Jones v. City of Elkhart

Decision Date12 December 2013
Docket NumberNo. 12–3912.,12–3912.
Citation737 F.3d 1107
PartiesKenny A. JONES, Sr., Plaintiff–Appellant, v. CITY OF ELKHART, INDIANA, et al., Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Douglas MacArthur Grimes, Attorney, Douglas M. Grimes, P.C., Gary, IN, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Julie J. Havenith, Attorney, Law Offices of Travelers Insurance, Merrillville, IN, for DefendantsAppellees.

Before WILLIAMS, SYKES, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

TINDER, Circuit Judge.

PlaintiffAppellant Kenny A. Jones, Sr., alleges that DefendantsAppellees violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment. From the first, however, counsel for Jones stated his claims broadly and vaguely. He listed a series of irrelevant facts untethered to any legal claims, and asserted constitutional injury without specifying what provisions of the Constitution were violated and how. Defendants—the City of Elkhart, Indiana and individual officers in the Elkhart police department—and the district court were forced to guess at his arguments in order to address them. Unfortunately, on appeal, counsel fashioned his brief in a similar manner, asking us to reverse the district court's entry of summary judgment for Defendants. The argument sections of Jones's brief recite legal standards for the elements of the case but offer us no analysis on how to apply them to the facts at hand.

Once we reconstruct what we believe to be Jones's arguments, as we were required to do under these circumstances, the completed structure shows that both of Jones's substantive assertions hinge on one critical fact: whether the Elkhart police officers who stopped his car and arrested him did so without probable cause. Because the record supports the district court's conclusion that the officers had probable cause and there is no evidence putting that conclusion in question, we affirm the district court's entry of summary judgment and dismiss the appeal. We also find that the district court did not abuse its discretion with regard to the discovery orders or its ruling on Jones's Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim.

I. Factual Background

On October 21, 2008, Kenny Jones attended an evening class at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Indiana. He left class around 7:30 p.m. and then went home, where he had a sandwich and drank a 12–ounce bottle of beer (Bud Light), the only alcoholic beverage he claims he consumed that evening. Shortly thereafter Jones drove to his sister's house in Elkhart. He left the apartment around 1:00 a.m. and drove to a McDonald's, where he purchased some food and ate in his car. Around 1:20 a.m., Jones began driving south on Nappanee Street, going towards his home in South Bend.

At about 2:15 a.m. on October 22, Lt. Chris Snyder of the Elkhart Police Department initiated a traffic stop of Plaintiff's vehicle for speeding. While traveling northbound on State Road 19 in Elkhart, Snyder observed Jones's vehicle traveling south at a speed above the posted 35 miles per hour speed limit, and confirmed that Jones was traveling at 53 miles per hour with his moving radar, which had been tested with a tuning fork and an internal check both before use and after the traffic stop. Snyder stated that he turned his car and followed Jones's vehicle for a couple of blocks, during which he observed Jones swerving in his lane. He then turned on his emergency lights.

When Jones stopped his car in response to Lt. Snyder's emergency lights, Snyder approached the vehicle and requested Jones's license and registration. Snyder stated that Jones had alcohol on his breath and red, watery eyes. He also observed that Jones's speech was slow and slurred. When asked if he had been drinking, Jones responded that he had consumed one beer at 7:30 p.m.

Officer Bryan Moore arrived on the scene to provide backup. According to Snyder, Moore used Snyder's portable breath test (PBT) device to determine Jones's blood alcohol content (BAC). The PBT showed a BAC of 0.096%. Jones contends that Snyder, not Moore, administered the PBT, and that Jones was never told of the reading on the PBT. Jones also claims that he did not see Moore until after Jones exited his vehicle at Snyder's request.

