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Baldwin v. Greenfield Police Department

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 27, 2019

TRICIA BALDWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
GREENFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT, JILL HATKE Individually and as an Officer with the Greenfield Police Department, RANDY RATLIFF Individually and as an Officer with the Greenfield Police Department, CITY OF GREENFIELD, INDIANA, HANCOCK COUNTY, INDIANA, HANCOCK COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Defendants. COUNT DEFENDANT WITH OR WITHOUT PREJUDICE

          ORDER RESOLVING OUTSTANDING MOTIONS [DKT. 20; DKT. 23; DKT 27; DKT. 28; DKT. 39; DKT. 40]

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         On January 29, 2018, Plaintiff Tricia Baldwin initiated this lawsuit, alleging violations of her civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law claims, against the Greenfield Police Department, the City of Greenfield, Indiana, and Officers Jill Hatke and Randy Ratliff of the Greenfield Police Department in their individual and official capacities (“the City Defendants”) as well as Hancock County, Indiana and the Hancock County Sheriff Department (“the County Defendants”) [Dkt. 1].

         Before the Court now are six motions filed by various Defendants: the County Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed on December 10, 2018 [Dkt. 20]; the City Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) filed on December 28, 2018 [Dkt. 23]; the City Defendants’ Motion for Summary Ruling[1] [Dkt. 27] filed on January 15, 2019; the County Defendants’ Motion for Summary Ruling [Dkt. 28] filed on January 16, 2019; and the Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution [Dkt. 39; Dkt. 40] under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), filed on April 15, 2019 and April 17, 2019.

         For the reasons set forth below, the County Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [Dkt. 20] is GRANTED; the City Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Dkt. 23] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; the Defendants’ Motions for Summary Ruling [Dkt. 27; Dkt. 28] are DENIED as moot; and the Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution [Dkt. 39; Dkt. 40] are DENIED.

         Background

         I. Factual Background

         The Complaint includes the following relevant facts, all taken as true for the purposes of the County Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and the City Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         On November 10, 2015, Officer Hatke, acting on behalf of the Greenfield Police Department, was dispatched to a Greenfield Walmart in response to a reported theft [Compl. ¶¶ 16-17]. The Walmart Asset Protection Manager informed Officer Hatke that she had observed security footage which captured two individuals, one female and one male, as they stole two Ultimate Ears Boom Speakers. [Id. ¶¶ 18-19, 24]. The Asset Protection Manager recorded the license plate number of the perpetrators. [Id. ¶ 18]. Officer Hatke and Officer Ratliffe, also of the Greenfield Police Department, searched for the individuals associated with that license plate number [Id. ¶ 21]. Based on their search, and a review of the surveillance video, as well as the driver’s license information for Ms. Baldwin, the officers filed an Affidavit for Probable Cause against Ms. Baldwin [Id.]. On November 11, 2015, Officer Hatke signed an Information, alleging that Ms. Baldwin had committed theft by stealing the speakers from Walmart [Id. ¶ 20]. Relying on Officer Hatke’s signed Information and the Affidavit for Probable Cause, the Hancock Superior Court found probable cause and issued a warrant for Ms. Baldwin’s arrest [Id. ¶ 22].

         Officer Ratliffe, upon further investigation of the Walmart theft, discovered that the license plate number recorded by Walmart’s Asset Protection Manager was registered to two men-Raymond Gibbs and Brian Overby [Id.¶ 23]. Officer Ratliff searched the LeadsOnline[2] system and learned that Mr. Gibbs had pawned two Ultimate Ears Boom speakers two days after the Walmart theft [Id. ¶ 24]. Officer Ratliffe located the pawn shop where Mr. Gibbs and a female companion, determined to be Sarah Joy, pawned the speakers [Id. ¶ 25]. Officer Ratliffe confirmed, via her BMV photo, that Ms. Joy was the female perpetrator captured in the Walmart surveillance video [Id. ¶ 26]. On January 14, 2016, Officer Ratliff filed his Probable Cause Affidavit naming the male and female suspects whom he believed committed the theft at Walmart the previous November [Id. ¶ 27]. The Hancock County Prosecutor filed theft charges against Sarah Joy for the theft of the speakers from Walmart. [Id. ¶ 27].

         In January of 2016, Ms. Baldwin was serving a misdemeanor sentence in the Owen County jail on another charge [Id. ¶ 29]. She was ordered released from that sentence on January 20, 2016 but was detained in the Owen County jail based on the arrest warrant relating to the Walmart theft [Id. ¶ 29-30]. She was held a few days until she was picked up by deputies of the Hancock County Sheriff Department [Id. ¶ 31]. On January 22, 2016, while Ms. Baldwin was detained at the Owen County jail, Ms. Joy’s arrest warrant was executed, and the Walmart theft case was set for trial [Id. ¶ 32].

