STEVENS v. VIGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT. et al - Document 44
Entry on Motion for Summary Judgment and Directing Issuance of Final Judgment - granting 25 Motion for Summary Judgment. All claims have now been resolved. Judgment consistent with this Entry and with the Entry of May 4, 2011, dismissing the claim against the Vigo County Sheriff's Department, shall now issue. (See Entry.) Copy to plaintiff via US Mail. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 5/1/2012. (RSF)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SAUL M. STEVENS,
Entry on Motion for Summary Judgment
and Directing Issuance of Final Judgment
The parties to this civil rights action at this point are plaintiff Saul Stevens
(AStevens”) and Detective Paul Hartzler of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.1
Stevens alleges that Detective Hartzler violated his constitutional rights by
unlawfully seizing and searching Stevens’ car and by seizing personal items from his
residence. For purposes of this Entry, the court treats Stevens’ claims against
Detective Hartzler as asserted in his individual capacity.2
Stevens alleges that Detective Hartzler had Stevens’ car towed improperly,
searched the car and removed personal items, refused to tell Stevens where the car
was, then sometime later drove the car to 2400 N. 17th Street and left it there, telling
people there that the car was abandoned. Stevens also alleges that Detective
Hartzler removed a small traveling case from 121 N. 37th Street without a search
warrant. Stevens alleges that a Vigo County court ordered Detective Hartzler to
release the case, but when it was returned, things were missing from it. Stevens
seeks $9,000 in compensation for his loss.
Claims against the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department were previously dismissed.
An official capacity claim would fail because such a claim is Amerely another way of asserting a claim
against the municipality," Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1519 n.4 (7th Cir. 1990), and there
is no allegation of a Sheriff’s Department policy or custom of violating federally secured rights in the
manner alleged by Stevens. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 6 94 (1978); Estate of Sims ex
rel. Sims v. County of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 514-15 (7th Cir. 2007). Additionally, as this Entry shows,
there was no violation of Stevens’ federally secured rights. Thus, there can be no 42 U.S.C. §1983
claim against Detective Hartzler in his official capacity. See Treece v. Hochstetler, 213 F.3d 360, 364
(7th Cir.) ("it is well established in this Circuit that a municipality's liability for a constitutional injury
requires a finding that the individual officer[ ] [is] liable on the underlying substantive claim"), cert.
denied, 531 U.S. 957 (2000).
Detective Hartzler seeks resolution of these claims through summary
judgment. Stevens opposes that motion.
For the reasons explained in this Entry, Detective Hartzler’s motion for
summary judgment  is granted.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
A motion for summary judgment must be granted Aif the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. "[A]
party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing
the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To survive
summary judgment, the nonmoving party must establish some genuine issue for trial
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor. Makowski v.
SmithAmundsen LLC, 662 F.3d 818, 822 (7th Cir. 2011)(citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).
A genuine issue of fact, however, can defeat a motion for summary judgment
only if the question of fact is material. A "material fact" is one that "might affect the
outcome of the suit." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine only if a
reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Id. If no reasonable jury could
find for the non-moving party, then there is no Agenuine@ dispute. Scott v. Harris, 127
S. Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007). The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant=s favor.
Ault v. Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011).
A. Undisputed Facts
On the basis of the pleadings and the expanded record, and specifically on the
portions of that record that comply with the requirements of Rule 56(c)(1), the
following facts are undisputed for purposes of the motion for summary judgment.
At all relevant times, Detective Hartzler was assigned to the Vigo County
Drug Task Force (DTF), made up of the Vigo County Prosecuting Attorney, the Vigo
County Sheriff, and the Terre Haute Police Department (“THPD”). In June 2009, the
DTF received information that Stevens was involved in the distribution of cocaine
from his apartment at 3370 South 14½ Street in Terre Haute. On June 11, 2009,
detectives arranged to have a confidential informant meet Stevens at his apartment
to attempt to make a controlled purchase of cocaine. The informant was searched and
given $300 in recorded cash and an audio/video recorder. The informant went to
The informant asked Stevens for an eighth-ounce of cocaine (an “eight-ball”).
Stevens said it would take a half hour to get the cocaine and it would cost about $225.
He then left in his 1998 gold Chrysler Sebring convertible. When he returned in the
car about 45 minutes later, he gave the informant a plastic bag containing a
substance represented to be cocaine.
