United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
HARINDER PALTA and ASHA PALTA, on their own behalf and as guardians of their adult son, Rahul Palta, and RAHUL PALTA, Plaintiffs,
MARSHALL COUNTY INDIANA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, INDIANA STATE POLICE, JONATHAN BRYANT, NICK LAFFOON, JOE GIORDANO, ANTHONY BRAGG, and JIM STRONG, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
bring suit against the Indiana State Police and Jim Strong
(State Defendants) and the Marshall County Indiana
Sheriff’s Department, Jonathan Bryant, Nick Laffoon,
Joe Giordano, and Anthony Bragg (Marshall County Defendants)
based on the motor vehicle stop and arrest of Rahul Palta on
September 14, 2017. Plaintiffs’ amended complaint
alleges federal constitutional claims of race discrimination
and excessive force, state law claims of assault and battery,
state law respondeat superior, and Monell liability.
The State Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims.
The Marshall County Defendants filed a partial motion to
dismiss, seeking dismissal of all claims except for the
§ 1983 Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against
the individual county officers in Count III. Both motions are
brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for
failure to state a claim.
Court grants in part and denies in part both motions, denying
dismissal of the Fourth Amendment excessive force claim
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in Count III against
State Trooper Jim Strong and denying dismissal of the
respondeat superior claim against the Marshall County
Sheriff’s Department in Count V.
following facts are taken from the allegations of the amended
complaint. Defendant Jim Strong is an employee and officer of
the Indiana State Police. Id. ¶ 13. Defendants
Jonathan Bryant, Nick Laffoon, Joe Giordano, and Anthony
Bragg are employees and merit officers of the Marshall County
Sheriff’s Department. Id. ¶ 9–12.
Collectively, the officers are referred to throughout the
amended complaint as “Defendants,” “above
captioned officers,” “above referenced police
officers,” “Defendant officers,” or
Palta and Asha Palta are the parents and legal guardians of
their adult son, Rahul Palta. Am. Compl. ¶¶
4–5, ECF No. 35. Rahul Palta has a documented history
of mental illness. Id. ¶ 16. His diagnoses and
symptoms have included depression, paranoid thoughts,
hallucinations, paranoid delusions, auditory hallucinations,
disorganized thoughts, inappropriate thought processes, and
bizarre agitation. Id. Rahul Palta was
“incapacitated due to mental illness on September 14,
2017, [and] has been so situated until present day.”
Id. ¶ 17. On September 14, 2017, Rahul Palta
was living at his parents’ home. Id. ¶
18. Rahul Palta is of South Asian descent. Id.
September 14, 2017, Rahul Palta became agitated due to the
televised reporting of hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
Id. ¶ 19. In an agitated state, he left his
parents’ home in Carmel, Indiana, driving north in his
vehicle on U.S. Highway 31 to U.S. Highway 30 in Marshall
County, Indiana. Id. ¶¶ 20–21. He
was purportedly driving in excess of 70 mph exclusively in
the left lane. Id. ¶ 22. Police stopped his
vehicle using a “rolling roadblock” technique.
Id. ¶ 23. Once the vehicle was stopped,
“Defendants pulled Rahul from the car and, without
cause, threw him on the ground, beat and
‘tazered’ him, causing bodily injury.”
Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiffs allege that all the
Defendants acted intentionally, maliciously, and with callous
disregard for the rights guaranteed Rahul Palta by state and
federal law. Id. ¶ 25. Rahul Palta alleges that
these actions exacerbated his mental health and that his
parents have incurred additional expenses due to his
deteriorated mental health. Id. ¶ 26.
October 4, 2018, Plaintiffs filed this suit pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against the Marshall County Defendants and
the State Defendants. Plaintiffs subsequently filed an
amended complaint, asserting claims of (1) race
discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments (Count I); (2) a substantive due
process violation based on race discrimination and excessive
force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count II); (3) excessive
force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count III); (4) assault and
battery under Indiana state law (Count IV); (5) respondeat
superior/vicarious liability under Indiana state law (Count
V); and (6) and Monell liability against the
Marshall County Sheriff’s Department and the Indiana
State Police for the federal constitutional violations (Count
State Defendants and the Marshall County Defendants each
filed a motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs filed a consolidated
response to both motions, and each set of Defendants filed a
separate reply brief. The motions are ripe for ruling.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 plaintiffs, accepts the factual
allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in
the plaintiffs’ 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
allege that Rahul Palta’s rights were violated during
the September 14, 2017 traffic stop when the officers
“pulled [him] from the car” and then, without
cause, “threw him on the ground, beat and
‘tazered’ him, causing bodily injury.” Am.
Compl. ¶ 24. In their motions brought under Rule
12(b)(6), Defendants assert various bases for dismissal of
the amended complaint, except that the Marshall County
Defendants do not seek dismissal of the claim in Count III
for excessive force by the individual county officers in
violation of the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiffs’ response
brief does not address most of the arguments raised by
Defendants, as noted throughout this opinion where
applicable. The longstanding “rule that a person waives
an argument by failing to make it before the district
court” applies “where a party fails to develop
arguments related to a discrete issue” and “where
a litigant effectively abandons the litigation by not
responding to alleged deficiencies in a motion to
dismiss.” Alioto v. Town of Lisbon,
651 F.3d 715, 721 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court considers the
arguments raised in the motions to dismiss in turn.