         Ms. Baldwin’s family contacted Officer Hatke and Office Ratliff during the time Ms. Baldwin was awaiting extradition to Hancock County, but the officers refused to speak to her family [Id. ¶ 33]. On February 1, 2016, Ms. Baldwin appeared for an initial hearing, and the Court entered a preliminary plea of guilty[3] and set the matter for a pretrial conference [Id. ¶ 34-35]. Ms. Baldwin’s family again attempted to contact Officer Hatke and Officer Ratliff about what they believed to be the mistaken identity. This second attempt at contact was successful and, upon learning of the error, the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office moved to dismiss the case against Ms. Baldwin and notified the jail to release her immediately [Id. ¶ 36-37].

         Ms. Baldwin has brought a variety of legal claims against Defendants based on these facts.

         II. Summary of Claims in the Complaint

         Counts I and II are captioned “Violations of Constitutional Rights.” Count I alleges that Officer Hatke, Officer Ratliff, the Greenfield Police Department, and the Hancock County Sheriff Department violated Ms. Baldwin’s constitutional rights pursuant to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in the form of false arrest, imprisonment, and malicious prosecution and requests an award of compensatory damages [Id. ¶ 39]. Count II restates the allegations in Count I but requests an award of exemplary damages, claiming the aforementioned Defendants acted with malice, and with willful and wanton indifference to and deliberate disregard of Ms. Baldwin’s constitutional rights [Id. ¶ 42].

         Count III lays out a claim for “Violation of Statutory Rights, ” invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and targeting the same four defendants with identical allegations of false arrest, imprisonment, and malicious prosecution for which Plaintiffs seeks compensatory damages [Id. ¶ 45]. Count IV restates these allegations and requests exemplary damages from these defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Count V alleges that the Greenfield Police Department and the City of Greenfield violated Ms. Greenbank’s statutory civil rights by adopting the policy and practice of authorizing officers, including Offer Hatke and Office Ratliff, “to cover up false arrests and imprisonments of citizens and the malicious prosecution of multiple individuals for crimes they know they did not commit” [Id. ¶ 52]. Ms. Greenbank alleges it is the policy and practice of the Greenfield Police Department and the City of Greenfield to encourage and cause constitutional and civil rights violations by its officers [Id.] Count V also states that the Greenfield Police Department and the City of Greenfield refused to adequately train, direct, supervise, and control Officer Hatke and Officer Ratliff, who were acting within the scope of their employment and pursuant to the policies of these defendants, so as to prevent the violation of Ms. Baldwin’s constitutional and civil rights [Id. ¶ 45-46].

         Count VI alleges state law claims of false arrest and false imprisonment against Officer Hatke. Ms. Baldwin claims that Officer Hatke caused her false arrest and false imprisonment by maliciously filing a false affidavit, which gave rise to the issuance of a baseless arrest warrant [Id. ¶ 57-59].

         Count VII seeks exemplary damages from Officer Hatke for Ms. Baldwin’s false arrest and imprisonment, averring that Officer Hatke acted maliciously and with willful and wanton disregard for Ms. Baldwin’s constitutional and civil rights when Officer Hatke made false statements that resulted in Ms. Baldwin’s arrest and imprisonment without probable cause. [Id. ¶¶ 62-63].

         Count VIII asserts a state law claim of malicious prosecution against Officer Hatke, Officer Ratliff, the Greenfield Police Department, the City of Greenfield, and Hancock County. More specifically, the Complaint alleges that Officer Hatke filed an Affidavit for Probable Cause containing false testimony and untruths, which Officer Ratliff knew to be false, causing criminal charges to be brought against Ms. Baldwin. Ms. Baldwin also claims Officer Ratliff neglected to act in his supervisory capacity to discover that duplicate charges had been brought for the same Walmart theft. [Id. ¶¶ 67-68].

         Count IX alleges that the Greenfield Police Department is liable for the actions of Officer Hatke and Office Ratliff under the doctrine of respondeat superior on the state law claims. Ms. Baldwin asserts that the officers acted as agents for the Greenfield Police Department, and that they were acting within the scope of their employment when the alleged violations occurred [Id. ¶¶ 72-74].

         Count X invokes respondeat superior liability against the City of Greenfield as the “operator and governor” of the Greenfield Police Department. [Id. ¶ 77-81].

         Count XI reiterates Ms. Baldwin’s respondeat superior liability claim against Hancock County as the operator of the Hancock County Jail and the Prosecutor’s Office. [Id. ¶¶ 83-88].