After leaving the apartment, the informant gave the detectives the plastic bag
and $40, stating that Stevens had charged $260 for the cocaine. The substance in the
bag tested positive for cocaine.
Based on a review of the recording of the conversation and activities in
Stevens’ apartment, Detective Hartzler concluded that Stevens had engaged in the
illegal sale of a controlled substance. He further concluded that Stevens had used the
1998 Chrysler Sebring to obtain and transport the cocaine, subjecting the car to
forfeiture. Detective Hartzler executed a probable cause affidavit reciting the
foregoing circumstances of events, and on July 7, 2009, a court issued a warrant for
Stevens’ arrest for dealing in cocaine. By the time the warrant was issued, however,
Detective Hartzler learned that Stevens had moved out of the apartment on South
THPD officers were advised of the arrest warrant and told to be on the lookout
for Stevens’ car. A “crime-stoppers” public announcement was aired on local TV on or
about July 9, 2009. On July 14, 2009, THPD uniformed officers discovered Stevens’
car parked at 3631 Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute. The THPD officers, assisted by
THPD detectives, took custody of the car and called a private wrecker service to tow
the car to the DTF impound lot.
Detective Hartzler had no involvement in the decision to tow the car. After the
car was towed to the impound lot, Detective Hartzler looked through the car for
evidence of drugs. He found no such evidence. Detective Hartzler removed the
registration from the car for use in the forfeiture action. He did not notice any jewelry
in the car, nor did he remove any jewelry from the car.
The DTF received information that Stevens was hiding at 121 North 37th
Street in Terre Haute. Detective Hartzler and other officers went there and spoke to
resident Cathy Grogan, who said that she knew Stevens but had not seen him for two
weeks. Grogan consented to a search of the home. Officers found evidence that
Stevens was staying there, including a bag containing men’s underwear and
toiletries, an electric bill in his name, and a document expressing his agreement to
sell the Chrysler.
Stevens was found hiding in the basement at 121 North 37th Street. Grogan
was arrested by THPD officers for assisting a criminal, and those officers took
possession of evidence showing that Stevens had been living there, including the
men’s toiletry bag. Detective Hartzler never possessed the items seized at Grogan’s
home and he has no knowledge of the whereabouts or disposition of those items.
Detective Hartzler transported Stevens to the Vigo County Jail. One piece of
identification (“ID”) and a wallet were taken from Stevens when he was booked into
the Jail. The Chrysler was held with the intent that it would be forfeited because of
its use in the cocaine transaction. It was then learned that Stevens owed money on
the car and that the potential net recovery after paying the car note would be too
small to justify forfeiture. Based on this information, it was decided to return the car
to Stevens. Stevens instructed that the car be returned to his sister, Margaret
Watson, at 2900 North 17th Street in Terre Haute. Detective Hartzler drove the car
there on August 24, 2009, and Ms. Watson signed a vehicle indemnity agreement.
Stevens’ wallet and ID were released by the Vigo County Jail to Ms. Watson on
August 28, 2009. Stevens was convicted in Vigo County of dealing in cocaine as a
class B felony.
In acting on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he applicable substantive law
will dictate which facts are material.” National Soffit & Escutcheons, Inc., v. Superior
Systems, Inc., 98 F.3d 262, 265 (7th Cir. 1996). Stevens’ claims are brought pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the
violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and must
show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of
state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). In such cases, “the plaintiff bears
the burden of proof on the constitutional deprivation that underlies the claim, and
thus must come forth with sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material
fact to avoid summary judgment.” McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir.
Stevens presents no evidence in support of his allegation that Detective
Hartzler directed that Stevens’ car be towed. This lack of personal participation in
the towing of the car defeats any claim against Detective Hartzler for an unlawful
seizure of the car. See Minix v. Canarecci, 597 F.3d 824, 833-34 (7th Cir. 2010)
(“individual liability under §1983 requires personal involvement in the alleged
constitutional deprivation”)(internal quotation omitted). Even if Detective Hartzler
had been involved in the towing of the car, under Indiana law, a vehicle may be
seized if it is used or is intended for use by the person in possession of it to transport
a controlled substance for the purpose of dealing in cocaine. IND. CODE '
34-24-1-1(a). In addition, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment
does not require police to obtain a search warrant before seizing an automobile from
a public place if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle is forfeitable
contraband. Florida v. White, 526 U.S. 559 (1999). The undisputed evidence shows
that there was reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle had been involved in
transporting cocaine, thereby justifying the seizure. IND. CODE ' 34-24-1-1-(a); White,
526 U.S. 559.
Stevens asserts in his affidavit that the car was seized from private property,
the parking lot of an apartment building. He states that he had been given
permission from the owner of the apartment complex to park the car there. Stevens’
contention that the seizure of the car was unlawful based on the location of the car is
misplaced. The Supreme Court has held that a warrant is not required to seize a car
from public streets, parking lots, or other open places, including an employer’s
parking lot, when probable cause exists to believe that the car itself was contraband.
