United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division
ENTRY DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Jackson County,
Indiana’s (“Jackson County”) Motion to
Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be
Granted. (Filing No. 14.) Plaintiff Rebecca Woodring
(“Woodring”) is a resident of Jackson County,
Indiana. Her Complaint alleges that a nativity scene has been
placed on the Jackson County Courthouse front lawn every
December for many years in violation of the First
Amendment’s Establishment Clause. She asks the Court to
issue a permanent injunction prohibiting Jackson County from
displaying the nativity scene at the Courthouse. (Filing No.
1.) For the following reasons, Jackson County’s Motion
to Dismiss is DENIED.
following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as
required when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court
accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and
draws all inferences in favor of Woodring as the non-movant.
See Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633
(7th Cir. 2008).
Jackson County Courthouse (the “Courthouse”)
faces the main street in the town of Brownstown, Indiana.
(Filing No. 1 at 1.) The Courthouse contains government
offices and is surrounded by a large lawn with a sidewalk
that leads to the Courthouse entrance. Id. at 2.
Other than a flag pole, the lawn is usually bare during most
of the year. Id.
for many years in the month of December, Jackson County has
allowed a nativity scene to be placed on the
lawn. Id. at 1-2. The current version
of the nativity scene shows the figures of the nativity
“outlined in white lights that are illuminated during
the day and evening hours.” Id. at 2. There is
a manger with the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Id.
at 2-3. Close to the manger are two angels with upstretched
horns announcing the birth, and on either side of the
sidewalk leading to the Courthouse are Magi bearing gifts
with animals. Id. at 3. This crèche tells the
story of the birth of Jesus as outlined in the New Testament,
and thus is one of the preeminent symbols of Christianity.
2018, Jackson County received a letter from the Freedom from
Religion Foundation complaining about the nativity display.
Id. In response, it placed a figure of Santa Claus
and figures of carolers to the far side of the display, away
from the sidewalk where the crèche is located.
Id. Woodring asserts that these secular symbols are
far enough away from the nativity scene that they are not
part of the display, and even if they were part of the
display, it would appear that Santa Claus and a band of
carolers are praising the birth of the baby Jesus.
Id. Attached to Woodring’s Complaint is a
photograph of the nativity scene and the secular figures on
the Courthouse lawn as they were arranged in December 2018.
(Filing No. 1-1.)
resides in Jackson County. (Filing No. 1 at 3.) She travels
multiple times per week to Brownstown where she passes the
Courthouse on Main Street. Id. at 4. She objects to
the nativity scene display because she believes the Jackson
County government is endorsing religious faith.
December 2018, Woodring filed her Complaint in this Court
requesting a permanent injunction “prohibiting the
defendant from displaying the crèche and Nativity
scene on the lawn of the Jackson County Courthouse.”
Id. at 4. She also asks the Court to award her costs
and attorneys’ fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
Id. Jackson County moved to dismiss on February 25,
2019 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move
to dismiss a complaint that has failed to “state a
claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), the court accepts as true all factual allegations
in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the
plaintiff. Bielanski, 550 F.3d at 633. However,
courts “are not obliged to accept as true legal
conclusions or unsupported conclusions of fact.”
Hickey v. O’Bannon, 287 F.3d 656, 658 (7th
complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, the United States Supreme Court
explained that the complaint must allege facts that are
“enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although
“detailed factual allegations” are not required,
mere “labels, ” “conclusions, ” or
“formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of
action” are insufficient. Id.; see also
Bissessur v. Ind. Univ. Bd. of Trs., 581 F.3d 599, 603
(7th Cir. 2009) (“it is not enough to give a threadbare
recitation of the elements of a claim without factual
support”). The allegations must “give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555. Stated differently, the complaint must include
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere &
Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation and
quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the
complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
County makes one argument in support of its Motion to
Dismiss. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as
interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States and the
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit does
not prohibit government displays that include both secular
and non-secular elements. (Filing No. 15 at 13.) Woodring
admits that the display contains representations of Santa
Claus and Christmas carolers as well as a nativity scene.
(Filing No. 1 at 3.) Jackson County argues this ...