         Finally, Count XII alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress against Officer Hatke, Officer Ratliff, the Greenfield Police Department, the City of Greenfield, and Hancock County [Id. ¶ 91]. Ms. Baldwin alleges that these Defendants acted in a reckless or intentional manner resulting in the deprivation of Ms. Baldwin’s constitutional and civil rights. [Id.]. Ms. Baldwin also states that Defendants’ willful and wanton disregard for her civil and constitutional rights was so extreme and outrageous as to cause Ms. Baldwin to suffer extreme emotional distress, for which she has been required to seek professional help to address. [Id. ¶¶ 92-95]. Ms. Baldwin specifically claims the misrepresentations and untruths set forth in the Affidavit for Probable Cause forced her to remain in jail for days without any idea as to the reason, resulting in her emotional distress. [Id. ¶ 93].

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ actions were performed under color of law, including of a statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage [Id. ¶ 13].

         III. Plaintiff’s Counsel’s Lack of Diligence and Litigation Deficiencies

         We digress to detail our concerns about the dilatory conduct of Ms. Baldwin and her counsel, Jared Thomas, in prosecuting this case, demonstrating over the course of many months no apparent interest in bringing it to a resolution or any regard for the Court’s scarce resources that had to be expended in an effort to keep them on task.

         Nearly nine months after this case was filed, in October 2018, we were required to order Ms. Baldwin and her counsel to show cause why the Complaint should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute because Defendants had not yet been served [Dkt. 6]. Mr. Thomas, blaming his former paralegal, responded that she has erroneously told him that she had mailed copies of the file-marked Complaint, Appearance, and Summons to Defendants [Dkt. 8, at 1-2]. Only after we issued our Order, says Mr. Thomas, did he discover that the materials had not ever been mailed. [Id.]. Mr. Thomas moved for leave to issue additional service, which request we granted, and discharged our Order to Show Cause [Dkt. 7; Dkt 11; Dkt 12].

         Once served, the County Defendants filed their motion to dismiss [Dkt. 20], and the City Defendants answered the Complaint [Dkt. 22] and filed their motion for judgment on the pleadings. Under our rules, Plaintiff was allowed twenty-one days to respond to the former motion and fourteen to respond to the latter, S.D. Ind. L.R. 7-1(c)(2)-(3); both deadlines came and went without a word from Ms. Baldwin or her counsel, eventually prompting both sets of defendants to seek summary rulings on their dispositive motions [Dkt. 27; Dkt 28]. On January 28, 2019, we ordered Plaintiff to file responses to both Rule 12 motions within fourteen days or face dismissal of the Complaint with prejudice [Dkt. 32]. Plaintiff, apparently again because of our prompting, responded within the prescribed timeframe [Dkt. 33; Dkt. 34]. Having finally acted on our directive, thereby allowing us to rule on the dispositive motions with complete responses from all parties, we now DENY Defendants’ motions for summary rulings as moot [Dkt. 28].

         However, Ms. Baldwin and her counsel’s inattentiveness to the prosecution of her legal claims continued. Plaintiff failed to comply with a single Case Management Plan deadline or discovery request [Dkt 39, at 3-6; Dkt. 50, at 3].[4] At a status conference with the Court on April 23, 2019, Mr. Thomas indicated that he had been unsuccessful in completing discovery because his client was not communicating with him. He claimed to have sent her a letter on April 15, 2019, requesting that she certify the discovery responses. Mr. Thomas also indicated that he requested Plaintiff to certify that she still wished to pursue the case.[5]

         Inexplicably, Mr. Thomas failed to appear for the Court’s next status conference on May 2, 2019, leaving the Magistrate Judge to wonder whether either Mr. Thomas or Ms. Baldwin intended to continue the pursuit of her legal claims [Dkt. 49]. The Magistrate Judge again ordered Mr. Thomas to show cause why he should not be sanctioned [Id.]. Mr. Thomas appeared on May 14, 2019 and again assured the Court that his errors and inattentiveness would not continue [Dkt. 51]. In reliance on those assurance, the Magistrate Judge, again, discharged the Order to Show Cause.

         Unbelievably, Mr. Thomas again failed to appear at the next status conference on June 26, 2019, resulting in the issuance of another order to show cause [Dkt. 55]. The Magistrate Judge vacated the subsequent settlement conference scheduled for July 31, 2019 [Dkt. 56]. On August 2, 2019, the Magistrate Judge granted the County Defendant’s unopposed motion to stay case management deadlines pending rulings on the dispositive motions [Dkt. 57]. Mr. Thomas appeared at his third hearing to show cause on August 27, 2019, this time blaming his neglect on his heavy caseload, conflicting schedule of court hearings, and office restructuring [Dkt. 59]. The Magistrate Judge again discharged the Order to Show Cause ...


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