Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend

Decision Date31 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 98-1636,98-1636
Citation163 F.3d 449
PartiesNORTHERN INDIANA GUN & OUTDOOR SHOWS, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF SOUTH BEND, Stephen Leucke, Brian R. Hedman, and Karl King, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Jay T. Hirschauer (argued), Logansport, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Thomas L. Bodnar (argued), South Bend, IN, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before BAUER, MANION, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. ("NIGOS") appeals the District Court's decision granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. NIGOS brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the City of South Bend, Indiana; Stephen Leucke, mayor of South Bend; Brian Hedman, executive director of Century Center; and Karl King, chairman of the Civic Center Board of Managers (collectively "the defendants" or "Century Center"), violated NIGOS's First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly and Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection and due process. The District Court concluded that NIGOS failed to establish its constitutional claims and, thus, granted Century Center's Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. In reaching its decision, the District Court resolved a conflict between the allegations NIGOS made in its complaint and unilateral statements made by Century Center in letters that NIGOS attached as exhibits to the complaint. Because we determine that it was error to credit the unilateral statements in Century Center's letters over the allegations in NIGOS's complaint, we reverse and remand the case for further proceedings.

I. History

The City of South Bend established the Century Center facility ("the facility") in accordance with Indiana Code sec. 36-10-10-1 et seq. Under this statute, the State of Indiana permits certain municipalities to establish and operate civic centers through a board of managers, whom the mayor and city council appoint. Brian R. Hedman is the current executive director of Century Center; Karl King is the chairman of the board of managers; and Stephen J. Leucke is the mayor of South Bend. Century Center hosts several events, such as conventions, trade shows, banquets, receptions, and entertainment events. It is the largest civic center in the area of northern Indiana and southern Michigan known as Michiana.

Between 1991 and 1994, NIGOS held annual gun shows at the facility. These shows drew a large number of participants. The shows attracted individuals interested in buying, selling, trading, collecting, and talking about firearms. In addition to firearms, vendors offered a variety of goods for sale, including optical devices, knives, collectible military memorabilia, hunting equipment, camping gear, and holsters. At the 1994 show, five of the 140 exhibitors disseminated literature regarding political, sociological, and historical topics. The National Rifle Association conducted political activities at the show.

Initially, the Board of Managers of the Century Center ("the Board") enforced a policy that prohibited anyone from possessing a firearm while in the facility. However, the Board created an exception for law enforcement officers and for individuals with weapons that were "part of a related firearms show or exhibit." Firearms in the latter category could not be "loaded or in a status of releasing a projectile." In addition, the Board adopted a policy requiring all firearms associated with a gun show to be tied-down to disable the weapons, making it impossible to fire them. NIGOS also required firearms at its shows to be similarly disabled. It required show participants to remove all clips of ammunition from all guns and disable their firearms with tie-downs.

After the 1994 NIGOS gun show, Hedman sent a letter to Richard Crosier, president of NIGOS, expressing concern regarding the Board's and NIGOS's safety policies. In the letter, Hedman wrote that during the event, he and his staff witnessed activities at the show that violated these policies and raised safety concerns. One staff member observed weapons with nylon bans (i.e. tie-downs) that had been cut, which made it possible to load the firearm. Hedman believed the participants were disregarding the safety policies of Century Center, concluding that "[i]f these sellers and or customers are going to so obviously disregard these safety precautions, it becomes clear that the only way to have a safe gun show is to have one without guns." In addition, Hedman expressed concern about NIGOS's decision to allow smoking in the hallways close to ammunition and powder. Finally, he stated that his legal counsel warned him Century Center could be liable to individuals injured by weapons sold at the show. He ended the letter by concluding that:

before we would allow you to hold any other gun shows at the Century Center, it would only be with the understanding that neither ammunition nor weapons may be present on the premises at any time. I assume you would not want to continue your show at Century Center under these restrictions, but if you do, please call Sandy Lee and we will be happy to accommodate you.

Subsequently, Hedman and Crosier exchanged several phone calls during which NIGOS encouraged Century Center to reconsider the no firearms and ammunition policy. This new policy deterred NIGOS from conducting shows at the facility, which, according to NIGOS, is the only facility in the area that is large enough to handle the number of participants in their shows.

Finally in an August 1996 letter, Hedman informed NIGOS that in April 1994, "the Board of Managers of Century Center adopted a policy which prohibits any sort of weapons, guns, or ammunition from being present in the hall as part of any show. This policy was adopted at a duly advertised public meeting after considerable debate by parties representing many viewpoints." Hedman reiterated his desire to continue doing business with NIGOS if the organization wanted to use the facility again.

In response, NIGOS brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, the Mayor, the Chairman of the Board of Century Center, 1 and the Executive Director. 2 NIGOS argued that the defendants violated its First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, as well as its Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection and due process. The defendants moved for a judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. NIGOS moved for summary judgment. The District Court granted the defendants' motion, and NIGOS appealed.

II. Rule 12(c)
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

We review the District Court's ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings de novo. See Warzon v. Drew, 60 F.3d 1234, 1238 (7th Cir.1995). Rule 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment after the parties have filed the complaint and answer. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). We review Rule 12(c) motions under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b). 3 See Frey v. Bank One, 91 F.3d 45, 46 (7th Cir.1996). Like Rule 12(b) motions, courts grant a Rule 12(c) motion only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief." Craigs, Inc. v. General Elec. Capital Corp., 12 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir.1993) (quoting Thomason v. Nachtrieb, 888 F.2d 1202, 1204 (7th Cir.1989)). Thus to succeed, the moving party must demonstrate that there are no material issues of fact to be resolved. "[W]e will view the facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party," GATX Leasing Corp. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 64 F.3d 1112, 1114 (7th Cir.1995); "[h]owever, we are not obliged to ignore any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff's claim or to assign any weight to unsupported conclusions of law." R.J.R. Serv., Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir.1989).

III. Analysis

Rule 12(c) motions present two considerations. We must determine what documents constitute the pleadings and how to resolve conflicts that may arise within these documents. Because this case involves freedom of expression, we are even more hesitant than usual to decide the claims presented without providing the parties an opportunity to develop the record. See Webster v. New Lenox Sch. Dist. No. 122, 917 F.2d 1004, 1005 (7th Cir.1990). Accordingly, we examine the pleadings in this case mindful of this concern.

A. The Pleadings

First, we must determine what documents we may consider under Rule 12(c). As the title of the rule implies, Rule 12(c) permits a judgment based on the pleadings alone. See Alexander v. City of Chicago, 994 F.2d 333, 336 (7th Cir.1993), cert. denied sub nom., Leahy v. City of Chicago, --- U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 1818, 137 L.Ed.2d 1027 (1997). The pleadings include the complaint, the answer, and any written instruments attached as exhibits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c) ("A copy of any written instrument which is an exhibit to a pleading is part thereof for all purposes."); see, e.g., Warzon, 60 F.3d at 1237 (stating that exhibits attached to the complaint are incorporated into the pleading for purposes of Rule 12(c) motions); cf. Beam v. IPCO Corp., 838 F.2d 242, 244 (7th Cir.1988) (stating that exhibits attached to the complaint are incorporated into the pleading for purposes of Rule 12(b) motions). Under Rule 10(c), the attached documents are incorporated into the pleadings. Historically, this Court has interpreted the term "written instrument" 4 as used in Rule 10(c) to include documents such as affidavits, Schnell v. City of Chicago, 407 F.2d 1084, 1085 (7th Cir.1969), overruled on other grounds by City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 93 S.Ct. 2222, 37 L.Ed.2d 109 (1973), and letters, In re Wade, 969 F.2d 241, 249 (7th Cir.1992), as well as contracts, Craigs, 12 F.3d at 688-89, and loan documentation, Graue Mill Dev. Corp. v. Colonial Bank & Trust...

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