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Miller v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

December 17, 2019

WILLIAM H. MILLER, JR., Plaintiff,



         William Miller claims that excessive force was used against him when he was injured falling from his bicycle while being pursued by Sergeant Williams of the LaPorte County Sheriff's Department. Miller has no memory of the precise moments of his encounter with Williams. As a consequence, there is no evidence that Williams used excessive force, and therefore, summary judgment must be granted on the federal claims. But Miller's state claims will be remanded to state court.


         I'll start with the facts conveyed in the light most favorable to Miller. On November 5, 2015, Miller lived in a house at 1311 Monroe Street in La Porte, Indiana. [Miller Dep. at 32.] Around 5:00 p.m., Miller rode his bicycle six or seven blocks from his house or his sister's (which was two houses down), over to his mother's house at 505 Maple Ave. [Id.]

         After about 45 minutes, Miller came down the stairs of his mother's house and prepared to ride back home when he noticed a Pontiac Grand Prix sitting at a four way stop of a nearby street. [Id. at 32, 38.] Miller got on his bike and started pedaling home, and in the process he passed the Grand Prix. [Id. at 38-41.] As he did this he heard someone yell “Bill Miller” or “Bill Miller, hold it right there.” [Id. at 41, 46.] He looked back, and saw four people in an unmarked car and a man with a long beard getting out of the car who began to chase him on foot. [Id. at 41.] Miller didn't know the people and was scared for his life, so he turned left on Monroe Street and began riding faster, turning into traffic as he rode toward his house. [Id. at 41, 45-46, 52.]

         After taking a couple turns, Miller ended up on Clay Street about a block from his house. [Id. at 52.] As he was peddling on Clay Street, a dark colored SUV came alongside of Miller's bicycle and Miller grabbed the passenger side fender near the headlight with his left hand. [Id. at 52-55, 91.] What ensued next was some type of accident. Miller flew from his bicycle and suffered serious injuries to his face and head, but he does not remember the details. [Id. at 58-60; Williams Dep. at 31.] Miller has a vague recollection of waking up on the steps or sidewalk of his neighbor's house, and he next remembers waking up in the hospital. [Miller Dep. at 55-60.]

         Miller is very clear that he does not recall any collision, or how his injuries actually occurred. [Id. at 56-58, 85-86.] Based upon his observation that the rear wheel of his bicycle was bent, Miller believes the driver of the SUV must have hit the back tire of his bike. [Id. at 85-86; Ex. E (photographs of the bicycle).] But he admits this is a guess - the only thing he really remembers is having his hand on the fender of the SUV, and then waking up in the hospital. [Miller Dep. at 85-86, 89-90.] Miller does not have any eyewitnesses to the event, there is no mention by the parties of a dash camera, and there is not an expert witness to support Miller's theory that the accident was caused by Williams ramming Miller with the undercover police vehicle. [Id. at 91-92.]

         Let's turn to the officers' point of view. At the time of the incident, Harlan Williams was the commander and supervisor of the La Porte County Metro Narcotics Unit. [Williams Dep. at 4-5.] He and La Porte County Sheriff's Detective Nathan Battleday and La Porte County Deputy Don Hicks were conducting surveillance on Miller's residence because he had been identified by confidential informants and other sources as being involved in dealing narcotics. [Id. at 7.] Two unmarked vehicles were used - one was a blue GMC Envoy SUV driven by Williams who was accompanied by Battleday and Hicks. The other was a Pontiac Grand Prix driven by Detective Esparza and accompanied by Detective Robert Allen and state trooper Vicki Maxwell.

         During the surveillance of Miller's home, Williams, Battleday and Hicks saw Miller come out of his house around 5:15 p.m., then they moved their vehicle and next saw Miller exit a multi-unit housing structure located at 501 Maple Street which was another house under investigation for drug dealing. [Williams Dep. at 11-12; Battleday Dep. at 10-12; Hicks Dep. at 10-12.] This address is very near Miller's mother's house at 505 Maple, who Miller claimed he was visiting. [Miller Dep. at 30-31, 37-38.] So while Miller says he was leaving his Mom's house, the officers claim he was seen leaving from the house under suspicion for drug dealing. In either event, Williams radioed Detective Esparza (who was in the other unmarked car) and ordered his unit to conduct a Terry stop of Miller as he rode his bicycle toward them. [Williams Dep. at 15.] Miller rode his bicycle past the undercover Grand Prix containing Detective Esparza. Williams then started pursuing Miller in his undercover SUV. [Id. at 23, 25.]

         The officers have the following account of the chase. Detective Esparza got out of the Grand Prix and ran after Miller, saying “Police, stop.” [Battleday Dep. at 15.] During the pursuit, the cars were not going very fast. [Hicks Dep. at 24.] Williams stated, “we were going, obviously, at very low speeds because he was riding a bicycle.” [Williams Dep. at 25.] After Miller turned onto Clay Street, Williams tried to pass and get in front of Miller so that he could exit the vehicle to stop Miller - he drove around Miller and angled the SUV to stop at the curb by the intersection of Clay Street and Ludlow Street. [Williams Dep. at 30-31.] According to Williams, he never drove close enough to Miller for him to reach out and touch the SUV. [Williams Dep. at 31.] As the SUV was passing Miller, Detective Battleday, who was riding in the front passenger seat, saw Miller steer his bicycle away from the vehicle to cut across the corner lot instead of staying on the road. [Battleday Dep. at 20-21.] According to Battleday, Miller's bike hit the curb - the bike and Miller flew into the air, then landed on the sidewalk. [Id. at 19-20, 23.] Deputy Hicks, who was in the backseat, also said he saw Miller turn his bike right, hit the curb, and then fall on his face on the sidewalk. [Hicks Dep. at 19, 23.] Williams, Battleday, and Hicks all testified there was no contact between Miller, his bike, and the SUV. [Williams Dep. at 31, 49-50; Battleday Dep. at 23; Hicks Dep. at 23.]

         To sum up, Miller, on the one hand, has no recollection of how he was thrown from his bike. The officers, on the other hand, uniformly testified that what threw Miller from his bike was his hitting the curb, not him being hit by the SUV.

         This case was originally filed in state court. On November 3, 2017, Defendants filed a notice of removal. Miller filed an amended complaint asserting state law claims for assault and negligence (Count I); constitutional violations for excessive force in arresting him under section 1983 (Count II); deliberate indifference by the La Porte County Sheriff's Department (Count III); and requests attorneys fees (Count IV). [DE 33.] Although the amended complaint contained claims against other defendants, they were dismissed pursuant to partial stipulations to dismiss. [DE 44-46.] Defendants La Porte County Sheriff's Department and Sergeant Williams (the driver of the SUV) are the only two remaining defendants, and they have jointly moved for summary judgment on all claims. [DE 54.]


         Summary judgment must be granted when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate; “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. To determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Ogden v. Atterholt,606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010). ...

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