs found on the seat. Wright has
provided no facts from which it can be plausibly inferred
that the warrant was invalid or that these defendants did
anything improper to obtain it. Therefore these allegations
do not state a claim.
these reasons, the court:
(1) GRANTS James Michael Wright leave to proceed against
Dustin Young in his individual capacity for compensatory and
punitive damages for pointing his handgun at him during the
arrest on May 24, 2018, in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
(2) DISMISSES all other claims;
(3) DISMISSES defendant ...