Snyder stated that he observed that Jones's balance was not steady as he walked from the car to a paved area off the road. Snyder explained and demonstrated a one-leg stand for Jones, and asked if Jones had any medical problems that would prevent him from doing the test. Jones responded that he was extremely bowlegged as a result of a childhood accident in which both legs were broken. When Snyder asked if Jones's condition would prevent him from standing on one leg, Jones answered yes. Snyder then explained and demonstrated a different field sobriety test—the walk and turn test. Jones stated that he did not have any questions regarding the test. When Snyder asked whether anything would prevent Jones from performing the test, Jones stated no and began to perform the test. Snyder noted that Jones could not keep his hands at his sides, that he swayed back and forth, and that he did not touch his heel to his toe for the majority of steps on the two passes.

Snyder then read Jones the Indiana Implied Consent Notice, explaining that he had probable cause to believe that Jones had been operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Snyder explained to Jones that while Jones had a choice to submit to the chemical test, there would be consequences to refusing to consent to the chemical test, including suspension of his license. Jones expressed confusion because he had already taken a breathalyzer test.

Jones asserts that he was not speeding because he travels the road on a regular basis and recognizes the area as a speed trap. Although he also states that he makes sure to pay close attention while driving, which presumably includes monitoring his speed, he cannot positively state that his speedometer continually showed a speed of 35 miles per hour or less. Jones also tries to quibble with the detail of Snyder's location prior to the traffic stop: he claims he drove past Snyder, who was sitting in a vehicle parked off to the side of the road with the lights out. After Snyder and Jones made eye contact and Jones's vehicle passed Snyder, Snyder turned on his headlight, trailed Jones's vehicle for five to six seconds, and then turned on his emergency lights.

Whether Jones consented to the chemical test is in dispute. Snyder states that he placed handcuffs on Jones, but expressed that Jones was not under arrest and was merely being transported to the station for the test, to which Jones had consented. Jones claims that he asked Snyder whether he was under arrest, and that as he was asking follow-up questions about why he was being asked to ride downtown in the squad car, Snyder handcuffed Jones. When Snyder asked Jones whether he was going to take the test, Jones did not answer the question, but expressed frustration over the options being described. Snyder told Jones he was under arrest for suspicion of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and refusing a chemical sobriety test (“operating while intoxicated-refusal”). Moore then transported Jones to the station. Further confusion ensued at the station, but those events are not material to the appeal here.

II. History of Litigation
A. Claims Raised

Jones sued the City of Elkhart and Officers Snyder, Moore, and Jeff Gorball, as well as Elkhart Police Chief Dale Flibsen. His suit alleges that Snyder unlawfully stopped and seized Jones without probable cause; that Snyder and Moore did not have probable cause to search the vehicle or arrest Jones; that Moore and Snyder conspired to deprive Jones of his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments based on racial animus; and that Officer Gorball, who was present at the jail, maliciously and without probable cause recorded that Jones refused the chemical test at the police station. As to the City of Elkhart's liability, the Complaint states:

On information and belief, the violation of plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by the defendants was consistent with an institutionalized practice of the City of Elkhart Police Department, which was known to and ratified by defendant City of Elkhart, the defendants acted with deliberate indifference, having at no time taken effective action to prevent Elkhart Police Personnel from continuing to engage in such conduct, including stopping of citizens without probable cause based on race.

Based on these facts, Jones appears to raise the following separate claims:

1. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Fourth Amendment violations against some combination of Snyder, Moore, and Gorball alleging false arrest, excessive force, and unlawful search;

2. A § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against Snyder and Moore alleging that they made the traffic stop and arrest without probable cause based on racial animus, and conspired in service of this violation;

3. A § 1983 claim against the City of Elkhart alleging the existence of a policy or custom that, through arrests without probable cause based on racial animus, inflicts constitutional injury.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment that explicitly addressed the false arrest, excessive force, and unlawful search Fourth Amendment claims as well as the conspiracy claim. The summary judgment motion also argued that the Monell claim should fail because Jones suffered no constitutional injury.

B. The Discovery Disputes

Jones claims that he was unable to resolve several discovery issues with Defendants. In pursuit of his theory that the traffic stop was racially motivated, Jones sought production of police reports on warrantless arrests and records of traffic stops. Specifically, he asked to inspect approximately eleven years of records of arrests and traffic stops made by the Elkhart Police Department,...

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