497 F.3d 742 (7th Cir. 2007), 06-3174, Belcher v. Norton

Docket Nº:06-3174.
Citation:497 F.3d 742
Party Name:Ryan L. BELCHER and Daraina Gleason, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Vaughn NORTON and Town of Orland, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 15, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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497 F.3d 742 (7th Cir. 2007)

Ryan L. BELCHER and Daraina Gleason, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Vaughn NORTON and Town of Orland, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 06-3174.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

August 15, 2007

Argued February 8, 2007

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 05 C 101-Theresa L. Springmann, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Christopher C. Myers (argued), Myers & Associates, Fort Wayne, IN, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Diana C. Bauer (argued), Carson Boxberger, Fort Wayne, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before Ripple, Manion and Williams, Circuit Judges.

Ripple, Circuit Judge.

Ryan L. Belcher and Daraina Gleason brought this action against Deputy Marshal Vaughn Norton and the Town of Orland under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They alleged that they were subject to an unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. They also alleged that their rights to procedural and substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated. They originally filed a complaint in state court, but the case subsequently was removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.[1] Mr. Belcher and Ms. Gleason

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timely appealed. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the district court.




Ms. Gleason was driving on the Indiana Toll Road with her fiancé, 2 Mr. Belcher, in her 1998 Plymouth Voyager minivan. Ms. Gleason and Mr. Belcher are African-American. While the couple was driving along the Toll Road, the minivan's transmission failed, and they had to stop along the side of the road. Ms. Gleason got a ride to Fort Wayne from a passing motorist while Mr. Belcher remained in the van. An Indiana state trooper patrolling along the Toll Road came upon the stopped vehicle and asked Mr. Belcher why the minivan was stopped along the berm of the road. The officer subsequently arrested Mr. Belcher for driving without a license and ordered the van towed to Bill's Professional Towing ("Bill's Towing") in Orland, Indiana. The van was impounded at that location.

Several days later, Ms. Gleason and Mr. Belcher went to Bill's Towing to retrieve some personal belongings that they had left in the van. They spoke with the owner and operator, Wilburn McClanahan, about retrieving certain court documents and other personal items from the van, and they were directed to the tow yard. Once at the tow yard, McClanahan informed the couple that they were not allowed to leave the premises until either the towing and impoundment fees were paid or the title was signed over to Bill's Towing. Mr. Belcher proceeded to remove a variety of items from the van; McClanahan insisted that the couple was permitted to remove only court documents. When Mr. Belcher began removing a radio from the minivan, McClanahan inquired as to whether the couple was going to pay the storage and towing fee. Mr. Belcher stated that he would pay those charges, but that he did not have the money with him. He requested to use the phone to call his mother in order to make payment arrangements. McClanahan did not allow Mr. Belcher use of the phone and further stated that, because the plaintiffs had removed property from the van, they were responsible for immediate payment. The situation escalated into a heated debate, and McClanahan called the police.

Almost immediately thereafter, Vaughn Norton, the Acting Marshal for the Town of Orland, arrived on the scene. By that time a group of four Caucasian males, employees of Bill's Towing, had gathered and would not permit Mr. Belcher and Ms. Gleason to leave the premises until they either paid the impoundment fees or signed the vehicle's title over to Bill's Towing. The plaintiffs requested that a state trooper be called to the scene, but Deputy Marshal Norton refused, stating, " 'there's no need to call a State Trooper, I am the law.' " R.29 at 3.

Mr. Belcher and Ms. Gleason attempted to walk from the van to the entrance of the towing yard. Deputy Marshal Norton repeated that the two plaintiffs could not leave until they had signed the van's title over to Bill's Towing. The plaintiffs got in their car and attempted to leave, but were blocked by a red city truck and a Bill's Towing truck. The plaintiffs then got out of the car. At that point Deputy Marshal Norton threatened Mr. Belcher with arrest for disorderly conduct if he did not sign

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over title of the vehicle. Mr. Belcher then asked to see Deputy Marshal Norton's badge, and, for the first time, Deputy Marshal Norton produced it. Mr. Belcher told Deputy Marshal Norton that he could not "make" them sign anything; Deputy Marshal Norton replied: " '[E]ither sign the title over or you will be arrested for disorderly conduct.' " Id. at 4.

Mr. Belcher again refused to sign over the minivan's title, and Deputy Marshal Norton went over to the red truck, came back holding a pair of handcuffs and walked towards Mr. Belcher as if to place him under arrest. Deputy Marshal Norton then stated that he was " 'calling for back-up.' " Id. He again threatened Mr. Belcher with arrest if Mr. Belcher continued to refuse to sign the title over to Bill's Towing. Mr. Belcher continued to refuse to sign. Ms. Gleason began crying. Deputy Marshal Norton then asked Ms. Gleason to sign over the title, and she complied. The plaintiffs immediately proceeded to the local sheriff's department to file a complaint against Deputy Marshal Norton, but were told there were no grounds upon which to file such a complaint.

The couple subsequently filed this action. Their § 1983 claim named Deputy Marshal Norton and the Town of Orland as defendants. It alleged that the defendants' actions had subjected them to an illegal seizure and had violated their procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.


The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on all counts. The court first analyzed the plaintiffs' § 1983 claims of unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The court determined that Mr. Belcher and Ms. Gleason had been "seized" as that term is employed in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. The court then considered whether this seizure was unreasonable. It stated that

a reasonable officer would be justified in believing that [Mr. Belcher] was not entitled to take property from the vehicle and had committed a criminal offense. [Ms.] Gleason likewise participated in this unlawful conduct. Under these circumstances, [Deputy Marshal] Norton's refusal to let them leave the towing yard was not unreasonable.

R.75 at 11. The court concluded that Deputy Marshal Norton had probable cause to arrest the plaintiffs for theft or criminal conversion. Because the seizure was not unreasonable under the circumstances, the district court concluded that no violation of the Fourteenth Amendment had occurred.

The district court then proceeded to analyze the plain-tiffs' § 1983 procedural due process claim. The court first discussed whether the plaintiffs had a property interest in the van. The court concluded that, even if Bill's Towing had a lien on the vehicle, Ms. Gleason nevertheless retained a property interest in the minivan and, therefore, was entitled to some process in connection with the deprivation of this property. The district court further ruled that the property deprivation was a result of random and unauthorized action rather than an established state procedure. Therefore, the court continued, the plaintiffs' federal due process claim turned on the availability of an adequate post-deprivation procedure. The defendants had urged that the Indiana Tort Claims Act ("ITCA") afforded the plaintiffs an adequate state law remedy. The plaintiffs had countered that the ITCA did not provide an adequate remedy because the law enforcement immunity provision would insulate Deputy Marshal Norton from liability. The district court determined that the ITCA's immunity provision would not apply

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because Deputy Marshal Norton's actions did not constitute the enforcement of law.

Finally, the district court addressed the plaintiffs' substantive due process claim. The district court ruled that Ms. Gleason had not pointed to a separate constitutional violation necessary to support a substantive due process claim; further, because the court had concluded, in the context of the procedural due process claim, that state law remedies were adequate, Ms. Gleason could not state a substantive due process claim.



We review a district court's grant or denial of summary judgment de novo. Magin v. Monsanto Co., 420 F.3d 679, 686 (7th Cir. 2005). All facts and reasonable inferences must be construed in favor of the non-moving party. Id. Our role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses or to determine the ultimate truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of triable fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as matter of law." Magin, 420 F.3d at 686 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that these requirements have been met and may discharge this responsibility by showing "that...

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