Indiana State Police and Trooper Jim Strong in his Official
Federal Claims-42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. §
1983 (Counts I, II, III, VI)
initial matter, Plaintiffs bring their claim of race
discrimination in Count I under both 42 U.S.C. § 1981
and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, Section 1981 does not
provide a cause of action against state actors, and
“§ 1983 remains the exclusive remedy for
violations of § 1981 committed by state actors.”
Campbell v. Forest Preserve Dist. of Cook Cty.,
Ill., 752 F.3d 665, 671 (7th Cir. 2014). Thus,
Plaintiffs’ § 1981 claim must be analyzed through
Indiana State Police seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs’
constitutional claims brought under § 1983 in Counts I,
II, III, and VI on the basis that the Indiana State Police is
not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983.
Section 1983 provides a cause of action against a
“person” who violates a plaintiff’s rights,
but the Supreme Court has held that states and their agencies
do not qualify as “persons” in this context.
Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S.
58, 71 (1989); see also Sebesta v. Davis, 878 F.3d
226, 231 (7th Cir. 2017). The Indiana State Police is an
agency of the State of Indiana. See Endres v. Ind. State
Police, 349 F.3d 922, 927 (7th Cir. 2003) (“The
Indiana State Police, as a unit of state government, is not a
‘person’ as § 1983 uses that term and
therefore is not amenable to a suit for damages under that
statute.”). Therefore, the Indiana State Police cannot
be sued for money damages under § 1983, and the §
1983 claims are dismissed with prejudice. In addition, any
official capacity claims against Trooper Strong under §
1983 are likewise dismissed with prejudice because state
officials acting in their official capacities are not
“persons” who can be sued for money damages under
§ 1983. See Will, 491 U.S. at 71;
Endres, 349 F.3d at 927.
their response brief, Plaintiffs argue that, under the
doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908),
claims for prospective injunctive relief for violations of
federal law against state actors in their official capacities
are not barred and that Plaintiffs have asserted a valid
claim for injunctive relief in the amended complaint. The
prayer for relief asks for a judgment against Defendants
“[f]inding that Defendants, and each of them, committed
acts that constituted violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and
Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution,
actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983” and
“[f]or an order mandating procedural changes and
additional training for the Department regarding the proper
method to apprehend suspects.” Am. Compl. 14.
Ex parte Young doctrine ‘allows private
parties to sue individual state officials for prospective
relief to enjoin ongoing violations of federal
law.’” Council 31 of the Am. Fed’n of
State, Cty., & Mun. Emps., AFL-CIO v. Quinn, 680
F.3d 875, 882 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting MCI Telecomms.
Corp. v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co., 222 F.3d 323, 337 (7th Cir.
2000)). “In determining whether the doctrine of Ex
parte Young avoids an Eleventh Amendment bar to suit, a
court need only conduct a ‘straightforward inquiry into
whether [the] complaint alleges an ongoing violation of
federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as
prospective.’” Verizon Md. Inc. v. Pub. Serv.
Comm’n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002) (quoting
Idaho v. Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521
U.S. 261, 296 (1997)); see also McDonough Assocs., Inc.
v. Grunloh, 722 F.3d 1043, 1051 (7th Cir. 2013). And,
when the relief sought “is tantamount to an award of
damages for a past violation of federal law, even though
styled as something else,” such a claim is
impermissible. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 278
the doctrine of Ex parte Young has “no
application in suits against the States and their agencies,
which are barred regardless of the relief sought[.]”
Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v.
Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993)
(citing Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85, 89 (1982)).
Thus, dismissal of the § 1983 claims against the Indiana
State Police is proper.
as argued by the State Defendants, notwithstanding their
request for injunctive relief, Plaintiffs have not alleged an
“ongoing violation of federal law.” Plaintiffs
themselves recognize that, to avoid the Eleventh Amendment
bar to suit against Trooper Strong in his official capacity,
they must allege an ongoing violation of federal law. A
straightforward inquiry into the allegations of the amended
complaint demonstrates that Plaintiffs are only challenging
the force used by the officers during Rahul Palta’s
September 14, 2017 arrest. See, e.g., McDonough
Assocs., 722 F.3d at 1051. In their response brief,
Plaintiffs argue that, to their “knowledge, [the State
Actors] continue to make detentions and use force pursuant to
the same guidelines that were in existence at the time of
Rahul Palta’s arrest, and that the same violations of
due process will occur.” Mem. in Supp. of Pls.’
Opp’n to the Defs.’ Mots. to Dismiss, 8–9,
ECF No. 56. But Plaintiffs cannot amend their complaint in
their brief in response to the motions to dismiss. See
Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. Retiree Med. Benefits Tr. v.
Walgreen Co., 631 F.3d 436, 448 (7th Cir. 2011).
Plaintiffs’ amended complaint does not allege that they
are suffering from an ongoing deprivation of federal law or
that they are in danger of sustaining a direct injury.
the Ex parte Young doctrine is inapplicable. The
Court grants the motion to dismiss the claims for money
damages in Counts I, II, III, and VI against the Indiana
State Police and against Trooper Jim Strong in his official
capacity and dismisses the claims with prejudice. To the
extent that Plaintiffs allege a claim for injunctive relief,
the Court dismisses the claim without prejudice.
State Law ...