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Kudla v. City of Hammond

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 11, 2019

DEBORAH JEAN KUDLA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HAMMOND, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES T. MOODY JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (DE # 24.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Deborah Kudla's complaint alleges that, upon her arrest and transfer to the Hammond City Jail, defendant Gregory McGing forcibly drove her head-first into the concrete ground or wall, in the presence of other defendant officers. (DE # 1 at 10.) Plaintiff suffered a coma and other severe injuries as a result of the assault. (Id. at 11.)

         Plaintiff contends that defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force, failure to intervene, conspiracy, and denial of medical care. (Id. at 11-15.) Plaintiff further alleges that defendants are liable under Indiana law for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. (Id. at 17-18.) Plaintiff alleges that the City of Hammond and the Hammond Police Department are liable under a theory of respondeat superior. (Id. at 19.)

         Defendants have filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (DE # 24.) The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for ruling.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In reviewing a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the court applies the same standard that is applied when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp., 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). A judge reviewing a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) must construe the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, Inc., 896 F.3d 834, 839 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Under the liberal notice-pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “While the federal pleading standard is quite forgiving, . . . the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ray v. City of Chicago, 629 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 2011); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

         To meet this standard, a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond providing “labels and conclusions” and “be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint must give “enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together.” Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Intracorporate Conspiracy Doctrine

         Defendants argue that plaintiff's § 1983 conspiracy claim (Count III) is barred by the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine. Under this doctrine, employees of a corporation who jointly pursue its lawful business do not become “conspirators” when acts within the scope of their employment are said to be discriminatory or retaliatory. Payton v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Med. Ctr., 184 F.3d 623, 633 (7th Cir. 1999); Wright v. Illinois Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 40 F.3d 1492, 1508 (7th Cir. 1994). While the Seventh Circuit has explicitly held that the doctrine applies to governmental entities in claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, see Wright, 40 F.3d at 1507-08, it has never applied the doctrine to claims brought under § 1983. There is disagreement among the district courts in this circuit as to whether the doctrine applies to conspiracy claims brought under § 1983. Compare Salaita v. Kennedy, 118 F.Supp.3d 1068, 1085 (N.D. Ill. 2015) to Strauss v. City of Chicago, 346 F.Supp.3d 1193, 1209-11 (N.D. Ill. 2018).

         The Seventh Circuit case which established the doctrine cautioned against an overly broad application, stating: “[w]e do not suggest that an agent's action within the scope of his authority will always avoid a conspiracy finding.” Dombrowski v. Dowling, 459 F.2d 190, 196 (7th Cir. 1972). The Seventh Circuit subsequently noted two exceptions to the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine: (1) “where corporate employees are shown to have been motivated solely by personal bias”; and (2) where “the conspiracy was part of some broader discriminatory pattern * * *, or * * * permeated the ranks of the organization's employees.” Hartman v. Board of Trustees of Community College Dist. 508, 4 F.3d 465, 470-71 (7th Cir. 1993). In cases “where corporate employees are shown to have been motivated solely by personal bias * * * the interests of the corporation would have played no part in the employees' ...


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