White, 526 U.S. at 566.
As to the warrantless search of the car, the admissible evidence shows that
Detective Hartzler removed only the registration from the car. The car had been
lawfully seized as contraband and was being held pending forfeiture proceedings
under Indiana law. A warrantless search of a car under these circumstances does not
violate the Fourth Amendment. See United States v. Pace, 898 F.2d 1218, 1244-45
(7th Cir. 1990) (citing Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58 (1967)). Stevens alleges that
his sister Ms. Watson told him that when the car was returned, his billfold was on
the seat with his credit cards scattered, his driver’s license missing, and the Star of
David gold necklace usually hanging on the rearview mirror was gone. This
contention can be disregarded in its entirety because it is based on hearsay. Even so,
this allegation fails to assert, much less prove, that Detective Hartzler removed
anything but the registration from the car. In addition, there is undisputed evidence
that Stevens’ wallet and ID were taken from Stevens when he was booked in the Jail.
This property was released to Ms. Watson four days after the car was returned.
Absent any allegation that Stevens possessed two wallets/billfolds, this evidence
weakens any claim that Stevens’ billfold was on the seat of the car when the car was
Stevens next alleges that Detective Hartzler dropped his car off at 2400 N. 17th
Street, Terre Haute, and simply left it there, telling people it had been abandoned.
Stevens’ mere allegations do not contradict the sworn testimony that Detective
Hartzler returned the car to Stevens’ sister, as Stevens had directed, and that his
sister signed a vehicle indemnity agreement when she took custody of the car. No
Fourth Amendment violation occurred when Detective Hartzler released the car to
Finally, Stevens has presented no evidence supporting his allegations that
Detective Hartzler took a traveling case containing Stevens’ personal belongings
from Ms. Grogan’s home, 121 N. 37th Street, when Stevens was arrested. A
non-movant’s reliance on allegations in his complaint to support his claims is not
sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. Harvey v. Town of Merrillville,
649 F.3d 526, 529 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Gilty v. Village of Oak Park, 919 F.2d 1247,
1255 n.13 (7th Cir. 1990) (explaining that a court may “simply ignore” statements
that are "neither notarized nor made under penalty of perjury" because they do not
comply with Rule 56). The undisputed evidence shows that Detective Hartzler was
not involved in the seizure of the belongings and has no knowledge of its disposition.
Aside from the discussion of Stevens’ claims within the framework of the
Fourth Amendment, Stevens’ attempt to recover or be compensated for the loss of
personal property falls within the scope of the due process clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. To the extent Stevens alleges that he was deprived of his property
without due process, such claim fails because Indiana provides a meaningful
post-deprivation tort claim remedy for the loss. See Hudson v. Palmer, 486 U.S. 517,
533 (1984); Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592-93 (7th Cir. 2001).
It has been explained that "summary judgment serves as the ultimate screen
to weed out truly insubstantial lawsuits prior to trial." Crawford-El v. Britton, 118 S.
Ct. 1584, 1598 (1998). This is a vital role in the management of court dockets, in the
delivery of justice to individual litigants, and in meeting society’s expectations that a
system of justice operate effectively. Indeed, "it is a gratuitous cruelty to parties and
their witnesses to put them through the emotional ordeal of a trial when the outcome
is foreordained" and in such cases summary judgment is appropriate. Mason v.
Continental Illinois Nat'l Bank, 704 F.2d 361, 367 (7th Cir. 1983). Stevens has not
identified a genuine issue of material fact as to his claims that Detective Hartlzer
violated his constitutional rights. Accordingly, Detective Hartzler’s motion for
summary judgment  must be granted.
All claims have now been resolved. Judgment consistent with this Entry and
with the Entry of May 4, 2011, dismissing the claim against the Vigo County Sheriff’s
Department, shall now issue.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana